TwinTail Brews, the winner of this year's Benchtop Innovations competition, launched its first product, the Superberry Power tea, on March 24.
The product is a tea-based energy drink that offers consumers a unique feeling of controlled energy due to the combination of L-theanine, a supplement that helps calm anxiety, and caffeine, according to the company’s website. Each can costs $3.79.
“It’s a naturally occuring amino acid that’s found in tea and some mushrooms, and on its own, it creates feelings of calm and relaxation,” junior Grace Clarke, head of sales and one of the four original founders of TwinTail, said.
Clarke credited her mom for introducing her to L-theanine, she said.
“She said that it was great for anxiety and helping you relax, and she suggested that I try it,” Clarke said. “So I did, and I really liked the way it made me feel.”
Clarke and the rest of the team then did some research and found out that when combined with caffeine, L-theanine helps offset a lot of the negative side effects that caffeine is associated with, such as jitters, anxiety and crashes.
Before this discovery, the original team started the fall semester in Benchtop Innovations, an entrepreneurship class taught in the Robins School of Business, with an aim to create a healthy energy drink. The class, co-taught by entrepreneur in residence Shane Emmett and professor of marketing Joel Mier, allows students to come up with their own product ideas, pitch the product and have the opportunity to sell it to the public.
The TwinTail team knew that to win the product pitch, they needed to come up with a way to enhance the tea, so they decided to add caffeine. The founders went through 103 variations before landing on their final product, they said.
“Literally every single night we would cold brew teas, keep them in our fridge for 12 hours and come together the next day to taste them,” senior Brendan Fowler, CEO of the company, said. “And we did this every single night last semester. Every single night.”
Clarke, who was a student-athlete at the time the tea was being created, was used as a test subject to see how the product could keep up with her busy schedule.
Come December, the TwinTail group won the pitch competition, allowing them to start the process of making their imagined product publicly available. The entire class of 16 came together, along with a food scientist, to help the original four make the energy drink a commercially viable product, Fowler said.
Originally called Lume, the company ended up switching its name to TwinTail due to the similarity with a new deodorant brand, Lumē, which would cause trademark issues and confusion. After the pitch competition, the company spent several weeks brainstorming new names, and finally landed on TwinTail Brews, Clarke said.
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Senior Chris Conte, head of operations, said the process of creating the physical product was a continuous uphill battle.
“From a production standpoint, everything that could have gone wrong did for the most part,” Conte said. “We had trouble sourcing our ingredients, finding a manufacturer. Once we had our manufacturer, getting our product from them.”
Even the day before the product launched, the team encountered issues. They went into the manufacturing facility to check out how production was coming along and ended up spending 14 hours dealing with logistical problems. Despite these difficulties, the company had a successful launch, according to the founders.
“So it was definitely chaotic,” Fowler said. “We needed all hands on deck to make that happen, but we made it happen. It was super rewarding to see it come to life.”
In addition to the team of 16 and their food scientist, the company also used the help of the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter.
“They helped create a lot of the packaging and labeling that you guys are seeing on the product today,” Fowler said.
Throughout the weekend of the launch, the team held seven different tabling sessions, allowing them several opportunities to gauge feedback and promote the product. The company also held a launch party on March 29 where they unveiled a second, sweeter version of their original tea.
“So from there we’re kind of going to try to figure out what we want to do moving forward and how we want to approach it and what we want to sell,” Fowler said. “Definitely still very dynamic, a lot of moving parts, but we are really trying to take in customer feedback and adapt as quickly as we can to try to, you know, make everyone as happy as possible.”
Many of the students who attended the launch party tried the two versions of the drink for the first time. Whether they came to try out the product or to support friends who are a part of the company, students had only good things to say about the tea.
Nine out of the ten students I spoke to preferred the first, unsweetened version of the drink over the second, sweetened version. When asked which version they would recommend to others, many said that it was dependent on people’s taste.
“It depends who they are because if they’re, like, a health nut than the unsweetened, but if they want to drink something healthy that tastes good, then the sweetened,” sophomore Lucy Rand said.
You can find TwinTail Brews at local retailers such as Mamie’s Apothecary, Ginger Juice and Stella’s, at on-campus restaurants such as 8:15 at Boatwright, Everything Convenience, Lou’s and on their website.
Contact lifestyle writer Lucy Jones at email@example.com.
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