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.
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.”
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.
“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.