For the first time in its 10-year history, Sweet Leaf Tea, makers of several organic and all-natural ready-to-drink beverages, has been named to the Inc. 5000 Index, Inc. magazine’s annual list of the nation’s fastest-growing privately held companies.
Sweet Leaf Tea is ranked 891 on the list, which recognizes leading U.S. entrepreneurial firms according to sales growth over a four-year period. The company’s revenues have grown 406.2% since 2004.
“Being named to the Inc. 5000—and making it into the top 1,000—is a major milestone for Sweet Leaf Tea, and we attribute our growing success to the quality and goodness of our product, the passion of our employees, and the loyalty and engagement of our customers,” says cofounder and CEO Clayton Christopher. “Our focus on authentic goodness and laid-back fun has helped to differentiate our brand in a very crowded category. Our culture has helped us attract the best team in the industry, which is a significant part of our success.”
Ready-to-drink beverages are a $2.8 billion industry, with the premium segment growing at an annual rate of 25%. Sales of ready-to-drink teas are expected to top $4.4 billion in 2011.
“There is enormous potential in the ready-to-drink beverage market and, unlike ready-to-drink teas that do well in either the natural or mass grocery channel, we are thriving in both,” Christopher says. “Our focus on simple, accessible, all-natural goodness enables us to capitalize on the movement of ‘all-natural’ from trend to mainstream buying behavior.”
Christopher founded the company in 1998, when he was only 25 and couldn’t find a bottle of iced tea that tasted like the homemade brew his grandmother used to make when he was growing up. Shortly thereafter, childhood friend David Smith joined the company, and the two began brewing their homespun tea in 50-gallon crawfish pots, using pillow cases as tea bags. Made from all-natural ingredients, including purified water, pure cane sugar and high-quality organic tea leaves, Sweet Leaf Tea follows Grandma’s recipe and technique.
Today, the company sells 11 classic iced-tea flavors, as well as three lemonades (including a series of limited-edition lemonades sold in the summer months in environmentally friendly, reusable Mason jars). You can find the teas at markets like Kroger, Safeway and Whole Foods Market. Retail prices range from $1 to $3.99.