Established in March 2011, The Kandula Tea Company was grown out of a passion for real tea and the love of Sri Lanka. EatSleepDrink Magazine speaks to Jane Myhill to find out more about this refreshingly ethical company.
Having been close friends since meeting in their teens, Jane Myhill and Gail Shreeve formed The Kandula Tea Company through a mutual love of food and drink. With the market for premium leaf tea growing in the UK and Ireland, the company was formed to import premium whole leaf teas and infusions from Sri Lanka. Taking an innovative approach, Kandula is able to create rare and bespoke blends, as well as its own take on classic brews. Indeed, as a testament to the quality of its tea, the company was awarded a Great Taste Award 2011 Gold Star for its Ceylon Pink Tea and Peppermint Leaf Tea.
Borne out of passion
As Jane begins by explaining, the roots of The Kandula Tea Company can be traced to friendship and a genuine love of their product. “Gail and I have been close friends for many years – Gail ran a very successful refrigerated vehicle company for 20 years, which she sold in 2008. I worked as a brand and marketing consultant specialising in food and drink for the past 30 years. The idea for Kandula grew out of a passion for real tea and a love of Sri Lanka. So, from the beginning, we wanted to create a range of premium whole leaf blends, while we were also determined to gather all of our teas from a single source”.
As well as the climate and soils in Sri Lanka providing the perfect conditions for growing tea, Sri Lanka’s location close to the Equator means that all of the tea bushes are naturally higher in antioxidants than other teas, as Jane continues. “We wanted to form a long-term relationship with the tea producers and the estate communities, so Gail makes regular trips to Sri Lanka to oversee the picking and blending. This enables us to build on our friendships with the people who grow and blend our range of teas. Our Sri Lankan provenance is very important to us”.
Working closely with the blenders enables Kandula to take an innovative approach to its rare, bespoke and classic teas and infusions, which include Green and White Teas, Herb and Fruit Infusions, Spiced Fruit Infusions and traditional black teas, such as English Breakfast, Ebony, Ebony Chai and Earl Grey. “Being innovative and forward-thinking is an important part of Kandula Tea, wanting to continually offer our customers new and exciting blends,” she affirms.
In recent years, the speciality tea market in the UK has grown, with tea drinkers warming to quality whole leaf teas. With the advent of the pyramid tea bag, offering the whole leaf experience with the convenience of the tea bag – as opposed to the standard paper tea bag, filled with what is often referred to in the trade as ‘sweepings’ – Kandula Tea is certainly in the right place at the right time. “We had also noticed, among our family and friends, a desire for better quality teas that offered them a healthy beverage as well as interesting choices for different moments. The Kandula team have created a range of teas and infusions to drink at any time of the day or night,” Jane testifies.
“Speaking to our friends, colleagues and families, we found that a great tasting, refreshing cuppa is seen more and more as the perfect replacement for other less healthy drinks – at home and at work. We have created a range of teas and infusions that offer a repertoire of tastes to suit your moods, moments and lifestyles – in other words, Kandula Teas and Infusions to compliment you. Talking to our customers at our various tea tastings we have also found that more and more of the younger generation are interesting in drinking our teas, which is fantastic for our business.
“We also believe that whole leaf teas should no longer be seen as ‘speciality’ teas,” she elucidates. “Our teas can be enjoyed as ‘everyday teas’ – because not every day is the same and every day should be special. Taking an innovative approach within the tea market is something we are keen to be at the forefront of. Our Pink Ceylon Tea, for example, is a unique blend of green tea with hibiscus. This has been created exclusively for us by one of our Sri Lankan tea blenders who grows single estate, unfermented green and white teas. We are keen to introduce bespoke and rare teas to our portfolio each year,” Jane confirms.
Having been awarded a Great Taste Award Gold Star for two of its teas in its first six months of trading, Jane is understandably proud to describe the impact this kind of national recognition has on business. “We love our teas and are very proud of what we are doing – these awards reaffirm that we are getting it right in terms of quality and taste. It is especially rewarding to have a Gold Star for our bespoke Pink Ceylon, which is totally unique and a first to market in the UK. Our deliciously fresh Peppermint Leaf Tea also won a prestigious Gold Star.
“We exhibited for the first time at the Speciality & Fine Food Fair 2011 at the London Olympia, which is closely associated with the Great Taste Awards,” she notes. “Our winning products were displayed in the Great Taste Award (GTA) cabinets during the exhibition and, as Gold Star winners, we were invited to the reception and dinner The Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington. The reception was like foodie heaven – we were surrounded by the winning Three Star food and drink producers all serving samples for us to taste! We felt it was a huge accolade for our young company to be a part of.
“Having the GTA badge displayed on our tea really helps to endorse the fine quality of our whole leaf teas and this, in turn, assists in placing our teas firmly within the gourmet market,” Jane affirms. “We are finding this to be a tangible advantage when it comes to selling our teas. We talked to over 160 people during the Speciality & Fine Food Fair, most of whom also tasted our teas. The overwhelming response was positive, both in terms of the teas in our portfolio as well as the Kandula brand itself and how we package and market our teas. It is easy to sell a product that we are passionate about and lives up to our high expectations. We have since increased our reach across the UK and we now have an interest in exporting to the USA, Canada, Russia and the Ukraine, as well as Pakistan”.
