REBBL with a cause: Serving up super-herbs in tantalizing liquid creations, to tackle human trafficking

By Arianne Pfoutz
Published: August 27, 2018
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Inverting the standard business model, organic beverage maker REBBL emerged from a “cause in search of a company.” Former venture capitalist and ethics professor David Batstone launched the non-profit Not For Sale over a decade ago, to grow self-sustaining social projects to combat forced labor and human trafficking—a scourge affecting 30 million people worldwide.

In 2011, seeking solutions to exploitation in the Peruvian Amazon—where impoverished young Peruvians turn to slave labor to survive while their natural resources are exploited—he gathered the most brilliant, influential people he knew for an idea generation workshop. Batstone committed to implementing the most innovative for-profit business idea they could come up with, and REBBL’s destiny was set: to deliver beverages crafted sustainably from super-herbs, providing economic empowerment to the region.

Ingredients: The Holy Grail

REBBL was launched in 2012 with a “Smart Tea” product, and now manufactures coconut milk-based elixirs and proteins formulated by master mixologist and REBBL co-founder Palo Hawken. The beverages feature botanical treasures such as schizandra berries, maca root, matcha green tea powder, turmeric, ashwaganda, and reishi mushrooms. All elixirs and proteins are certified organic, and free of soy, dairy, and gluten. They contain no cane sugar, carrageenan, agave, natural flavors, thickeners, or gums.

Popular sellers include Turmeric Golden Milk, Reishi Chocolate, Ashwaganda Chai, and Maca Mocha. With each sale, 2.5 percent is donated to Not for Sale to support rehabilitation of victims of human trafficking. REBBL is a top-performing brand in the natural functional beverage category, with a presence in over 7,000 retail stores. The products recently hit conventional outlets: California Target stores are on board, with Kroger to follow soon.

When mission matters most: linking non-profit to profit

Sheryl O’Loughlin CEO of REBBL

Sheryl O’Loughlin, CEO of REBBL

CEO Sheryl O’Loughlin, former executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, joined REBBL in 2015 after serving as CEO of Clif Bar and co-founder and CEO of Plum Organics. With only five employees, REBBL’s elixirs started to take off.

“We were born out of Not For Sale,” O’Loughlin said. “Our mission will always be linked to creating a future without trafficking, it’s built into our company DNA. Not For Sale partners with us, and we together ensure that our supply chain is ethical and transparent.”

The result is a regenerative business model: a non-profit working through a profit company for social and environmental justice. Not For Sale currently operates eight projects in nine countries—including Amsterdam, Thailand, and Vietnam—to provide ways out of human exploitation.

Ingredients: “healthy treasures”

REBBL stands for Roots, Extracts, Berries, Bark, and Leaves—using the gifts of the Plant Queendom to create “Righteous Plant Alchemy”™. Palo Hawken—son of Paul Hawken, author and creator of Project Drawdown—said REBBL is “riding the cultural wave of these ingredients.” “We didn’t create them—reishi for example has long held a foothold in large areas of the world—but we’re bringing these healthy treasures into the best-tasting products money can buy.” And research is verifying the health benefits—clinical research exists on ashwagandha, for instance.

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REBBL’s ingredients are sourced from 29 countries, including Sri Lanka, India, Peru, and Madagascar. Most are sourced from smallholder farms, whose growers exemplify REBBL’s mission to create products with positive impact. Paying higher prices for organic ingredients incentivizes small farmers to steward the land in a way that revitalizes it for future generations. REBBL suppliers are expected to invest in their communities, using profits to help build schools, housing, hospitals, and clean water sources.

Coconuts provide a sustainable source for the beverage base—no planting or soil management is needed, and all parts of the coconut can be harvested from the tree.

Growing corporate influence and the bottom line

REBBL is projected to grow over 50 percent by the end of 2018. CAVU Venture Partners recently invested $20 million, to be used for expanded distribution, new product launches, and anti-trafficking efforts.

Campaigns “Rooted in Purpose” and “A Botanical Revolution for Good” focus on impact sourcing and climate revitalization; videos and wellness initiatives address the consumer trend.

REBBL has applied for Certified B Company status and is a member of OSC2­—“One Step Closer To an Organic Sustainable Community.”

The enthusiasm from REBBL’s success keeps the team more than motivated. “The impact we can have with REBBL, partnering with Not For Sale, is truly amazing,” Sheryl said. Batstone agrees: “You don’t need to go to Calcutta or build a school in Guatemala. Every day when you come to work, you’re working with purpose.”

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report, 2018