Hydration is a critical factor in human health, and water is the best source. However, many people just don’t like drinking plain water. Over the past 15 years, flavored waters have become a hot item in the beverage industry, with coconut flavoring being one of the most popular. Move over coconut! Prickly pear cactus is moving in.
Kun Yang, Mohammed (Mo) Hassoun, Jaanai Babb, Sarwang Shah and Aakash Dheri met while studying at pharmacy college in Massachusetts. All of them are first-generation Americans in their twenties and thirties and became fast friends. Among other things, the friends shared a dislike of coconut water. Their dislike was so powerful, they claim that coconut water tastes like it’s already been in someone’s mouth!
Mo’s family comes from Lebanon, and he recalled many happy summers spent there with his grandmother. She would make him and his siblings cactus juice, a refreshing drink in the very hot Lebanon summers.
Mo decided to make cactus juice for his friends. They were skeptical at first. In an interview with Monica Watrous of Food Business News on July 20, 2021, Kun Yang admitted his first thought was “Since when do cactuses have fruit?” But after trying the drink, they all loved it!
After deciding to market the drink, the five friends had to learn about building a company from scratch. None of them had any prior experience as entrepreneurs, and they all continued working in the health care field while building the business.
In September 2021, Pricklee was chosen as one of 45 startups from a field of 370 applicants to present their product at FoodBytes! Pitch 2021.
Yang, now CEO of Pricklee, explains that the prickly pear fruit is an antioxidant powerhouse. The cactus grows in more than 30 countries, and is used extensively in Mexican cuisine. Compared to coconut, the flavor of cactus juice is sweeter. Even so, it has 50% less sugar and calories than coconut juice and is full of Vitamin C, flavonoids, betalains and polyphenols, and provides excellent hydration. In addition to the prickly pear flavor, the drinks come in strawberry/hibiscus and ginger mango. They are sold in a 12 pack of 12-ounce cans, and Pricklee offers a “cactus club” for regular delivery, saving 15%. They can be ordered through the website or on Amazon. Pricklee is also available in numerous stores mostly in the Northeast, such as Stop & Shop, Donelans and Greens Natural Foods.