When asked about the company’s major strengths, Jane was quick to reference her and Gail’s experience in related industries, as well as their genuine love of food and drink in general. “During my time as a brand and marketing consultant for the food and drink industry, I was able to build many successful brands and, indeed, worked for numerous tea companies over the years. Because of this, we are able to keep all of our creative work in-house. I created the Kandula brand, designing and implementing the packaging ranges and marketing materials, as well as designing the website and implementing our social media marketing. This allows us to react quickly and effectively to individual customer needs, in terms of point of sales and tea tasting events, as we know the retail environment that our products are in.
“Gail, on the other hand, has worked in sales for 35 years,” Jane continues. “In a previous life, she founded and ran a successful refrigerated vehicle company with her husband. She built the company up from scratch for 20 years before selling it in 2008. Over the past three years, Gail has been forming close links with communities in Sri Lanka and has established strong relationships with two excellent tea blenders. She spends a good deal of time in Sri Lanka, working with growers to perfect our blends, as well as looking at which communities we can support there.
“Our third strength would have to be our combined passion for tea,” she confirms. “We are genuine foodies. We are not just a company importing teas or a group of business people selling a product. We are our own consumer. We love our products are we care about their quality, their distinctiveness and, ultimately, the enjoyment they give someone every time they drink a cup of Kandula Tea. We are creative in our approach to our portfolio of tea and we work hard to get each of our blends right”.
The sustainable approach
With the growing emphasis on sustainability in the food and drink industry, The Kandula Tea prides itself on a strong sustainability ethos, as Jane is understandably keen to outline. “Our sustainable approach works from how we package our teas to working with communities here in the UK and in Sri Lanka. We see ourselves as a direct action company and knowing our teas are grown, picked and blended under the Sri Lankan Tea Workers’ Welfare is extremely important to us. The country prides itself on the way it looks after its tea workers and their families, literally ‘from womb to tomb’.
“Furthermore, we support the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka and various charities both in the UK and Sri Lanka, and have a donated a Kandula Prize as part of the Young Enterprise Scheme, which is awarded for overcoming diversity,” she tells us. “Our beautiful pyramid bags are made from recycled corn starch and are fully biodegradable, as well as 100 percent compostable. We actively promote that our used tea leaves be added to compost to benefit the garden. We only use 100 percent natural ingredients in all of our teas and infusions. Indeed, we recycle the packaging that our teas arrive in from Sri Lanka to send our teas out in to our customers. If any part of packaging cannot be recycled, we ask our customers to re-use it.
“The civil war in Sri Lanka lasted for over 25 years and it is only very recently that the country has been able to start rebuilding its trade links to the rest of the world,” Jane concedes. “Therefore, the tea industry is essential as it is the most important source for economic growth. The Tsunami that hit the country in 2004 had a dreadful impact on local communities, with so many people losing their homes and livelihoods, so we work with these communities to assist wherever we can.
“We are about to place an order for handcrafted toy elephants from The Dickwella Lace Centre,” she explains. “This centre was established to support the women who were displaced by the Tsunami – a part of our ethical stance is a wish to only work with companies who make products within Sri Lanka or the UK. It is also important to us that we are trading with a country in which women in business thrive. Women often head Sri Lankan companies and Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to have a female Prime Minister!”
Infusing the future
As natural innovators, both Jane and Gail have ambitious plans for the future of The Kandula Tea Company. “Having worked for so many years within new product development in the food and drink sector, we will definitely be looking to take tea into other categories in the future. We are promoting our new range of Spiced Fruit Infusions to be enjoyed as iced teas and have created a menu of unique ‘Teatails’ – wonderful and delicious cocktails using a variety of our teas. One future product range we are currently looking at is a range of green tea spice rubs – a natural and healthy way to add flavour to meat, fish and vegetables.
“It is very early days for us, so our focus is to consolidate our range of teas and infusions, furthering our reach across the UK, as well as exporting around the world in our first year. Getting our name and brand seen and known by as many different tea drinkers is key, primarily through tea tastings, editorial, exhibitions and social network marketing. Tea tastings are proving to be a very effective way of promoting our teas and we frequently convert non-tea drinkers to become tea devotees, which is fantastic! In the future, logistically we may need to recruit help with tea tastings across the UK and beyond East Anglia,” Jane continues.
“We plan to begin exporting in 2012 and it looks like we will need to look for a picking and packing fulfilment company to take over the storage and deliveries of all our teas in the next six months,” she concludes.
Given the terrific feedback The Kandula Tea Company has already received since starting out in March this year, the business looks set to continue expanding its fanatical customer base across the UK, Ireland and beyond. Indeed, as demand for ethically-sourced, great-tasting premium whole leaf tea grows, The Kandula Tea Company offers the perfect portfolio to capitalise on such a fertile sector.
Visit: www.kandulatea.com for more information.