Food Entrepreneur NEW YORK — Ariana Farahani was on a path to a PhD in neuroscience when she shifted gears to start a consumer packaged goods company: Plant Press beverages. During college, Ms. Farahani studied long hours and often turned to coffee and energy beverages to keep her awake. After many cups of either, Ms. Farahani did not like how they made her feel.

So, she used her data skills to formulate, test, and create a clean label caffeinated beverage alternative.

Marketed as “clean caffeine,” Plant Press is formulated with electrolytes, vitamins and is free-from preservatives, artificial sugars, gums, and natural food colorings.

“I like to think of it like what’s not in the beverage,” Ms. Farahani said. “We use agave, monk fruit and a tiny bit of stevia. I don’t like the taste of stevia, so it was very important for me that the taste did not come through.”

After many tests and formulations of the product, Ms. Farahani knew the name of the product had to match the beverage’s clean label profile.

“My very first concept was CBD and caffeine together because my research was in medical marijuana and I knew when you combined caffeine and CBD, it would give you this awake but calm, no jitter feel,” she said. “These two ingredients require some sort of pressing of the plant to extract the ingredient; it felt healthy, it felt real, it felt nature driven, which is what I really wanted the product to come across as.” 

While some of her initial stock-keeping units contained caffeine and CBD, Ms. Farahani decided to pursue a more natural route in product development. 

“I performed various market tests at stores in New York City, testing everything from ingredient composition, branding and shelf placement,” she said. “CBD was one of the ingredients I used to test the market’s appetite. I learned that most consumers enjoyed Plant Press with just caffeine and no CBD, so I pivoted according to the data.” 

Ms. Farahani launched Plant Press in June 2022. 

“We were landing in corporate offices like Goldman Sachs and all the banks where people needed caffeine,” she said. “We also found this niche within fitness like in Pilates, yoga and cycling studios.

“With the nightlife scene, … your options for caffeine and energy is an espresso martini or you’re going for a Red Bull vodka. Where is an option that doesn’t only taste good, but also gives you hydration and energy and can keep you up long hours in the night without compromising your health?” 

While bars and clubs were not originally on Ms. Farahani’s list of channels for her business, the product garnered attention from DJ’s who desired a better-for-you energy beverage alternative. 

“I’m not promoting this as a mixer, but consumers have been purchasing it for that reason, so this is another avenue in terms of growth for us,” she said. “They’re (DJ’s) saying that they’re drinking the Red Bull vodkas and they don’t like it for their health, so Plant Press is an alternative that tastes good and does the job in terms of effectiveness.” 

The attention helped Ms. Farahani raise $1.2 million in a seed funding round. The funding will help Ms. Farahani expand her team, which will focus on retail and direct-to-consumer growth, in addition to expanding the product line. 

“It was very organically grown, and all that data essentially created this case study for me to then go and raise money,” she said. “My background isn’t CPG or consumer products, so I really had to show investors and people that this really works and justify it.”

Since launching, Ms. Farahani has expanded distribution from Manhattan, NY, to Florida and Los Angeles. 

For the company’s go-to-market strategy, Ms. Farahani said she is hoping to drive all areas of sales. 

“We’re looking to gain more into retail through natural foods and expanding a lot within natural stores,” she said. “Also increasing a lot of traffic direct-to-consumer through Amazon, having more pop-ups and a lot more on-the-ground activation.” 

While building retail, growing an online presence, and direct-to-consumer are all on her list for scaling, Ms. Farahani is looking to grow her business into the health care sector as well. 

“Health care workers are around the clock, their shifts are overnight and long and exhausting,” she said. “They’re also very health conscious, so that’s another demographic that I would like to put more emphasis on targeting because we’ve seen inquiries from different health care groups.”

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