Torii Labs makes a line of four herbal tonics, each with a different health target: Torii Awake, Torii Unwind, Torii Restore, and Torii Relief.
“We’re giving [consumers] a really amazing, enjoyable way to take a supplement,” he told us. “So rather than taking a bland pill or a tincture, which often doesn’t taste very well, we’ve created delicious, liquid formulas that you can grab and take on the go,” Hayward said.
The products originally came in 100 ml servings in amber glass bottles. Soon, Torii Labs will discontinue the 100 ml bottles and focus on marketing 55 ml [2 oz] shots.
“We listened to our audience. They said ‘Hey guys, we love the efficacy, and we love the potency of the product, but we find the 100 ml tonic a little bit confusing, and the price point is a little bit expensive,” he added. “It’s very easy to understand a 2 oz shot.”
Additionally, according to Hayward, shots are a fast-growing category at the natural retailing giant Whole Foods, which is Torii Labs’ next distribution target.
“You look at the shot market right now, they’re single ingredients. We’re creating a really powerful combination with efficacy that also tastes well.”
Feeling burnt out, finding a master herbalist
Around seven years ago, Hayward developed an interest in botanical extracts and the potential they have to the health and well-being of those who consumed it.
He had worked for 10 years as a financier in emerging markets. “I was leading a fast and furious life, overworked and highly stressed. I became a five-cups-of-coffee-a-day kind of guy,” he recalled, adding that he felt ‘depleted.’
So Hayward quit his job and moved to California to get an MBA with a concentration in sustainability, and this is where he went “on a journey to explore and understand what it is to lead a life full of vitality through yoga, meditation, and the plant medicine world.” He had taken tinctures and tisanes of different botanicals and felt that they helped him rejuvenate.
He saw a business opportunity in botanical blend tonics, and together with business partner Lulu Luchaire, launched a product with the LA-based natural channel retailer Erewhon in May 2016. The first product was Torii Awake, which Hayward described as a coffee or energy drink alternative, made out of goji berry extract, ginger juice, rhodiola extract, and more. Initially, funding was mostly personal or from friends and family. Further down the line, he had high net worth individuals invest in his company as well.
The company consulted with master herbalist Nicol Giandeomenico to formulate the products, as well as two Western-trained medical doctors. “Every health claim we make is backed up by at least three scientific papers,” Hayward said. “That’s really important to us. The herbs that we use, whether Ayurvedic or Chinese, we work with a master herbalist and a medical doctor as well [to formulate a product].”
‘No proprietary blends here’: The future of botanical supplements
Hawyard wants to pave a way for the future of herbal supplements. There are no proprietary blends at Torii Labs, for example—the amount of each botanical blend is fully disclosed on the Supplement Facts panel.
“We’re very transparent about what we put into our products,” he said. He declined to share the specific names of Torii Labs’ suppliers, but did say that they are selected from all around the world, and should be specialists in wildcrafted herbs to be signed on as a supplier.
No proprietary blends: The amount of each botanical blend is fully disclosed on the Supplement Facts panel.
“The philosophy around it is that if a plant grows wild in nature, it’s much more resilient and strong than if it were farmed,” he said. It also means that there is no pesticide residue in the ingredients, he added.
The products are sold in 85 different points-of-sales in California, New York, and Texas. They tested on the e-commerce side last year and now have 115 subscribers to their tonics. In the last few months, they have focused on wholesale, and come 2019 they will start to push the e-commerce side of the business.
He believes that participation in an incubator like PepsiCo’s Nutrition Greenhouse will be very helpful to the company. It is Torii Labs’ first time in an incubator.
“A number of people sent me the application form, saying we’ll be a perfect fit for this incubator,” he said. “I signed up, and I was just delighted when I got the email saying that I was one of 10 out of 300 applicants chosen.”
He is looking forward to grow the company quickly and efficiently in the next six months. The program aligns him with the marketing directors of established brands like Naked and Kevita.
“We’ve done all the hard work, but what I need is tight, strategic advice about how to message, what channels of distribution to use, how to allocate funds properly,” he added.
“I was incredibly impressed by PepsiCo’s desire to work with young start-ups, and they’ve identified us as one of the 10 emerging brands of 2018. They want to learn from us about being more nimble.”