The Humanitarian Business Model: Adina for Life
Does the carbon footprint of American shopping habits take into account the unethical ingredient bidding wars we enable when we don’t buy fair trade? Does it take into account the jobs we help to sustain in developing nations when we choose to pay a bit more for fair trade? Should there be a measure not just of our Carbon Footprint but of our Human Footprint, to track unfair working conditions and wages sustained by certain industries? These are the types of questions that surface when one wonders if there are products that are ethically sound for both the earth and its inhabitants, rich or poor, American or African.
Occasionally, one encounters a product that is tasty and satisfying, made by an ethically sound company, led by a true individual and trendsetter. That moment happened for Trendcetera recently thanks to Greg Steltenpohl. While he is not a household name, his creations are. The California-based beverage industry entrepreneur is the founder of Odwalla and the co-founder of Adina for Life. From readymade smoothies to Ayurveda-inspired beverages, he is paving the way for sustainable, ethical product development.
In a phone interview, Steltenpohl, who started Odwalla decades ago out of a shack in his backyard, told Trendcetera about the goals for Adina for Life, the truth about sugar and corn syrup alternatives and the politics of buying ingredients.
In a trendy marketplace, Steltenpohl is an honest businessman and is first to admit that no product he makes is going to claim to cure any illness or cater to many health issues. His new organic Holistics line, dubbed Herbal Elixirs, are part of the growing group of beverages that sit somewhere between the high calorie sodas, juices, and liquid meals, and the low-calorie artificially flavored drinks. The 90-calorie organic, fair trade drinks taste just sweet enough and have a texture that is slightly thicker than water. In a few words, they are satisfying and guilt-free, on every level. Simply put, he said: “Odwalla is all about personal health. Adina is about being socially responsible—tackling that—such as calorie, sourcing.”
Steltenpohl says his drinks are “more adaptagenic, more general tonics, rather than the American idea of the silver bullet that will fix everything.” The products are largely based on many principles exhibited in India’s alternative medicine tradition, Ayurveda, which goes back thousands of years. Some of the ingredients classified as the adaptogens include ashwaganda (Indian ginseng) and astragalus, a Chinese herb. All drinks also include Tulsi (holy basil). They are said to “work with each person’s body in a different way, they may be over- or under-stimulants. They are kind of intelligent nutrients themselves,” he explained.
While they seem new to the American public and the Western world, he notes that many clinical trials are studying them. According to the website of U.S. government unit NIH, one Canadian study gave 18 participants a mixture of eight herbs and had statistically significant results including a 46% improvement in self-perceived stress. Another study of six herbs used in Ayurvedic medicine studied the body’s defense mechanism against free radicals during periods of stress and included ashwaganda and amla (Indian Gooseberry), among other herbs.
“In India, Ayurveda was a science based on practice, thousands of years people taking” different elements. But, he is quick to explain that they are not making any claims about those ingredients. While he admits to not being a nutritionist or a medical professional, the company employed a woman that is both a medical doctor and a health professional trained in Ayurveda, Dr. Archana Dubey, who works with Stanford Medical School teaching ayurveda and Chinese medicine as a Clinical Assistant Professor of Family & Community Practice. To evaluate the drinks, she reviewed the company’s formulas, offered suggestions and explained if certain ingredients should be included to “balance around the different fruit extracts.”
But, the idea for the elixirs did not originate in the growing trend of all things India-inspired. “Adina started with drinks that had hibiscus and ginger, hibiscus from western Africa,” Steltenpohl said, noting that many traditions have used those ingredients for years. “Ginger is under a category deserving of wider uses,” he added. While the line took just six months to develop, Steltenpohl has studied related practices for four to five years.
So why create an exotic elixir after creating a smoothie-based drink that was successful enough to lure Coca Cola? “Odwalla had a smoothie, you are getting lots of antioxidants, but you are also getting a lot of calories, it’s a very filling experience. With Adina there were three objectives: lower the price point to more mainstream, lower the calories by 50%, and try micronutrients or herbal ingredients not normally in the American diet.” So what are the elixirs? “It is like two tea bags full of herbs and some fruit juice.”
Still what makes Adina different is not that they were inspired by international traditions, but how they conduct their business internationally. The company went against the many trendy low-glycemic sugars such as agave, which might have lured new clientele, because of the manufacturing and sourcing complications. Choosing cane over other sweeteners was a matter of the heart in more ways than one.
“The price point and commercially processed agave has become a processed product, almost nothing to do with the original pressed kind, so when you buy in bulk, it has become a commercial sugar. The other thing is fair trade. Agave has put a lot of pressure on farms in Mexico that are not environmentally equipped” to produce at the standards desired. Because cane sugar and juice has been developed for longer, one can get it fair trade certified. It’s “much more socially responsible. Raw cane has many more minerals,” he noted.
As for another popular sweetener, tapioca, at the end of the day the taste also makes cane that natural choice. “The product has a much better glycemic profile, but it’s not as sweetener, because you gotta put more of it in there. At the end of the day, we haven’t figured out if that ends up being that much better for it. For glycemic, it boils down to less carbs.”
Tackling issues of both health and humanity, he explained how ingredients impact the people making the products’ ingredients. There is a “clean supply chain on the sugar. From a material standpoint, you can help more people with fair trade,” said Steltenpohl. “Way more people are employed harvesting these things. Adina may only have 50 employees, we may be selling tens of millions of products, but there are thousands of people harvesting the sugar.”
Rather than using already established supply chains, the usual ingredients brokers or co-ops, Adina pays for the crops in advance. Revealing the politics of ingredients sourcing, he explained that often times ingredients brokers will pit co-ops or farms against each other, using the timing of the crop to force prices down. “We set a price we knew would be fair, we had that certified through US AID.”
For all these reasons, and the most important to the American consumer, taste, we strongly recommend trying all seven flavors of the elixirs. The flavors are: Blackberry Hibiscus, Peach Amalaki, Honey Lemon Aloe, Grapefruit Goji, Pomegranate Açaí, Honey Eucalyptus and Mango Orange Chamomile. Each seems to suit a different mood and the reasonable calorie mark means choosing this drink doesn’t have to change what you are eating.