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Wednesday, Dec 19, 2018
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Tampa entrepreneur leaps into beverage market with Lettuce Tea

Store beverage coolers are stacked with eye-catching containers touting virtues of the often colorful liquids inside.

Various drinks claim to energize, rejuvenate, relax and even quench thirst.

The message on the label of “vitaminated” Lettuce Tea is different. It touts the beverage’s nutritional benefits and promises “A unique cruciferous vegetable tea product experience.”

Eddy Antoine, 64, is president of Complex Beverage, and Lettuce Tea is his entry into the competitive beverage marketplace, an industry that generates $500 billion annually in global sales, according to analysis by First Research, a company that provides business-related information.

The idea of drinking tea derived from lettuce is unusual, Antoine says, and that’s a good thing.

“If you want to succeed in the beverage industry, you have to be unique,” he says. “You can’t succeed as a ‘me, too’. You have to ask what your product has that others don’t.”

Lettuce Tea marks Antoine’s entrepreneurial debut following a 30-year corporate career in retail product development. When he moved to Tampa 10 years ago he planned to retire, but his effort to find something interesting to do turned into a one-person endeavor to bring the world something new to drink.

The difference in bringing a product to the market as an employee of a large company and as an entrepreneur has become apparent to Antoine.

“They have cash, marketing, scientists and a lot of resources,” he said. “They ask you to do something and you do it.

“If you’re working for yourself you have to do everything.”

Creating Lettuce Tea involved market research as well as kitchen sense, and Antoine’s vision has evolved.

His original approach was to find a place in the growing Hispanic market, building on cultural traditions of brewing tealike drinks from fruits, vegetables, herbs and seeds. But Antoine found coming up with a taste with appeal across the varied palates of Latin America to be a tough challenge.

That revelation led him to position Lettuce Tea as an alternative to drinks commonly found in health food and convenience stores.

Lettuce Tea will be available in 16-ounce bottles and sell for $1.69 to $1.99. There are four flavors: exotic apricot, mango, strawberry and pomegranate.

Antoine says it took four years to fully develop his concept of Lettuce Tea, and large-scale production of the drink is commencing at Tampa Bay CoPack, a bottler in Dade City.

The next step for Antoine is getting his tea into stores. He says he has a deal with a health food chain in California and is looking for distributors.

“I’m selling pallets of product,” he says. “I don’t go to every gasoline station.”

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