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Meet Java Chews: A North Dakota Company Making Big Waves In A Fledgling Industry

John Stearns and Ryan Botner are the co-founders of Java Chews, a Valley City, North Dakota-based company that sells a coffee-based pouch alternative to regular tobacco chew.

Java Chews

Photos by J. Alan Paul

John Stearns and Ryan Botner first met when Botner was coaching Stearns’ son in baseball, and it didn’t take long before the pair’s post-practice chats turned from talking double plays to trading sales advice.

“I was always mesmerized by his operation (J&S Marketing in Valley City),” says Botner, who’s based in Fargo and serves as CEO of Physicians National Financial. “He’s a direct distributor to 500 gas stations around the area, and he had multiple sales guys — very similar to my business.”

The two eventually decided to get into business together and cofounded Java Chews, a Valley City, North Dakota-based company that sells a coffee-based pouch alternative to regular tobacco chew. The company has seen massive growth during its first year and a half of operation and can already be found in thousands of stores across the country. Learn more about them here.

The cofounders of Java Chews

Java Chews Cofounders John Stearns (L) and Ryan Botner (R)

Addiction Misunderstood

A common misconception about nicotine addiction, Stearns says, is that it’s entirely chemical, when, in fact, a big part of it is habit-based.

“With chew, half the problem is having it in your lip,” says Stearns, who has himself been a dipper for decades. “It’s just a habit. If the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is put in a tobacco chew, make it a Java Chew instead. Then, try to alternate it throughout the day and start taking steps and setting goals. Maybe you start 25 percent tobacco, 75 percent non-tobacco and slowly get yourself there.”

Java Chews is one of the sponsors for Nascar driver Josh Reaume

Java Chews’ first-big name endorser is NASCAR Truck Series driver Josh Reaume. The company sponsored the Canadian for two races last year and plans on at least another one this year.

The 5-Hour Energy Model

While Java Chews has seen faster growth than any other product in its category, Stearns says the company knows how important it is to keep itself top of mind for consumers looking for coffee pouches.

Java Chews

Java Chews come in 4 flavors: Mocha, Wintergreen, Caramel and French Vanilla.

“I’ll give you an example: 5-hour Energy came out with a two-ounce energy shot and killed it right out of the gates,” explains Stearns, who’s always sold large quantities of the product to convenience stores in the area. “And next thing you know — it only took about six or nine months — I’m getting samples of everything: 6-hour energy, 8-hour energy, Tweaker, and all these other brands. And 5-hour Energy held them off because of brand awareness.

“We need that same brand awareness, so that when people go into a store and see ‘Farmer Joe’s Coffee Chews’ or something, they see our product and think, ‘I’ve heard of Java Chews. I recognize it.'”

  • Java Chews is sold in more than 40 states
  • Each pouch of Java Chews is equivalent to 1/4 cup of coffee. Each can contains 15 pouches
  • One of Java Chews’ biggest markets right now is long distance truck drivers who Botner says like not having to stop and use the restroom frequently.
  • 100% of Java Chews’ distribution and day-to-day operations are done right here in North Dakota.
  • Stearns says the company is developing a non-traditional flavor that he believes has the potential to be “revolutionary” and do $25-30 million in sales right away.
  • The majority of Java Chews’ business is done on the Amazon Marketplace
  • You can now find Java Chews in more than 3,000 stores nationwide.
  • A testament to how popular Java Chews has become with young people, Stearns says one store in Cincinnati across from a high school was selling about 150 cans of the coffee pouches per week.
  • While Stearns and Botner expected Java Chews to mostly appeal to people looking for a chewing-tobacco alternative they say they’ve been pleasantly surprised that coffee-lovers are buying it, too.
  • Because Java Chews is a food-grade product and, as Stearns explains, they didn’t want to cut any corners, Java Chews spent nearly 4 months finding an FDA-approved manufacturing facility they were comfortable with to produce their product.
  • By the end of the year, Cofounders John Stearns and Ryan Botner predict their product will be in 20,000 stores and that they’ll sell about 2 million cans.

Java Chews

JavaChews.com

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Written by Nate Mickelberg

Nate Mickelberg is the former editor of Fargo INC! He holds his master's in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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