The plan was to test Brassica tea in Denver to assess how consumers would respond to broccoli tea. But news of the research supporting its potential as a cancer preventative spread, and customers and retailers responded.
"Public relations is like a blunt instrument," said Brassica Protection Products CEO Tony Talalay. It can be effective when it hits its target, but problematic when its impact extends beyond where it was aimed. Such was the case with Baltimore, Md.-based Brassica's tea. It created demand that couldn't be met.
Brassica's research, conducted at Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1992, isolated a potent antioxidant phytochemical found in broccoli—sulforaphane glucosinolate, which amplified the body's ability to neutralize carcinogens before they cause damage.
Extensive research found that SGS concentrations were higher in baby, rather than full-grown, broccoli. In 1998, Brassica released BroccoSprouts, made from broccoli seeds monitored to ensure they provided consistent amounts of SGS. Four servings of these sprouts, said Talalay, contain an amount of SGS equivalent to four to five pounds of broccoli.
But not everyone likes the flavor of sprouts, and the company looked for another vehicle for the substance.
Tea was the obvious choice. "There are a lot of data that support the health-enhancing effects of the phytochemicals in tea and its potential to be a cancer preventive," said Talalay.
The synergy between two antioxidants—tea and SGS—is more than the sum of its parts. "Combination therapy is always more effective than a single substance," said Paul Talalay, M.D., of Johns Hopkins and Tony's father. "We see that the combination of protective agents is more than additive. Tea and SGS together boost the antioxidant ability of cells to neutralize free radicals before they cause cellular damage."
Lab research on animals and human cells has demonstrated SGS's potential role in cancer protection, as well as its ability to deter arterial plaque buildup and to protect against oxidative damage to retinal cells, damage which, if unabated, could lead to macular degeneration.
By 2001, the company was ready to introduce Brassica teas supplemented with enough SGS to equal one serving of broccoli, but without a hint of vegetable flavor. The tea debuted in six flavors—caffeinated and decaf green and black tea and green tea with orange or lemon added.
The first impression, apparently, was a good one. "We did just a little bit of publicity, and the tea just blew off the shelves," Talalay said. "We were not prepared for people to be so interested."
His focus at this point is to find means to manufacture product, and quick. One challenge is the seed. "There is a limited supply of seeds with consistent levels of SGS, and even fewer that are not slotted to be planted and allowed to grow into broccoli," he said. "We've got a supply that is being custom-grown for us, but it won't be ready until considerably later in the year."
But sufficient supply is on the horizon. "We're putting the rollout plan together and hope by fall to be able to offer the teas to natural foods retailers throughout the country," Talalay said.
Barbara Hey is senior editor of Delicious Living.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 5/p. 5