Shoppers can now find Southern Sweet Tea Company products on the shelves at Publix, Walmart, Winn-Dixie and Detwiler’s Farm Market.
Developed in Bradenton by a father-and-daughter team, the sweet tea grew out of Laura Jean’s participation in auto racing.
“We would go to the track and buy sweet tea and beef jerky,” said Laura Jean, who began racing at DeSoto Speedway when she was a high school student. “We got to the point where we were buying too much and decided to make our own.”
As recently as 2016, the product was sold by the cup at auto racing tracks and at the Fruitville Groves pumpkin festival.
“People would buy a cup and say that it tasted just like the sweet tea their grandmother made,” Laura Jean said.
Now 23, she serves as president and CEO of the young company and takes the lead in finding new markets.
By 2017, Laura Jean and her father, Joseph Mammina, had found a bottler and were selling sweet tea in about 200 stores. The first major supermarket to carry their sweet tea was Lucky’s Market.
The recipe for Southern Sweet Tea is printed right on the bottle, “pure and simple,” Mammina said. It contains purified water, pure cane sugar and custom blended teas.
“It has no additives or colors. It’s as pure as you can get,” he said.
To launch Southern Sweet Tea, Mammina and Laura Jean wanted just one product, sweet tea, as they sought to find room on store shelves. In January, they added unsweetened tea, which now accounts for about one third of their sales.
Prior to getting into the tea business, Mammina sold boats, and Laura Jean worked in a preschool and at a McDonald’s.
“I might be a great boat salesman, but she’s getting all the big accounts. That’s all her,” Mammina said of his daughter.
Even though the growth of company sales has been rapid, it hasn’t been without a lot of work.
“Nothing comes easy. It takes hard work seven days a week,” Laura Jean said.
To find room on Walmart shelves, Laura Jean traveled to the corporate giant’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
Southern Sweet Tea Company products are now distributed in an area reaching from Naples in the south to Tampa in the north and Orlando in the east, including 45 Walmart stores, 10 Bradenton-area Publix supermarkets, Bradenton-area Winn-Dixie locations and Lucky’s.
To boost their sales, they bring Laura Jean’s race car to supermarkets to do demonstrations. Their next demonstration is set for 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday at Publix, 8330 Market St. in Lakewood Ranch.
Laura Jean’s ambition extends beyond the considerable sales gains made in a few short years.
“Our main goal is to go out of state and cover the southern states,” Laura Jean said.
For more information about the company and its products, visit southernsweetteacompany.com.