Guayakí was born in the 90s as a small project of two university buddies while attending Cal Poly's University in San Luis Obispo, California. Argentinean Alex Pryor and the Californian David Karr designed an innovative business model called Market Driven Regeneration to sell in the U.S. organic yerba mate produced in Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, simultaneously managing to contribute to the regeneration of threatened South American Atlantic rainforest.
The company’s products are available through its website: the principal products are Bluephoria (A euphoric burst of blueberry, elderberry and yerba mate); Lime Tangerine Yerba Mate Shots (Proprietary blend of yerba mate, extracts, vitamins and minerals – lightly sweetened and balanced with citrus extracts); Pomegranate Tereré Bottles (Deep and complex – yerba mate brewed with pomegranate juice, accented with spearmint, ginkgo and holy basil).
Early adopters of the products in the US were (perhaps unsurprisingly) South American immigrants, but that changed in 2001 when Karr expressed the intentions to make an initial share offer in the magazine Money. This caught the attention of the financial community, and companies like Tazo (a Starbucks's subsidiary) and Celestial Seasoning (the major tea processor in the US) started to incorporate Guayakí´s products in their sales.
One year later, Guayakí began selling its products in specialized stores (like Whole Foods, Wild Oats and Trader Joe’s) and in the mainstream (e.g. Dillon's). The press, writing about the nutritional and medicinal properties of this product, also helped to increase consumption and create a modest but growing market.
Having grown its US presence, Guayakí aspires to expand its market and to offer its products in Latin America.
The nutritional properties are intriguing, explained Pryor. “Yerba mate has the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate, all in one beverage. Of the six commonly used stimulants in the world: coffee, tea, kola, cocoa, and guarana, yerba mate triumphs as the most balanced and healthful while it stimulates,” he said.
“In addition it contains 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids, and abundant polyphenols. Remarkably, the Pasteur Institute and the Paris Scientific Society concluded in 1964 that “it is difficult to find a plant in any area of the world equal to mate in nutritional value” and that yerba mate contains “practically all of the vitamins necessary to sustain life,” he added.
The aim was always to produce organically in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina; to promote social equity, help to preserve nature, and to collaborate with the regeneration of the Atlantic rainforest, which is highly threatened by deforestation.
Environmental and sustainability principles are central to everything the company does. To avoid deforestation and to contribute to its regeneration of South America Atlantic rainforest, its yerba mate is cultivated under native rainforest trees. Guayakí is reportedly the first yerba mate company receive Fair Trade certification. It is also certified Fair for Life, a Fair Trade certification rooted in fair sourcing practices and responsibilities along the supply chain, from the Guayakí headquarters in Sebastopol to the producers and processors in South America.
Paying prices that exceed the market rate, and ensuring a Fair Trade premium with each purchase of Organic Yerba Mate, further propels the regeneration efforts of Guayakí within the yerba mate producer communities, explained the company. The company’s consumers are said to be aware of the environmental and social aspects, and are ready to pay a higher price.
“When people buy Guayakí products they are purchasing a product that fully subscribes to sustainable practices, from the environmental and the commercial points of view. Being the first ones to certify Fair Trade reflects our dedication for the quality of the product, the environment and also for the producers in South America,” says Chris Mann, Guayakí's current CEO. Guayakí is a B Corporation.
“Our vision holds that yerba mate culture will power our Market Driven Regeneration business model to regenerate ecosystems and create vibrant communities,” added Pryor.
A few years ago the company launched a biodynamic agricultural product, produced exclusively at the Reserva Agroecológica Iguazú (RAI), an ecological region located in the Argentinian and Brazilian Iguazu National Pak, in the middle of the Atlantic rainforest. Biodynamic agriculture possesses its own calendar, based on astronomic events, the forces and the energies of the nature.
Guayakí imports organic yerba mate from South America to create a range of ready-to-drink beverages, Loose Leaf Yerba Mate, and Yerba Mate Bags. By harvesting yerba mate that has been cultivated under native South America Atlantic rainforest trees, Guayakí provides indigenous communities and small-hold producers with a renewable income stream as well as the ability to steward and restore their land.
“Our partner communities and restoration projects are primarily based in the yerba mate growing regions of Argentina, Paraguay and Southern Brazil. Our 2020 mission is to steward and restore 200.000 acres of rainforest and create 1.000 living wage jobs,” said the company.