Guest Post

Tea & Wine — The Business of Simple Pleasures

by Linda Appel Lipsius

I am launching a super-premium brand of tea this year.

My product is exceptional. It’s different. It comes from a single tea garden that employs a totally natural farming method. The people working in the garden are treated fairly and have been lifted out of a vicious cycle of poverty. Our packaging is biodegradable and compostable and beautiful. And the tea itself is truly exquisite — full bodied with a sweet, smooth finish. Unlike anything on the market.

But really, who cares? People have lost their jobs, their insurance, their homes. Why would they want a $0.65 cup of tea when they could get a $0.15 cup of tea? Do consumers care that their tea comes from a single source? That our packaging is eco-friendly? With so many people struggling these days, it sometimes feels odd to market a luxury product. But we’re not selling Lamborghinis — just tea — and so, much like Starbucks, we continue to find that consumers still want to enjoy the simple (and relatively inexpensive) pleasures in their daily lives.

A year ago we cut our marketing budget and, instead, invested in gaining broader distribution. After many months of work, we achieved the highest goal in fine food distribution — shelf space in Whole Foods. So now we’re marketing again. It’s been a tricky business to balance our spending and we’ve often felt like ours is a “chicken-and-the-egg” conundrum. Do we get product on shelves first or continue to sell direct through our website? Should we invest in PR to get the word out now or wait until we’re more widely available? The answer, of course, is that it is essential to do both.

We often use a wine analogy to describe our tea — its cultivation, its preparation and its provenance. The two beverages even share similar antioxidant health benefits. The tea market, like the wine industry, is crowded with competitors. Very few are excellent, some are good, many are very poor. Some of the best wines in the world have no brand recognition because they’re from small production vineyards with little or no marketing budget. Many also lack availability, only selling direct from their tasting rooms. To avoid that trap — having an excellent product that few have heard of or can buy — and to establish our excellence, we must invest in educating the consumer. The way to do that is through marketing.

In the past year we’ve made some incredible strides (Whole Foods) and have made some solid mistakes for sure. However, I am confident going into 2010. I’ve got a tremendous product with unbeatable provenance. Now we tell the story.

So when you’re agonizing over a “one or the other” decision, muster your nerve and do a little of both. Find a way. Getting your product on the shelf is the easy part. Getting the consumer to pick it up and take it home is what will determine if you have a business or not. You must create demand — product doesn’t walk off the shelf. But your product must offer a unique benefit or two.

So with this knowledge, make yourself a cup of tea, sit back and take a minute to enjoy a well-deserved simple pleasure.

To Health. To Life. To Tea.

Linda Appel Lipsius, Teatulia Co-Founder/COO, launched Teatulia in the United States in 2006, a line of premium, whole leaf, single-source teas, based in Denver, Colorado.

  1. Thanks for the reminder. With so many hard decisions, it’s helpful to remember that compromise is always a possibility.

    Comment by SJPR — 11/09/2009 @ 1:13 PM

  2. Thanks for the reflection on why quality and conscience both matter. A current client of mine is a Cordon Bleu Chef who is putting together a series of cooking classes using fresh, locally grown and / or ethically sourced food products. It’s an inspiration to work with people who care so much, and care to focus on things that most of us don’t ever think about.

    Beg to Differ

    Comment by Dennis Van Staalduinen — 11/09/2009 @ 4:14 PM

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