Sook-cessful Stories with Tina Chen, founder and Chief Tea Officer of HumaniTea

26-Feb-2021 20:19:25 / by Iwona Stanczyk

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Tell us a bit about yourself and your company? What was the underlying passion behind your business idea?

As a Taiwanese-American living in London, I was inspired by bubble tea concept and British tea drinking culture to develop a healthy, well-balanced tea latte beverage. With my love for a quality cuppa and my desire to make a positive impact on society, I made a career switch from IT to just tea, and HumaniTea, a proud social enterprise, was born! Tackling the problem of obesity-causing sugary soft drinks, HumaniTea crafts the UK’s first ready-to-drink Plant-based Tea Lattes available in Matcha Green Tea and Classic Earl Grey flavours. Brewed with actual tea leaves, creamy oat milk, and ethically-sourced, quality ingredients, our deliciously smooth Vegan Tea Lattes exclude artificial flavours and emulsifiers, contain low sugar and low calories, and provide boost of antioxidants and natural energy without the coffee caffeine crash. Spreading Me Time, Tea Time, Any Time, HumaniTea encourages people to take tea breaks throughout the day and night to find mindfulness.

 

What would you say are the key elements for starting and running your own business?

I believe passion is key to running a successful business. Without passion, then work becomes meaningless and loses value. I mentor some budding entrepreneurs who are just starting out on their startup journey, and I always tell them that passion is so important to the success of one’s business. If money or fame is the sole reason for starting a business, then burnout rates can be high. My passion is to bring the drink that’s good for humanity to the world!

Moreover, creating a business that solves an actual problem means that there will be demand for your product or service, which will generate a sustainable business model. During market research, I discovered that the NHS spends over £6 billion per year on obesity and overweight-related illnesses. The obesity problem is so huge that the UK government decided to take action and implemented a soft drinks industry levy, where companies pay a tax for having more than 5% sugar content in their soft drinks. I believe healthy living and drinking is key to a happy body and mind. So I decided to tackle the problem of obesity-causing sugary soft drinks with the creation of our delicious Vegan Tea Lattes, a healthier alternative to current sugary, artificial iced tea beverages and over caffeinated coffee lattes on the market.

In addition, 1 in 6 people in the UK suffer from mental health issues due to stress from work. Just a 5 minute tea break can really help one find mindfulness. Taking regular breaks from the hustle and bustle of work is key to maintaining physical and mental wellbeing. HumaniTea aims to solve these 2 major problems and have demonstrated strong traction thus far.

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What triggered you to start your own business? Was it bringing a new idea to the market, earning more money, more freedom?

The ability to make a positive impact on society through my business motivates me to succeed. I set up my business as a social enterprise because I wanted to ingrain our mission into our Articles of Association. Adding a mission lock to our Articles of Association with the help of Cambridge Social Venture Incubator, which supports social ventures to measure their impact and grow to the next level, we commit to producing low sugar drinks, using preservative-free, ethically sourced ingredients, utilising eco-friendly, recyclable packaging, and donating 5% or more of post-tax profit to wellbeing and sustainability initiatives in our areas of operation.

 

Small businesses have been some of the hardest hit by Covid-19. How has the pandemic affected your business?

Since Mar. 2019, we have been selling our tasty tea lattes at farmers’ markets across London, including Borough Market and Partridges Chelsea Market. In Apr. 2019, our plant-based tea lattes became available at Imperial College London’s Vegan Café Plantworks. As we possessed an offline presence, COVID-19 social distancing rules meant that we could no longer trade at our main points of sale. And I couldn’t travel to the shared commercial kitchen that I was renting as well. With sales hitting zero, I decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign in March 2020 to raise money for our contract manufacturing cost as we looked at scaling up our kitchen recipe to commercial factory level.

Sook Pop Up 5 - Tina Chen

What changes have you had to make to your business to adapt to the ever-changing retail situation during COVID? How are you operating now?

