By David Ranii
The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.).
Mati Energy, an energy-drink startup based in Durham, expects the availability of its flagship product will expand dramatically after inking a deal with Durham-based Harris Beverages, a distributor of Anheuser-Busch beers and other beverages.
“It’s a big step for us to be working with them,” said Mati Energy founder Tatianna Birgisson.
Founded in April 2012, Mati Energy drinks are currently available in 150 retail outlets, including Whole Foods stores, in several states, though mostly in North Carolina. Harris, meanwhile, distributes to about 1,200 outlets in Durham, Orange, Person, Vance, Granville, Franklin and Warren counties.
Although it’s a specialty product that doesn’t appeal to everyone, Joe Lidowski, manager of non-alcoholic beverages at Harris, said he expects Mati Energy drinks to eventually be picked up by about half of the Harris accounts.
Lidowski and Birgisson also anticipate that the deal will lead to distribution deals with other distributors of Anheuser-Busch products.
Most of the owners of the distributorships know each other and should be interested in picking up the product if it does well, they said. Anheuser-Busch distributors don’t compete with one another; they each have their exclusive territories.
Mati Energy drinks come in three flavors — citrus, tropical and cherry — and are positioned as an all-natural product made with tea, fruit juice and guayusa leaves, the second-most caffeinated plant after coffee.
“It’s completely no compromise,” Birgisson said. “We don’t add sugar. We don’t add anything artificial.”
Lidowski said that when he first heard about the product from Birgisson, it sounded too good to be true. But it turned out to be exactly as promised.
Among its attributes that he especially likes is that the drinks use real sugar yet are low in calories — just 45 calories per can.
Mati won the highly competitive Google for Entrepreneurs Demo Day competition in Silicon Valley in April and netted a $100,000 investment from AOL co-founder Steve Case, one of the judges of the event.
The company, which is based in the American Underground startup space in Durham, hired its fourth full-time employee this month to manage distribution in the Triangle and Wilmington. Mati brews the tea itself but the ingredients are combined and packaged by Carolina Beverage Group in Mooresville.
Birgisson said that Jay Harris, president of Harris Beverages, and Lidowski have been mentoring her over the past three years — including schooling her on how to make the product appealing to distributors.
Until recently, mass distribution of Mati Energy drinks was hampered by the need to refrigerate the product at all times — including delivery in a refrigerated truck — to avoid spoilage. Many beverage distributors don’t use refrigerated trucks, Birgisson said.
But in August Mati introduced pasteurized cans that don’t need to be refrigerated.
“That opens up the doors for a much wider net of distribution opportunities,” Birgisson said.