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Pivot positions Clearwater manufacturer for growth

Margie Manning

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Dr. Brent Agin (left) and Matt Morrow, co-founders of TeaZa

TeaZa Energy, a Clearwater company that manufactures and sells a tobacco alternative, is on track to do $1 million in sales in 2019.

TeaZa is a vitamin, herb and natural flavor blend in a small pouch that is gluten-free, has no sugar, nuts or tobacco, and contains zero calories. While users can drop the pouch in water, it’s specifically designed to pop directly into a user’s mouth and sit between the lip and gum.

“It’s always there and you are always getting flavor from it,” said Dr. Brent Agin, TeaZa co-founder. “It’s a natural extended release product that stays active for hours. You have to throw it out before the flavor is gone.”

Agin, a wellness physician, teamed with his friend Matt Morrow, a veteran of the logistics and distribution industry, to launch TeaZa in 2013. They initially focused on the energy products market, but pivoted when they discovered many of their customers chewed or dipped tobacco or wanted to mimic that habit.

“We go after the tobacco alternative market and we do pick up a lot of people along the way,” said Morrow, who is chief operating officer. “About 25 percent of our customer base doesn’t dip, never dipped and they prefer it as a supplement.”

The company also has a prosocial initiative called Operation Tobacco Free that does community outreach to local schools and provides education on the dangers of oral tobacco, Morrow said.

Inhouse production

TeaZa is a subsidiary of Wellness Health Management, a medical company specializing in development, manufacturing, sales and distribution of high-performance health and wellness products and services. The  company operates out an office near Countryside Mall. TeaZa products are manufactured nearby in a more industrial part of Clearwater.

TeaZa at first outsourced manufacturing to India, then later bought its own pouching equipment and brought manufacturing inhouse.

The company is registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which oversees good manufacturing processes. The plant is inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for food handling and safety.

TeaZa currently has five employees, including three production workers, and had about $800,000 in sales last year.

About 90 percent of the sales currently are online, either through Amazon or the company’s own website, and the rest are through retail locations including independent stores and smoke shops. There are about 60 retail locations across the United States that specifically cater to the military, and Morrow said he’s hoping to strike deals with additional military exchange stores.

Morrow also wants to grow the wholesale distribution base, making deals with corporate retailers such as Circle K and 7-11, and shift the sales mix to 60 percent online and 40 percent wholesale and retail.

Healthy alternative

Some TeaZa users want to look like they are actually chewing tobacco, Agin said, but that doesn’t bother him.

“That’s reality. We don’t care what gets them to pick it up, as long as they don’t chew tobacco. About 550,000 youth try tobacco every year, and a good percentage of them aren’t going to stop using it. If we can give them a healthy alternative, they never end up picking up tobacco,” he said.

TeaZa’s use as a tobacco de-addiction tool was validated in a small study the company and Operation Tobacco Free sponsored that was conducted by the University of Southern California and its Project RISHI (Rural India Social Health Improvement) in 2016. Forty percent of study participants reported as much as 66 percent decreased tobacco use while using TeaZa Energy, and 10 percent of study participants reported they completely quit using tobacco products altogether while using the product, a news release said.

Wellness Health Management recently did a quiet launch of a related but separate product, CBD Plus Herbal Pouches, infused with CBD, a marijuana extract. The product does not have any THC, which is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effect.

“There’s a QR code, and when you scan the package, the QR code takes you to a third party independent testing site,” Morrow said. “We advertise that it has 25 milligrams of CBD and the report shows we have 27, more than what we said, and more importantly, it shows it has zero THC. So any law enforcement or consumer can scan it with their phone and see what the third party testing site indicates.”

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