Leonardo DiCaprio invests in RUNA, will donate shares to indigenous groups in the Amazon

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

The star ingredient in RUNA is guayusa, a caffeine-containing leaf that is grown almost exclusively in the upper Amazon region of Ecuador
The star ingredient in RUNA is guayusa, a caffeine-containing leaf that is grown almost exclusively in the upper Amazon region of Ecuador
The star-studded group of investors backing RUNA – a beverage brand utilizing the Amazonian leaf guayusa, a natural source of caffeine – has expanded this week as Oscar winner and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio has invested an undisclosed sum into the company and joined its advisory board.

DiCaprio has taken the unusual step of committing to donate his shares to the indigenous community groups in the Amazon that produce the guayusa leaf for RUNA, making them direct shareholders in its future.

He added: “We must all do everything we can to help indigenous and local people who too often suffer the worst environmental degradation, and are most at risk from climate change.  Empowering them to stand up and fight back against the outside interests that threaten their survival is a cause that must be championed.”

DiCaprio joins World Wildlife Fund president Yolanda Kakabadse, and former U.S. secretary of agriculture and executive director of UNICEF Ann Veneman as a member of RUNA’s advisory board.

Other participants in the investment round include actor and comedian Marlon Wayans, actor Adam Rodriguez (CSI Miami, Magic Mike), and professional tennis players John Isner and Steve Johnson, who join existing RUNA supporters including actor Channing Tatum.

One of the fastest-growing beverage brands in the United States

Brooklyn-based RUNA, which was founded by Tyler Gage and Dan MacCombie in 2009, has built a vertically integrated supply chain for guayusa from farms in Ecuador to shelves in the US and used the leaf as the cornerstone of a range of ready-to-drink beverages, carbonated ‘clean energy’ drinks, loose leaf teas and infusions. Today they are available nationwide at chains including Whole Foods and Safeway as well as Amazon.

RUNA doesn’t disclose revenues but says it is “one of the fastest-growing beverage brands in the United States.”

Unlike many new beverage brands, which struggle to progress due to cash-flow problems, Runa has attracted not only celebrity supporters, but high profile financial backers including beverage industry investors such as ZICO founder Mark Rampolla and Kim Jeffery, the former CEO of Nestle Waters North America; along with music industry execs Lukasz Gottwald (aka Dr. Luke), Mike Dean and Coran Capshaw.

runa guayusa leaves
Guayusa (gwhy-you-sa) contains caffeine, but it’s also got lots of antioxidants including chloragenic acids, isoflavones, and L-theanine. It also has no tannins, which the founders claim gives it a clean taste that's "remarkably smooth and slightly sweet"

What is guayusa?

Ecuadorian Kichwa people have been boiling guayusa leaves in water to make teas for thousands of years, while hunters call it the ‘Night Watchman’ because it helps them stay alert.

Other celebrity backers of RUNA include actor Channing Tatum (picture: Elodie Delannoy)

However, when Gage and MacCombie started writing their business plan for Runa (which means ‘fully alive’ in the Kichwa language) in 2008/9, there was not an established supply chain for producing and marketing the leaf locally, never mind to the US market, say the founders, who launched RUNA with a grant from the Ecuadorian government.

Today RUNA works with thousands of indigenous farmers in Ecuador, who harvest the leaves and sell them to Runa, which dries and mills them in a processing facility in Archidona, in the Napo Province of Ecuador. The leaves are first withered (pre-dried) on long troughs to allow the flavor to set in and to reduce the moisture content of the leaf.

They then enter industrial batch dryers to fully dry out before they are, milled, sifted and packed into bags and shipped to the US. They then go through a concentration process so that they can be used in ready-to-drink products.

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