CHICAGO — In June 2014, Keenes, Ill.-based Frey Farms introduced a high-end bottled watermelon juice branded Tsamma (pronounced sah-mah). This happened at a time when coconut water entered the limelight for its natural hydration properties, while at the same time kale-containing juices and smoothies were all the rage. Watermelon juice persisted and today is gaining traction for its health and wellness benefits and naturally sweet taste.
Tsamma was the first bottled watermelon juice produced in the United States. The name Tsamma is the same as a hearty melon grown in the Kalahari desert of Southern Africa, which is thought to be the mother ancestral variety of all melons.
Sarah Frey, president of Frey Farms and founder of Tsamma Watermelon Juice, explained to Food Business News that Tsamma has the potential to be the next coconut water in the United States. It speaks to today’s consumers’ desire to know more about their food and their quest for local sourcing, as Tsamma is grown, made and bottled by watermelon farmers across the United States. It also has health and wellness benefits. Watermelon juice has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect on muscles, reduce risk of dehydration, combat indigestion and lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Food Business News: How did you get in the watermelon juice business?
Sarah Frey: I was raised on a small, 100-acre farm in southern Illinois, where at age 8, my mom and I would buy watermelons from local farmers and go store to store, making deliveries to local grocers during the summer. When I turned 16, I bought a truck and took over the distribution. My client list grew from 12 stores to more than 150 that first year. My senior year of high school I had to decide if I was going to follow in my four older brothers’ footsteps and go off to college, or take over the family farm. I chose the latter and have never regretted it.
I’ve always appreciated the nutritional value of watermelons and decided a juice option was a great way to deliver concentrated levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, L-Citrulline and lycopene. Similar to how lycopene is more readily available in processed tomato products than fresh tomatoes, the same is true with the lycopene in watermelon juice as compared to fresh watermelon. Once watermelon is converted to juice the positive hydrating effects of this super food are significant.
Sarah Frey, president of Frey Farms and founding farmer of Tsamma Watermelon Juice.
Is Tsamma juice made from the Tsamma melon?
Ms. Frey: No, our juice is not made from the Tsamma melon, but we wanted to pay homage to the ancient ancestor of all watermelon varieties. Our watermelons are all grown in the United States, whereas most coconut water is imported. This is starting to resonate with consumers. Frey Farms has growing operations in 11 states and works with a network of farmers. Frey Farms produces 7,000 acres of watermelons across Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and West Virginia.
Where is the juice made?
Ms. Frey: The juice is manufactured at our Poseyville, Ind., farm. It then is shipped to various bottlers. Each 12-oz bottle contains juice from more than one and a half lbs of watermelon. Tsamma has less sugar and less carbohydrates in comparison to other juices and contains no artificial colors or flavors. It is 100% juice.
Watermelon is more than 90% water. What care is taken to preserve and concentrate the nutrients in the fruit flesh?
Ms. Frey: Watermelon is delicate, and juicing it requires a lot of control. The watermelons are hand-harvested and hand-selected. There’s a rigorous testing and grading process for sugar content (Brix), overall taste, flavor and more. The melons are hand-cut, and after the end of the testing process, if the fruit doesn’t meet our criteria, it’s not used for Tsamma juice. Each watermelon undergoes a proprietary process that uses minimal processing techniques to cold-extract the juice and chill it to near freezing within minutes. This innovative process helps to maintain superior flavor while retaining its natural color, as well as nutrients. Frey Farms is vertically integrated, so we know the watermelon juice we create is a premium product. Consumers can rest assured that they’re giving their body superior nutrition.
Frey Farms family: John Frey, Harley Frey, Sarah Frey, Ted Frey and Leonard Frey.
What’s the future for watermelon juice?Ms. Frey: Earlier this year we launched a watermelon juice and coconut water blend to join our signature beverage. The beauty of watermelon juice is its delicate and naturally sweet flavor. It readily blends with other flavors, including other fruits and teas. We will continue to expand the Tsamma product line. We also sell bulk watermelon juice to food service and retailers who are selling it under their own label. This is growing awareness and resulting in flavor innovation.