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Amazing Grass: Combating Green Guilt with Flavor and Passion
Amazing Grass was founded to prove that not all greens are created equal. Brandon Bert and Todd Habermehl jumped ship from high-tech corporate America in 2002 to start the company from the Bert dining room table. The Bert family has spent the past 70 years perfecting the cultivation, harvesting, dehydration and storage of cereal grasses and alfalfa for optimal nutritional content. These field-grown grasses are the foundation for every Amazing Grass product, imparting high doses of antioxidants, beta carotene, phytonutrients and other nutrients that give consumers a boost of energy, aid digestion and restore balance in the body.
“We try to make it easy and affordable to get your greens daily,” says Brandon Bert, president of Amazing Grass. “Habermehl and I would commute to work in the mornings and he would bring along his cup of coffee and I always had my greens.” The two friends traveled often for business, and eventually Habermehl noticed that Bert seemed to have an uncanny ability to avoid picking up colds along the way. After a few weeks Bert finally wore Habermehl down and got him to start drinking his greens.
Eventually, Habermehl’s wife jumped on board, and soon the movement was spreading. “The long and the short of it is that he became a believer in just a few weeks,” recalls Bert. “At the time I was getting my greens from my uncle and grandfather in Kansas, who has been growing and dehydrating wheatgrass and alfalfa since the 1940s.” That business had been primarily a wholesale supplier, and after the company employing Bert and Habermehl went bust the pair decided to join together and build a company that made eating greens as easy and tasty as possible.
From Fiber to Fiber
The pair looked to Habermehl’s alma mater, California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, for help in the form of a graduate marketing class. “We went down with a little plastic baggie of our wheatgrass and alfalfa pellets and basically said that we were not sure what the market demand is for this product, but we were interested to know more,” recalls Habermehl.
Sure enough, the pair’s idea got picked up by one of the graduate marketing programs, and after four months Bert and Habermehl had a 200-page report on everything, uncluding name suggestions and target markets and what the average consumer knows about green foods. The pair took out a loan from the Small Business Administration and worked from Bert’s dining room table the first year, testing out products and asking anyone and everyone for an opinion on the product.
When it came down to manufacturing the product, the San Francisco-based company knew precisely where to buy greens. To this day Amazing Grass sources much of its greens from the Bert family farm in Kansas. “We like to preach knowing where you’re growing, and consumers appreciate the transparency of a grower-direct model,” says Bert. The grower-direct model also enables the company to price its products more competitively, which helped Amazing Grass grow sales at record levels throughout the economic downturn, while a number of its competitors struggled.
The Bert family farm and dehydration facility utilizes a proprietary cultivation and harvesting procedure, using only 100-percent Kansas field-grown cereal grasses, including barley grass, alfalfa and red hard winter wheatgrass. These organic-certified grasses are grown through the cold Midwest winters, which allow the crops to establish deep root structures and extract nutrients from subsoil levels that would otherwise be out of reach.
Grasses are harvested once a year just before the jointing stage when protein, chlorophyll and vitamins are at peak concentrations. The company’s harvesting methods have been perfected so that only the most nutrient-dense tips are harvested. Leaving the roots behind allows for a second grain crop, essentially doubling field production. Direct-cut grass is transferred to a specially designed low-temperature dehydrating facility, usually in under an hour, where the cell temperature of the leaves is not heated over 107 degrees to retain maximum levels of heat-sensitive nutrients.
The dehydrated leaves are pressed into pellets and then cooled to reduce oxidation and loss of nutrients before being filled in pharmaceutical-grade bulk storage sacks. These sacks are then packed with nitrogen and stored in freezers below 0 degrees Fahrenheit until bottled in high quality, pharmaceutical grade, BPA-free containers that are flushed with nitrogen and heat induction sealed so every product is nearly as fresh and nutritious as it was when harvested.
Green Building Blocks
Amazing Grass produces pure organic wheatgrass as well as the Amazing Trio, a blend of wheatgrass, barley grass and alfalfa (the foundations of every product). But the team understands that in order to get people to eat Amazing Grass greens, the product also has to taste good, so over the years the company has launched a wide variety of products that are not only healthy, but delicious tasting, too.
“Everyone has green guilt,” jokes Bert. “We all know we should be eating more greens, but people just don’t and we’re always out there showing the consumer how easy it is to mix up our products in ways that taste great.” Consumers are encouraged to mix the products into any favorite beverage, though hot beverages are not ideal as the heat can break down certain nutrients that Amazing Grass works so hard to lock-in.
The company launched the Amazing Meal product line as its version of a meal supplement mix, with flavors like vanilla chai, chocolate and pomegranate mango. The product combines 10 grams of the best plant-derived, vegan-friendly proteins with six grams of fiber per serving and all the benefits of green super foods.
The company’s Superfood line builds off of the Amazing Trio blend, adding in super foods rich in antioxidants like goji berries, açai berries, cacao, yerba mate and matcha green tea. The ORAC superfood blend was developed for maximum oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC), which measures the amount of antioxidants in a food – where one serving of carrots is around 210 units and plums hover around 950 units. In comparison, the ORAC blend packs in 15,000 units of antioxidants per serving, balanced by natural stevia for sweetness.
Amazing Grass also reintroduced the Orange Dreamscicle flavor of the Superfood line, which the company originally developed to celebrate Whole Foods Market’s 30-year anniversary. “It was originally called Super Funky Superfood,” says Habermehl. Initial orders for the orange creamsicle-reminiscent product exceeded total production, so the product was only in stores for a little over a month. Amazing Grass received fervent emails from the product’s fans for the next year, and finally decided to reintroduce the product in early 2011.
Other recent hits include Amazing Grass’ Raw Reserve, which blends the most nutrient-dense green vegetables from land and sea. The product starts with the Amazing Trio base, but the company added in a blend of spiraling, chlorella, sea vegetables harvested from the coast of Maine, along with 25 billion probiotics at the time of bottling. The product is one of many that Amazing Grass recently launched in single-serve sticks packs, enabling consumers to get greens on the go, or try the product before committing to a whole bottle.
But the general trend seems to be that once a consumer goes green that consumer stays green. “The feedback and testimonials we get from clients are just incredible,” admits Bert. “We have heard of people suffering from chronic acid reflux, Crohn’s disease and even cancer who have experienced a big difference in their health, and that is what keeps us going. We’re very fortunate to have a lot of evangelists out there. Word of mouth has been instrumental to our success.”
Amazing Grass has seen to it that getting your daily greens is easier and tastier than ever, but the company’s biggest accomplishment perhaps is its ability to convert people to a healthier lifestyle with just one product. The Amazing Grass passion for products and its unwavering insistence on quality controls ensures that every product packs what it promises and contributes to making America just a little bit healthier.