ReGen Brands Recap #19

Abianne Falla @ Catspring Yaupon

A Native Caffeine Resurgence

Catspring Yaupon is supporting regenerative agriculture with its loose-leaf and bagged Yaupon teas and its new VIBE Yaupon crystals. Founded by Abianne Falla, Catspring Yaupon is not only building a brand, but forging a completely new consumer category by reintroducing Yaupon to the American consumer.

The Brand

Catspring sells bagged and loose-leaf Yaupon “tea” in three flavors (green, medium and dark roast). They also recently introduced VIBE (also 100% Yaupon) using clean technology to create a crystal-based concentrate that is instantly soluble in hot or cold water.

Yaupon is the only naturally caffeinated plant native to North America. It contains about 25 mg of caffeine per serving, plus theobromine and theacrine, for a longer, sustained release and more mental clarity than coffee, tea or other synthetic caffeinated beverages. Despite being labeled for decades by the USDA as a poisonous, invasive species, Yaupon has proven to be a sustainable alternative and nutritious ingredient within the caffeinated beverage category.

Catspring Yaupon is available online on their site and Amazon, and sold at Whole Foods and Central Market in the Southwest. They also supply as a bulk ingredient to kombucha brewers like Greenbelt in Texas and smaller brewers across the U.S., as well as tea companies like Harney & Sons and energy drinks like Rambler. Catspring has also been successful selling direct to restaurants, hotels and spas.

Whole Foods has named Yaupon the top food trend for 2023, and Forbes has lauded 2023 as "The Year of Yaupon Tea."

Yaupon chatting with its counterparts in the tea / coffee aisle ⬇️

Their “Why”

In 2011, a historical drought wiped out everything from hay to 100-year oak trees on Abianne’s family ranch in Cat Spring, Texas. Yet the Yaupon, often considered an invasive species, was thriving. After digging into its history, Abianne learned that Yaupon was not only native to Texas, the Gulf Coast and Outer Banks, but it had a rich history with native indigenous tribes. In addition to being the only caffeinated plant in North America, Yaupon is a natural cleanser and very anti-inflammatory with antioxidants comparable to blueberries. From a sustainability perspective, it’s also incredibly resilient, tenacious and regenerative, offering a unique connection to place. 

While exploring the market potential of Yaupon, Abianne realized the tea industry has plenty of “dirty laundry”. Other than a few single-origin tea farms practicing great agriculture, most tea is sourced from far-away foreign markets with little regulatory oversight or transparency around how the tea is grown. Because distributors are often so removed from how the product is grown, even the organic certification has massive exposure to drift, with up to 50% of organic teas showing trace amounts of herbicides and pesticides. And because tea leaves are never washed, the first time they are processed is when they are steeped – supercharging any bioavailable pesticides or herbicides.

A Uniquely Regenerative Model

Yaupon’s unique characteristics lend itself to a more sustainable model. This understory, dense shrub-like tree can grow 20 to 30 feet high. When it’s stressed, Yaupon rhizomes spread horizontally underground, shooting out lateral shoots that branch out even after the tree is cut down.  

Catspring sustainably wild harvests Yaupon from 1,100 privately-owned acres that are certified organic, regenerative organic, non-GMO and kosher – creating a sustainable and profitable way to manage Yaupon growth.

Abianne is also working with the USDA NRCS on a pilot to understand why the Yaupon grows so tenaciously. The theory is that as native grasses (with root systems ranging from three to 15 feet) were replaced by hay for cattle, Yaupon was able to grow unchecked. Together, Abianne and NRCS are exploring how to reintroduce native grasses alongside Yaupon to create a silvopasture-like situation where each plant can thrive and restore balance to the natural ecosystem in the process.

A citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and member of the Intertribal Agricultural Council, Abianne is proving the definition of a Chicksaw warrior as "a steward of the land."

“We're not fighting Mother Nature for a crop that shouldn't be here – this crop is fighting everything else to sustain itself. Why would we produce Yaupon in any other way (besides regenerative organic) when it is so deeply tied to so many different indigenous tribes? Regenerative organic is nothing new. It is what the indigenous people were forced to stop doing.” – Abianne

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Creative Funding

Like most regenerative brands, Catspring Yaupon has had to rely on creative funding. For them, it’s been all about tapping into grants from the USDA and Texas Department of Agriculture, and random funding like an Eileen Fisher Women-Owned Business Grant and money from the We Work Creator Awards. Abianne admits that navigating Department of Agriculture grants is really challenging (even for her, with an MBA and time spent as a CPA for Ernst & Young) – and she even hired someone to help them with their first application. 

“We must channel the USDA funding that has historically gone to bigger companies instead to people who are using this money for good. The positive news is that the NRCS is now focused on dispatching more capital to regenerative, climate-smart practices, with an emphasis on previously marginalized communities – so I always recommend just going for it.” – Abianne

Our Path to 50% Market Share 4 ReGen

For Abianne, narrowing the price gap between regenerative and conventional food is key. She doesn’t expect anyone to pay 10 times the price for a regenerative product, so stakeholders need to come together all along the supply chain, solving problems together, and finding ways to make more regenerative and sustainable choices. There are tradeoffs that brands have to make to satisfy both their regenerative ideals and the demands of the current CPG landscape. Abianne advises a "progress over perfection" mentality that focuses on constant, consistent improvement that can be documented and celebrated.

“If you really care about the planet, there are choices you can make. You might have to pay a premium, but your choices can be better for the world and for your own health. At the same time, as an industry, we must be better at making sure those premiums aren't too high because regenerative ag should never be a luxury.” – Abianne

You can check out the full episode with Abianne from Catspring Yaupon HERE.

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This ReGen Recap was produced with support from Kristina Tober