Caroline MacDougall founded Teeccino – a chicory-based herbal ‘coffee’ in the 1990s: and has seen the pandemic and an increased interest in health and wellness drive more people towards the coffee alternative category.
With the market now enjoying multiple entries of a wide variety of products, she believes the category is now making its mark in the beverage industry.
From reishi to rooibos
Coffee and caffeine is a daily essential for many: but for others, it’s associated with unwanted side-effects ranging from jittery energy, heightened anxiety, digestive issues, headaches and insomnia.
And yet those wanting to give up caffeine still want to have the morning ritual and enjoyment of a cup of coffee – opening the door for beverages drawing on other ingredients to offer a similar experience.
These range from MudWtr (a caffeine-free blend made from rooibos chai, turmeric, cinnamon, ashwagandha, valerian root, passionflower, turkey tail and reishi); Four Sigmatic (mushroom coffee); Rasa (made from adaptogenic herbs); Crio Bru (brewed cacao) and nujo (quinoa, chicory root and spices with MCT coconut oil).
For Teeccino - as indeed with the above brands - the mission has been not just to offer an alternative but something more with the promise of functional benefits.
Teeccino draws on herbs, botanicals and functional ingredients: now boasting a range of 35 blends including mushroom adaptogen and seasonal flavors. MacDougall launched the brand in 1994, drawing on her background in herbal teas: creating a herbal beverage with offering functional health benefits and improved gut health. “I chose herbs like chicory root, with its a natural prebiotic, inulin, dandelion root with its detox capabilities, and ramón seeds, a traditional beverage of the Maya that has strong antioxidants," she told us.
"As time went on, I created more roasted blends that aid the immune system with adaptogenic herbs, wellness mushrooms and prebiotic concentrates.”
Down with decaf
While some may point to tea and coffee as a preferable form of natural caffeine over other energy forms, caffeine of any form can still be associated with problems such as insomnia. Some people are particularly sensitive to caffeine or want to avoid it because of a health condition.
And decaf is no solution, according to MacDougall: “Decaf is unsatisfactory to many coffee drinkers because it still contains caffeine and it is high in acidity, its flavor is inferior and it may contain chemical residues.”
And caffeine from tea and coffee doesn’t always provide a consistent and predictable energy burst.
“Maintaining optimal energy levels is certainly one of the things that today’s consumers are concerned with. However, caffeine doesn’t offer real energy. It’s a stimulant that causes a spike in adrenal hormones which can be followed by a crash.
“We see a pronounced trend away from caffeine as people want more healthy energy but not increased stress. They are realizing the importance of deep sleep and they are eating healthier foods, maintaining healthy biorhythms and finding they have more energy without caffeine than with it.”
MacDougall points out this desire for stimulant-free products is a wider trend not limited to coffee. “A similar trend is happening with alcohol-free beverages. People are looking for stable, clean beverages that don’t contain stimulants like caffeine and alcohol.”
Another attraction of coffee alternatives, says MacDougall, is that they give consumers a coffee-like experience all day round: with even the most dedicated coffee consumer recognizing an espresso before bed is not the best idea.
“Caffeine alternatives offer both coffee and tea drinkers a satisfying beverage that can be enjoyed during the afternoon or evening when drinking a caffeinated beverage would disturb their sleep. Teeccino allows people who are caffeine sensitive or have a health issue that is affected by caffeine to keep their same brewing ritual while they eliminate caffeine from the diet. Coffee drinkers can brew a morning cup of Teeccino just like coffee while tea drinkers can steep a Teeccino tea bag or use a tea pot with infuser."
Power in numbers
What's particularly important for the category in 2022 is the number of brands now available and offering a variety of experiences, functional benefits and mood states. MudWtr offers a caffeine-free blend 'to promote a state of calm, so you can get the kind of sleep that will make you wake up and high-five your pilllow'. nujo, meanwhile, promotes itself as a 'prebiotic superfood'.
“The pandemic has caused a major rise in demand for coffee alternatives with a diversity of entries into the category offering a wide variety of taste experiences," said MacDougall.
"Brands such as MudWtr, Four Sigmatic, Rasa, Crio Bru, nuJo and many others have entered the space using various ingredients to offer robust tasting beverages.
"With people focusing on their health more than ever, coffee alternatives are anticipated to grow exponentially— especially as education around the negative effects of caffeine including anxiety and poor quality of sleep that come from caffeine gain wider attention. With multiple brands in the category, together we’re having an enormous impact with the help of media to educate the public on the negative side effects of caffeine and the health benefits found in caffeine alternatives.”
Teeccino functional ingredietns
- Teeccino’s coffee alternatives and herbal teas are made with non-GMO, organic ingredients and prebiotics without any artificial flavors, preservatives, chemicals, or stimulants.
- And it’s not just about taking caffeine out but also about putting better stuff in: “Coffee alternatives such as Teeccino include prebiotics and antioxidants, so not only are you removing the negative side effects from your daily cup of coffee, you are also improving gut health, balance and boosting your overall immunity.”
- Natural energy from Teeccino is partly a result of Teeccino’s natural potassium content.
- One of Teeccino’s main ingredients, carob pods, contain pinitol that naturally boosts energy by supporting cellular metabolism.
- "The unique plant antioxidants in many of Teeccino’s ingredients also help revive flagging energy by combatting free radicals that can make us feel tired," adds MacDougall.
Acceptable price points
While the category is still a niche, MacDougall argues that the price point is no longer a deterrent for the category – particularly when consumers place value on functional ingredients and ethical sourcing.
“In terms of price being a barrier to coffee alternatives, we’re pleased that Teeccino is priced competitively compared to many of the popular coffee brands on the market. Compared to other more recent caffeine alternative brands, we offer just as expensive ingredients and we declare the number of mg per serving for our adaptogens and prebiotics to show that Teeccino has an effective dose. With three times more herbs per tea bag than other tea brands, Teeccino brings maximum wellness to each cup.
“Our business model, which includes superior sourcing direct from supply partners around the world that we have worked with for over two decades as well as our own manufacturing facility, allows us to price Teeccino competitively to specialty coffee and tea. Other brands have a different business model that includes a much more expensive pricing model. Our philosophy has always been to keep Teeccino priced competitively so that consumers from all walks of life can afford it. Our mission is to offer our customers superior beverages that support the pursuit of optimal health and to inspire and educate our customers to adopt a balanced, healthy lifestyle.”
And while coffee alternatives may not enjoy the same among of shelf space as regular coffee, the rise of ecommerce is means this is less significant.
“Online search has been especially important to the growth of Teeccino because new customers can easily find it when looking for a caffeine-free beverage.”