Food Entrepreneur SANTA MONICA, CALIF. — Yerba mate, a caffeinated South American brew traditionally sipped from a gourd, has gained popularity stateside as consumers increasingly seek energizing drinks. But top canned options in the marketplace contain significant amounts of sugar, a sticking point for many health-minded shoppers, said Daniel Scharff, chief executive officer of Machu Picchu Energy.

The Santa Monica-based beverage startup, which debuted its core line of organic energy drinks last year, is introducing a pair of zero-sugar yerba mate offerings in May. The products, which will be unveiled at Natural Products Expo West, March 8-11 in Anaheim, Calif., were developed with input from two-time world champion professional surfer John John Florence, an ambassador for the brand.

“We knew he liked the yerba mate taste profile but wasn’t really drinking it a lot because of the sugar — the market leaders have as much as 28 grams per can,” Mr. Scharff said. “He asked if we could apply our zero-sugar technology to deliver the first delicious, refreshing zero-sugar yerba mate. We started working on it with him and did multiple rounds of feedback until we got to a place that was really just perfect. He made it so much better because he is the target consumer for this.”

A staple of surf culture, yerba mate is typically made from steeped leaves and stems of an indigenous plant and has antioxidants and polyphenols. Machu Picchu’s formulation features organic ingredients, including yerba mate extract, erythritol, stevia, green coffee caffeine and Peruvian maca. The non-carbonated, USDA Organic certified beverage is available in two flavors — Alpine Mint and Ocean Citrus — a nod to founder Bernardo Paiva’s passion for outdoor adventures.

“Since day one we have thought of Machu Picchu as a platform for providing ‘feel good’ and ‘do good’ energy to people’s lives,” said Mr. Paiva, a Brazilian entrepreneur and former executive at global beverage companies including Ambev and Anheuser-Busch InBev. “We’re really pleased to apply our craft approach to energy in the yerba mate category.”

Mr. Paiva launched the business to support various organizations that help children in need while inspiring consumers to connect with nature. Within a year of launching, Machu Picchu’s lineup of organic energy drinks has rolled out to hundreds of retail shelves nationwide. The brand’s “Feel good. Do good” tagline reflects the products’ functional and emotional benefits and social mission. The expansion into the growing yerba mate segment underscores Machu Picchu’s commitment to community, Mr. Paiva said, pointing to the drink’s roots in bonding rituals in countries including Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. 

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