We received so much support from our strong, loyal global community and successfully crowdfunded in May. We raised over £13k from over 120 supporters via Crowdfunder (https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/cold-tea-done-right). Through our campaign, we took pre-orders for our tea lattes as rewards for monetary contributions. Reaching our funding target, we improved our branding and packaging design with a professional graphic designer, finalised our suppliers in August, and completed our factory run with our contract manufacturing partner in October. With our first 10,000 units now manufactured with a BRC-certified factory, I created our Online Shop and launched our products for sale online this November, including a direct to consumer model selling via Facebook/Instagram Shops.

To date, we have received strong interest from retailers and wholesalers. We are currently stocked in 25+ farm shops, supermarkets, and restaurants in London and the rest of UK. We are actively entering both online and offline retail environments.

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Pop-up shops are becoming a permanent part of the retail landscape. What made you choose a Sook pop-up space to promote your brand?

Sook offers a unique retail space in some of the busiest, prominent high streets. I was lucky to receive the opportunity to organise our HumaniTea Launch Pop-up to celebrate the successful production of our first 10,000 units. The Sook pop-up space I booked was located on South Molton Street, in the heart of Mayfair. The Sook space is definitely good value for money. I loved having the ability to easily design the space using the digital screens, which allowed me to truly make the space HumaniTea-themed without having to bring lots of props on the day of the pop-up, saving me both set-up time and decoration costs.

 

What goals did you hope to achieve with your pop-up?

I desired to raise HumaniTea's brand awareness through the pop-up. The Launch Pop-up was a fantastic way to share with our CommuniTea that our HumaniTea Oat Milk Tea Lattes are now available for purchase. On the day of the pop-up, we handed out our HumaniTea Lattes and limited edition HumaniTea Tote Bags to interested visitors who received our goodies for free when they signed up to our newsletter or followed us on social media.

 

How did you promote your pop up with us? Which marketing tools did you find most successful at driving footfall ?

We promoted our Pop-up using our social media channels and email newsletters. We wanted our loyal CommuniTea to attend our TEArrific pop-up, so we made sure they were aware by communicating the details well in advance. The turnout was even better than expected, and we also had several passersby visit our pop-up. We had posters on the windows facing the street, so people could easily see that we were holding a launch pop-up offering delicious HumaniTea Lattes.

 

Was the pop-up a success? Tell us a little bit more about your Sook experience.

Yes! Super Sook-cessful! I had the pleasure of working with Liam from Sook, and he kindly answered all my questions regarding designing the digital screens and made sure our displays were all running smoothly in advance. He was there on the day of the pop-up to set-up the furniture and shelves, which were all provided by Sook! Liam also helped with the mood colour lighting and music to ensure a relaxing tea tasting atmosphere.

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What sort of things do you wish you knew before booking your pop-up space? 

It was nice to view the pop-up space beforehand in person to get a feel of the space to better visualise how to design the digital screens to create a fitting environment for our pop-up as well as how to arrange the furniture in a stylish fashion. The online platform for designing the screens was easy to use once Liam walked me through the process.

 

What would be your top tip for anyone else looking to do their own pop up?

To make sure your pop-up is a Sook-cess, advertise your pop-up date early so that your fans can pop the date in their calendars! Advance notice is always good for pop-ups. This will ensure a higher turnout. Also, grab your friends who are good at design if you're not a designer yourself. I had the pleasure of enlisting my designer friend to help me with creating the graphics and videos for the digital screens.

 

What are your future plans? Where do you see your business in the next year?

As we prosper as a social enterprise, I look forward to continuing to grow our customer base and enter more retail environments, strategically plan for growth as we scale with our contract manufacturer, and raise additional funding as we are bootstrapping. Within 2 years, I plan on growing HumaniTea internationally beyond the UK market to the rest of Europe, US, and Asia and establishing ourselves as the leading oat milk tea latte drinks brand.

Sook Pop Up 2 - Tina Chen

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Tags: pop-up shop, flexible retail, futureofretail, #femalefounders, #smallbusiness

Iwona Stanczyk

Written by Iwona Stanczyk

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