By Kim Havelaar, founder of Roqberry.
A couple of years ago I had a general idea that I wanted to set up a (non-alcoholic) ‘interesting drink’ company. The incentive came from my personal experience of frustration when out and about with friends and looking to sit down for a quick drink. We’d usually end up in a coffee shop and while I do like coffee, it’s not something I want all times of day. In most places, alternatives typically consisted of a very basic type of tea or a quite uninspiring selection of soft drinks. I had an idea of creating something with healthy juices and “maybe some tea”. Whenever a venue offered quality, I did like my tea – so I knew that tea might play a part in my drinks company.
Market research showed me that there was an increased interest in healthy food and drink (juice and tea both fitting the bill) and that younger generations, in particular, were drinking less and less alcohol. There seemed to be a market. Further research gave me an indication of the exact type of products that could do well.
I decided to learn more about tea – initially with the idea of deepening my understanding of the different flavour profiles of tea and how they could be blended with other beverages. The more I learned, the more fascinated I became with the world of tea. I, like most people, had completely underestimated the complexity of the product that is tea. I am not exaggerating if I say that tea is as complex as wine; the make-up of the plant, the environment it grows in (the weather, the elevation), how well it’s looked after, and the way it is handled after picking, all impact the flavour of the tea in your cup.
By the time I got my accreditation as a tea sommelier in June last year, I was sold. I decided what I wanted to start was a tea company. Since then, I met with tea producers and visited a variety of tea plantations to learn more about the tea production process – leaf to cup.
Takeaway Tip: If you’re thinking about starting up a business, really get to know the product you are thinking of offering. Learn everything you can about it, so you understand both its quality requirements as well as its innovation potential.
The decision was made; I was going to start a tea company. And my research showed that there was a market. Great. But, there was also a ton of competition. Tea isn’t exactly a new product, in fact quite the opposite. So, what was going to be different about my tea company? I decided that if I was ever going to justify the number of hours I’d be spending on this company, I’d better enjoy it. I’d better truly believe in its purpose. I’d better align it completely with my passion and the initial reason that made me want to start: flavour. It had to taste good. In fact, it had to taste so good it could appeal to anyone who loves flavour whether they were an avid tea drinker or not. And Roqberry was born.
Roqberry’s ethos is ‘blend the rules’. The ‘rules’ refers to the rules of tea; the way to treat and blend it properly, the steps to brewing it to get the best results, and the importance of using quality ingredients. This is blended with the ‘rules’ of flavour, taking inspiration from world cuisine and the amazing flavours sometimes found in even the humblest street food.
It also refers to not being afraid of the unexpected. Our ‘Sushi & Spice’ tea might be quite a leap from the expected. Seaweed and wasabi in a tea? But if it tastes good, then why not? Incidentally, this tea went on to win a 2 Star Great Taste Award.
Takeaway Tip: Stay authentic. Stay close to the true reason, the real why, for starting the company in the first place; 1) You’ll enjoy the ride, and 2) Customers can tell the difference.
As a new company aiming to stand-out in a crowded, well-developed, traditional market it was essential to ensure our branding conveyed what we stood for as a company. Everything from the logo to the packaging, to the way we photographed the tea had to ‘blend the rules’.
I’m incredibly lucky to have found a creative studio that wasn’t only highly skilled but embraced my original idea with passion. From the very beginning we’ve been on the same wavelength, working together really well.
The ‘R’ logo they designed for me is based on a flowing, curving, ‘blending’ 3D letter ‘R’ and it showcases the tealeaf as part of it. The little square boxes in all their bright colour combinations deviate from what is traditionally seen in tea packaging. The ‘hero-shot’ photographs have a foodie inspiration. It’s all consistent with our core beliefs.
Takeaway Tip: Even as a start-up on a limited budget, it’s worth setting aside a sensible budget for the branding – don’t skimp. It’s so much more than just packaging; having a coherent branding strategy across the entire company from logo to packaging to promotional photography really helps to tell the story of your company and product.
TESTING AND TASTING
Good tea starts out with good quality ingredients. All our tea is blended by hand here in the UK. Blending by hand is important to keep the quality whole-leaf intact and to ensure a consistent mix of ingredients.
The blends take inspiration from world cuisine and include flavours such as Raspberry Fondant, Turmeric Chai, Sushi & Spice and S’Mores. Blends are also created with food pairings in mind, to provide a full flavour experience. Our Peppermint Cream for example, makes a beautiful pairing with a pan-friend dover sole and a dab of pea puree. While our Banana Bee Rooibos combines really well with a tropical dessert, from Filipino fried rice cakes to fresh alphonso mangoes.
Before we launched these flavours (and after testing them extensively on friends and family), we set up a little pop-up sampling stall and handed hundreds of samples out to strangers.
Takeaway Tip: If you’re thinking of bringing something unusual to market, whether that’s a particular flavour or some other product aspect, it helps to test it on others. Don’t just convince yourself it’s good, (hopefully you start out with that conviction from the beginning anyway), but rather take the testing to a wider audience and get feedback. If the results are positive, then go further to test there is a market and that it’s scalable.
Is Roqberry on the right track? I guess time will tell. I do believe wholeheartedly in our mission and for a company set to deliver flavour, winning 7 Great Taste Awards in the first year is not a bad accomplishment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kim Havelaar is founder of award-winning artisan tea brand Roqberry. Prior to launching Roqberry Kim spent 15 years in a corporate career that saw her live in four different countries and travel many more. During that time, she loved exploring the local cuisines and fell in love with the different flavour profiles around the world. Kim now uses this as inspiration for the Roqberry blends. www.roqberry.com
Roqberry is a new brand of tea, specifically focused on foodies, tea and food pairings, and bringing big flavour to tea. With high quality ingredients, hand blended in the UK, Roqberry offers both unique flavoured blends as well as top quality artisan varieties. Flavours include fresh expressions of classic blends, such as smooth and sunny Citrus Grey, as well as extraordinary new fusions like savoury Sushi & Spice. The naturally caffeine free infusions range from spiced Turmeric Chai to floral Bloom Box. And the speciality Tea Legends include artisan varieties like Jasmine Dragon Pearls that remain true to tradition. www.roqberry.com