If you’ve been hanging around the fridges at CIC Boston, you may have noticed a new orange beverage on the 18th floor. I recently sat down with the co-founders of X.O.I, Myron Lam and Linh Tran, to talk about their line of Gac superfruit beverages.
For these two recent Brown University alumni, what started as a summer research trip on ethnic inequality in Vietnam, filled with late night conversations about rural development and social justice, has turned into a company with a social mission, sustainable supply chain, and an innovative new product introducing the Gac superfruit to the American masses.
What does X.O.I stand for?
The Vietnamese Gac fruit is traditionally used in ‘xoi gac’, a bright orange glutinous rice dish eaten at weddings and celebrations for good health, vitality and happiness. In Chinese medicine, the fruit is also used to treat wounds, eyes and skin problems.
WOW. This Gac superfruit is amazing- it’s got benefits for heart health, skin, reproductive health, and eyesight! Can you tell us more about it?
Well, the fruit grows on vines in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and is complementary to other types of agriculture by providing shade and replenishing nutrients to the soil. The soil in that region is very rich and allows for year round production with no groundwater irrigation or chemical fertilizers. We dehydrate the fruits in Vietnam and use only the “aril meat,” which is where most of the nutrients are concentrated. This reduces waste in our processing system by allowing the pulp and the seeds to be used to feed animals and as a natural fertilizer.
It’s not a fruit that has been widely available on the American market previously and we’re really excited to introduce it! Research at UC Davis found that each fruit has the highest concentration of antioxidants of any fruit in the world: 70 times more lycopene than tomatoes, 10 times more vitamin A than carrots, and 40 times more zeaxanthin than corn. Each bottle of X.O.I juice contains your daily recommended value of lycopene- and as you mentioned, it has extraordinary benefits. Unlike many juices on the market, X.O.I is low in sugar, containing only around a third of the quantity found in regular juices. (Source: UC Davis)
You’re ALSO a social enterprise? How does that work?
We found out about the Gac superfruit from our Host mother, who is a member of the Ede ethnic minority group. She was lamenting her lack of access to markets as well as the unpredictability of fluctuating agricultural prices. We aim to address both these issues by working directly with the minority farmers, who constitute 14% of Vietnam’s population, but account for 68% of the “extreme poor.” (via World Bank)
So it sounds like you’re still in touch with your host mom, and working to trade directly with her and the other farmers. Are you considering an official Fair Trade Certification?
Yes. While getting the official certification is a long and expensive process, our model is similar. We use a base price mechanism that guarantees a fair and stable price for the Gac fruit, and include a social premium that is substantially higher than the market price. This model has been used by other companies, such as Sambazon, who works with indigenous tribes to grow Acai berries in Latin America.
Is X.O.I available at retail locations around Boston?
It sure is. We have three flavors (Beets & Berries, Ginger Rosemary Pear, Apple Chamomile Cider) that are sold at various retail stores in Boston and at the South End Open Market. The CIC currently carries two of the three flavors, so be sure to check our website (http://www.xoicompany.com/products/) as we update it regularly to include new locations— maybe you’ll even bump into us during one of our an in-store demos! We’re open to suggestions of local stores that might be interested in carrying our product as well!
You mention the experimental development process involved “countless trips to the bathroom.” Can you tell us the worst flavor experiment you’ve tried?
When we first started working on X.O.I, we practically slept in Linh’s kitchen, drinking at least 5 liters every day. The worst experiment would probably have to be a chocolate flavor. We wanted to keep the sugar content low, so we threw in all these nuts and herbs. We also wanted it to be dairy-free so milk was out of the question. The result was a weird lumpy, watery chocolate mix… a definite no.
How has the Impact Hub been helpful in your product and business development?
We’ve been based out of the Impact Hub ever since we were awarded the Embark Post-Graduate Fellowship from Brown University. The Impact Hub and CIC have been incredibly supportive— from the volunteers who served as taste testers for our first recipes, to officially introducing us as a specialty item in a kitchen for the next several months. We’re so grateful to be a part of this community and hope everyone enjoys what we’ve created! Here’s a photo of our Impact Hub wine-down special featuring X.O.I. sangria: