SANTA MONICA, CALIF. — A small red berry recently made a big splash on “Shark Tank.”
The co-founders of Nature’s Wild Berry, a Santa Monica company that grows, processes, markets and distributes Ledidi berries, also known as “miracle berries,” secured a deal with two of the mainstay multimillionaire investors on the reality television series.
The berries contain a glycoprotein molecule that binds to taste receptors on the tongue, temporarily converting sour, tart or fermented notes to sweet flavors.
Founded in 2016, Nature’s Wild Berry developed a patent-pending process to freeze-dry the berries, preserving them at peak potency within hours of harvest, said Hank Watt, co-founder.
“When you chew them for 30 seconds, the pulp coats your tongue and for the next 20 to 40 minutes, anything tart or sour will become sweet,” he told Food Entrepreneur. “Green juice with lemon and green veggies tastes like green Jolly Rancher candy.”
Mr. Watt credited the berry for catalyzing a major health transformation, altering his palate and subsequently his diet to drop a significant amount of weight and avert diabetes. He invested tens of thousands of dollars to launch the business with his friend Juliano Bonanni, previously a restaurateur who had introduced him to the berry.
The product initially was sold in specialty grocers and supplement shops, but during the pandemic the pair shifted focus to direct-to-consumer operations. In the year ahead, the founders expect to expand into more stores and, Mr. Watt noted, “because we’re a single ingredient, we’re able to go in produce section and place right next to citrus.”
The company owns nearly all of its manufacturing and land in Florida where the berries are grown.
“When we started, we had one acre, and we were using 10% capacity,” Mr. Watt said. “Today we have four acres that have nothing but fruit on them, and it is at about 50% capacity right now, so we can double again. We have another 29 acres that we are developing right now … in different areas of the country.”
During the episode of “Shark Tank,” which aired May 5, the panel of investors sampled the berry alongside apple cider vinegar, unsweetened cranberry juice, green juice, pickles and lemon wedges, describing its effects as “crazy,” “absolutely incredible” and “a parlor trick.”
“The lemon tastes like an orange now,” Barbara Corcoran remarked incredulously. “I feel like a miracle is happening in my mouth.”
After considering multiple bids, Mr. Watt and Mr. Bonnani accepted an offer from Mark Cuban and Lori Grenier for $80,000 in exchange for 20% equity and a $3 royalty per unit sold until the investment is repaid.“Thinking about this validation from Mark and Lori, it makes me emotional because it’s been six years, and it’s been a very long journey to get here, and we’ve traveled through so many obstacles,” Mr. Watt said on the show. “But now we’re here, and we got the deal, and it’s all worth it.”