Gerard Artavia and Ian Simpson have been on a whirlwind tour for the past year, pitching investors and distributors from coast to coast on Tevolution, a line of bottled iced teas produced by their company Purpose Beverages.
The duo landed at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center last week for the Summer Fancy Food Show, an annual food expo hosted by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. This year, Tevolution was one of 180,000 products on display.
The all-natural, organic beverage stood out in the sea of gourmet cheeses and gluten-free cookies because of its novel business model. Tevolution donates 25 cents of every sale to its charity partners, including Jumpstart and Project Night Night. Consumers can track the progress of the charity by heading to the retailer’s Web site and entering a code from the bottle.
“It used to agitate me that all of these products said ‘a portion of the proceeds go to charity.’ But you were never told what portion, what charity or what happened afterwards,” said Artavia, while standing in the Tevolution booth surrounded by cheery interns.
“We can tell consumers who they helped and how the money was used,” Simpson chimed in. “We’re trying to promote the nonprofits and ultimately drive up advocacy for them out of our consumer group.”
Based in Bethesda, Simpson holds down operations in the mid-Atlantic, where the company earlier this month expanded its distribution through Avenue Gourmet. The Owings Mill-based speciality food distributor will place Tevolution on the shelves of Whole Foods throughout Baltimore, Maryland and southern Pennsylvania.
As it stands, Tevolution can be found in 75 stores in the Washington area, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Artavia, who is based in Los Angeles, manages operations on the West Coast, where he and Simpson started Purpose Beverages in March 2011.
The pair, who met while attending the University of California at Los Angeles, started working on Tevolution in 2008.
At the time, Artavia, who spent a decade in the beverage industry, was at Nestle USA and wanted to create “something that was delicious and provided some social good.” He talked about the idea with Simpson, an entrepreneur who at one time ran his own tutoring company. Simpson was game.
He and Artavia tested hundreds of flavor combinations for a year before deciding on four: black tea with lemon, green tea with honey, white tea with mango and white tea with peach. They spent the next two years developing the brand concept and business strategy.
Selecting the right charities to partner with was of the utmost importance, Simpson said. He and Artavia worked with business students at Georgetown University to devise criteria for selecting and vetting nonprofits.
“We choose national nonprofits that were up-and-coming, and could really use the help,” Simpson said. All four nonprofits are focused on either food and shelter, health and wellness or education, issues that are important to Simpson and Artavia. They have donated $7,000 to their partners to date.
Simpson and Artavia have raised $200,000 from investors.