For many, grabbing a cup of coffee is a sacred morning ritual, essential to starting the day off focused and energized. But Tyler Gage and Dan MacCombie have a different vision for how a typical morning should begin. The duo is hoping caffeine seekers will start turning to Runa, an energy drink that provides customers with that much-needed perk—while creating sustainable income for indigenous Amazon farmers.
The idea was born from a research trip Gage took to the Amazon, where he first sampled tea made from guayusa leaves. With the same caffeine kick as a cup of coffee plus twice the antioxidants of green tea, Gage was impressed by the “clean” energy the drink provided. Found exclusively in an Ecuadorian rainforest, guayusa is part of the regional culture, grown by farmers in small gardens known as “chacras” rather than plantations. So when Gage and MacCombie decided to build a brand around guayusa, they knew they wanted the locals to be a part of it.
“We designed and built the entire supply chain from scratch, with the clear vision of making increased farmer incomes the centerpiece of the economic equation,” says Gage. The resulting business model has both for-profit and non-profit arms, which allows the company to function without relying on donations while still providing extra support to the farming communities. “We knew that we wanted to use business as a tool for social good,” Gage explains. “At the same time, we recognized that a business, on its own, could not create the level of impact we aimed for.”
Today, Runa supports more than 2,000 indigenous Amazonian farming families and invests more than $20,000 every year in community development. The system also provides an economic incentive to preserving the rain forests in the region. “We didn't set out to help one community in Ecuador,” says Gage. “We set out to prove that sustainable agroforestry is the most profitable, sustainable, and scalable way to meet both the economic needs and conservation priorities in the Amazon.”
The Brooklyn-based company officially launched its full line of bottled drinks, boxed teas, and loose leaves in a this past spring. Gage and MacCombie hope the future brings continued success for the brand, allowing them to expand their innovative business model to more communities. “We want Runa’s model to be put to work across South America,” Gage stresses, “And benefit tens of thousands of farming families.”