We spoke with Estate Tea Co Director Tom Webb, to discuss his journey from a humble university project to being stocked in retailers across the UK and Europe in just a few years.
Tell me your business story so far in the time it takes to make a coffee (or tea)?
Estate Tea Co is a Newcastle based loose-leaf tea company that actually started out as a university project in 2014. Since we started, we've grown a range from just six teas to over 50 flavours such as Peach Sencha Green Tea and Orange Blossom Oolong Tea.
We’ve come a really long way from being just a university project. We now sell both retail and wholesale to venues such as Fenwick, Selfridges and House of Fraser. As we continue to grow, it’s incredible to see our products stocked by retailers in the UK and in major cities across Europe.
It’s been an incredibly exciting journey for us so far and we really want to see how far we can take the business.
As your company continues to grow, do you think you can still hold on to your traditional values?
Our commitment to ethical sourcing and sustainability is at the core of our business model and has played a huge role in expanding overseas. We have spent time visiting the regions where we source our tea, including Sri Lanka and Japan. We want to make sure we know exactly who is growing our teas and help to safeguard those farmers and producers. That will never change, regardless of how big the company gets.
We’re also making a huge push to change all of our packaging to either fully recyclable or biodegradable. Our packaging will be produced in the UK, using carbon neutral manufacturers. It’s not just the responsibility of larger corporations to consider their environmental impact - the little guys have got to do it too. We’ll be rolling this out in late 2018.
In your mind, what has been the biggest business success so far?
To see our product on the shelves of retailers in major cities is really exciting and it’s fantastic to know that people are enjoying them outside of the region, not only in other parts of the UK but now in Europe as well. We have a number of stockists in Germany and France, with more signing up each week.
Exporting is a big leap for most small businesses, where did you look for support and advice?
Luckily, we were able to call on fellow North East businesses that had done similar exports for support. They were really helpful in telling us about key areas we need to be aware of before we could start exporting our products.
As we were exporting a food item, we had to be careful that we fulfilled all of the restrictions and requirements of that country. You can find this information by contacting relevant authorities in the destination country, or their foreign embassy in the UK. On top of this, we approached the DIT for support. Those guys are great and even took us along on exporting trips to Cologne in Germany to make contact with retailers.
Can you talk us through a recent product launch? What was involved and why did you decide to expand your product range?
It’s a really exciting time for us at the minute. We’re just about to open our first retail shop and tea bar in Gateshead. It means we’ll finally have a place where our customers can come and see us, try our teas and buy direct. We’ll be stocking a range of over 100 teas in our shop and customers will be able to stop by any time for a hot cup! It’s taking a lot of setup for us to open our first venue but we’re really excited to get it off the ground. We’re making sure to get a solid marketing plan in place to really promote the new venture as much as possible.
Our shop will be supplying some of the world’s rarest varieties of loose leaf tea from small, artisan growers around the world. We believe this is the perfect next step for the business and will open up even more doors for us in the future. You'll find the shop at 12 High Level Parade, Gateshead, NE8 2AJ with an anticipated opening date of 15 November 2018.
What’s next for Estate Tea Co?
Estate Tea Co has been a great success and has exposed consumers to new and unusual flavour experiences. We’ve been delighted with the success we’ve had so far but there is definitely room to grow. Once we’ve finalised our retail shop, we’re hoping to build on the momentum we’ve built and continue our export drive. We are going to continue to export going forward and keep an eye out for new exciting opportunities to generate growth and expand across Europe. It’s the perfect opportunity to forge links with other companies and help get the recognition to become an international brand.