In today’s Behind the Biz interview I’m chatting with Kevin Tang, the founder of KAYTEA – artisan loose leaf teas, ethically sourced and hand-blended in the UK. We dive into the iced tea market and learn about the story behind the brand, how it came about and the impact of the 2020 lockdowns.
I’m a big tea lover so I’ve really been looking forward to sharing this interview with you. I love the KAYTEA branding and can’t wait to give the teas a try, especially Mango Yuzu and Jasmine Grapefruit.
Let’s get into the interview.
Let’s set the scene
These days most modern-day soft drinks fixtures are split between conventional fizzy pop and more functional propositions offering a plethora of alleged nutritional benefits. Kevin realised ‘early doors’ that there was a ‘permissible indulgence’ opportunity being missed whereby clean deck ranges could maximise the refreshing treat opportunity without being weighed down by negative soft drink perceptions (excessive sugar, overt calories and unwelcome artificial sweeteners….).
The iced tea market in the UK is estimated to be worth around £114m and is projected to exceed £285m by 2024.
To be clear, KAYTEA is not professing to provide anything other than meaningful refreshment and an array of unlikely yet sublime flavour marriages, which currently include: mango & yuzu, peach & green tea, rose & pink guava and grapefruit & jasmine.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world to mix in a blend of synthetic vitamins to claim some arbitrary functional prowess, but that seemed somewhat counter-intuitive to KAYTEA’s steadfast commitment to organic ingredients, transparency and proactively sourcing best-in-class ingredients.
Our master tea blender visited some 250 estates to source the perfect black, white and green teas so to undermine his long-haul mission by adding packs of mass-produced vitamins didn’t sit comfortably with us.
Please tell us about KAYTEA
The UK despite being slow out-of-the-blocks has moved a significant distance from those times not so long ago when Iced tea was wrongly perceived as ‘tea gone cold.’ In markets like North America and The Middle East where Iced tea appreciation is further down the track, it’s recognised that cold-brew tea can offer an enhanced flavour experience, since the avoidance of hot water leads to a reduction in tannins, which in turn means more delicate, less harsh flavours that appease taste buds whist pairing seamlessly with food.
Curiously, Lipton is still a leading voice within the UK’s iced tea movement even though it basic flavour profiles have existed forever and a day (peach, lemon) and are made from commercially produced tea powders as opposed to anything that recently resembled a real tea leaf.
What made you decide to set up KAYTEA?
As someone with Chinese heritage who has travelled extensively, it’s fair to say that tea appreciation sits pretty high up on my list of must-haves. I was surprised that a food & drinks market as forward-thinking as the UK was so stifled in its iced tea offer.
How did the lockdowns of 2020 impact the evolution of KAYTEA?
I’m sure I’m not the first brand owner to say that lockdown helped hone the views of many healthier-living consumers who started to reassess their eating and drinking habits. That said, from a short-term sales perspective the pandemic dented our fledgling sales and distribution at a time when the brand was working tirelessly to bed down.
On a plus side it provided me with invaluable thinking time to strategize, tighten my brand priorities, improve the brand identity (e.g. a vibrant new look that transitioned seamlessly onto cans) whilst become a better leader.
Please share a business high and low with us
High: Significant retail wins in Sainsbury’s, Partridges and Abel & Cole made possible by our incredibly popular rebrand was made better still with M&S recently taking KAYTEA under its wing.
High: We’re also immensely proud of our ongoing commitment to producing affordably-priced organic drinks, as we’ve always been about mainstream, everyday appeal Vs elitist fringe!
High: Our first significant export win (Kuwait) with more to announce imminently.
High: For a young business it’s incredible that we’ve already racked up over 200+ 5 star reviews, including a fashion icon and young royalty!
Low: Constantly being misled, dare we say scammed by an array of small-scale UK bottlers, which quite honestly beggars belief in such a globally admired food & drinks marketplace.
What do your next steps look like?
Our top priority is to launch a 2nd tier of improved flavours in our new can liveries as we further rationalise our offer and underpin our sustainable packaging credentials.
We are also closing in on securing fairtrade status.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
As an entrepreneur work in a field that genuinely excites and engages you. There’s no two ways about it, entrepreneurship is a veritable roller coaster, so there’s no point climbing onboard if your heart isn’t really committed to the cause in hand!
Thank you so much to Kevin for taking the time to be a part of my Behind the Biz interview series. I loved hearing more about the evolution of the brand and can’t wait to see how the business grows in 2023. I’ll be keeping an eye out for KAYTEA and can’t wait to give it a try.