Runa Steers Towards Natural Energy, Away from Tea

Nothing drives impact like dollars. It’s a simple idea, but, for Runa, it represents the seed of an entirely new business-focused outlook.
The Brooklyn-based company, founded in 2009 by college roommates Tyler Gage and Dan MacCombie, produces ready-to-drink iced teas and energy drinks made with guayusa, a plant traditionally used as a natural source of caffeine by indigenous groups in South America. Through its vertically aligned supply chain— in which it sources organic crops from Fair Trade Certified partner farms in Ecuador— Runa has made ethical business practices and sustainable farming a key part of its identity.
But in the first months after joining as CEO last April, Alex Galindez was charged with a different task. After spearheading a brand revamp and push into new beverage categories, including energy drinks, at Hain Celestial-owned brand BluePrint, she was drafted to help Runa balance the goal of driving positive social impact with the practical needs of a growing consumer packaged goods company. With both sides of the business so closely linked, the answer was simple: to better serve the social mission, Runa needed to focus on selling more product— specifically its growing line of 12 oz. canned “clean” energy drinks.
“One of the things we realized early on was in order for us to drive the impact, we have to have significant demand for our core ingredient, which is guayusa,” said Galindez, . “The more beverages that we sell, ultimately the more demand there is for guayusa and the more lives we are impacting in Ecuador.”
As Galindez reorganized the brand’s business priorities to further enhance its social impact, Runa’s three-SKU line of naturally caffeinated energy drinks was quickly identified as the primary source of growth. Despite limited distribution, the line has shown significant year-over-year sales growth in Multi-Outlet Channel, increasing nearly 60 percent last year. While still lagging behind rivals like HiBall and Rockstar Organic in total dollar sales, the brand has enjoyed the second highest sales per point of distribution of any natural energy drink.
“We are focusing on things that have worked, on the things that are already showing great growth potential and focus on that, rather than try to be all things to all people,” said Galindez.