Tea is undoubtedly India’s most loved beverage. The tea culture in the country has undergone an evolution in the past few years, with people looking to experiment with flavours and blends that suit their palates and offer healthier alternatives.
This paved the way for herbal and floral teas, especially post COVID-19, due to their associated health benefits.
Cashing on this growing wave of vibrant flower and herb-based colourful beverages, Sunil Chandra Saha and Nitesh Singh incorporated their tea startup—Redplum Private Limited—with an aim to make ‘floral tea’ synonymous with India.
The Kolkata-based brand is popularly known for their vibrant Blue Tea, which has piqued interest across segments.
Today, the four-year-old startup offers 30 flavours of flower teas across 11 countries, including in Europe, the US, and Australia, with a revenue run rate of Rs 1 crore per month.
The startup’s success story lies in the founding duo’s never-ending desire to experiment with flavours and interesting blends.
Not content to restrict their offerings, the duo aims to create an umbrella entity with all things ‘herbal and exotic’ and has recently launched two new brands—Yogafy (herbal homeware products) and Yogaway (herbal slimming products). It has also ventured into flavoured coffee with its brand Bigbean.
Cup of inspiration!
Interestingly, the founders were inspired to don the entrepreneurial hat from popular web series TVF Pitchers, which narrates the story of four friends who quit their jobs to develop their own startup.
Sunil, who hails from a retail and education background, collaborated with his friend-turned cofounder Nitesh to launch a beauty tech startup, which closed shop after 10 months of operations. In 2016, they decided to explore the business of flower tea, a concept that had a connotation with ‘foreign and exotic’ in India.
“While travelling, we came across a blue-coloured tea popular in Southeast Asia. There was hardly any homegrown player in the market with very few imports. We saw this as an opportunity to introduce something new in India by blending our local herbs with exotic flowers,” Nitesh says.
The founders initially procured a limited range of herbal teas from Thailand to gauge the demand. However, the growing demand was met with tedious custom duties, which pushed the founders to grow or procure their raw material—flowers and herbs—locally.
Sipping the ‘blues’ away
Blue tea is nothing but dried butterfly-pea flowers (grown in particular size and proportion), also known as Aparajita, Neelkanth, and Shankhpushpi in India, in hot or cold water. Despite being abundant in South India, the flower never found a use case in a beverage!
“The flower is not new in India but the tea is. We have about 26 acres of contract farms in Uttar Pradesh and Bengal where the flower is grown; the rest is procured from farmers across the country. It was challenging to get the farmers onboarded (contract basis) with us on full-time basis as the concept was new unlike traditional tea gardens. It was a natural resistance,” says the founder.
Following their success with butterfly-pea tea, the startup introduced other blends like chamomile, hibiscus, rose, jasmine, marigold, lavender, and other traditional medicinal plant flowers, but with an ‘Indian twist’. The dried flowers were mixed with native herbs and Indian spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, star anise, nutmeg among others.
Unable to afford a tea taster, the founders initially made their own blends with the help of family and friends.
The mixed-and-matched flavours worked in their favour as the products gained traction not only in India but foreign markets as well where demand for Ayurveda, herbal, detoxifying and healthy products is high.
“This is unlike coffee or traditional tea where you need perfect roasting and environment. The customer is the best judge. We now have a dedicated team for curating and testing these blends as per palates,” Nitesh says.
The bootstrapped startup transitioned from B2B to ecommerce in 2018. During its import days, the founders focused on HoReCa (Hotel, Restaurant and Cafe) and the offline retail market, which later on became difficult to sustain owing to lean operations, delayed payments, costs, and limited capital.
“Ecommerce was always on cards,” says Sunil, who shifted the entire business online in 2018 and started selling through Amazon, Flipkart, Big Basket, and the company’s website.
By 2019, the startup penetrated into the UK market, followed by US, Australia, and Europe.
Today, 60 percent of the startup’s business comes from foreign markets, where the products are sold exclusively through Amazon websites, along with 23 cities in India.
The packaging is premium and clear, giving the product a global outlook. Prices range from Rs 200-300 in the Indian market and Rs 1,000 (around $13) abroad.
“Speedy delivery and availability is extremely important for us. It will be key in creating an edge over competitors. We have kept our operations lean with a total investment of about Rs 20 lakh to date and donate one percent of our profits every month to charity,” he adds.
Creating a global D2C brand
The sheer variety of flavours under a single category (flower tea) is one of the biggest competitive advantages of the startup. It aims to create dominance in the micro category and subsequently leverage the brand to offer new products every year under a common theme (herbal).
“We want to be an online conglomerate and create a brand identity like HUL and Marico, which have occupied the dining table of their customers today. With flower teas, we now know how our customer buys online. We will be able to take this strength to enter the same household with multiple brands,” Nitesh says.
In the last three months, the startup witnessed 2X growth, clocking a revenue of Rs 2 crore in FY21. “We aim to touch Rs 10 crore in FY22 and Rs 56 crore in the subsequent year,” says Sunil, who is proud to have created a debt-free startup.
The founder claims the said numbers on the back of its newly launched products under Yogafy, Yogaway, and Bigbean, which are witnessing high demand.
“This needs to be coupled with external funding for us to touch the Rs 100 crore mark in the next five years,” the founders add as they actively look to raise investment.
A brewing market
According to Verified Market Research, the herbal tea market was valued at $3289.67 million in 2020 and is projected to reach $4877.80 million by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 4.89 percent from 2021 to 2028.
India is second only to China in terms of acceptance of teas that have been blended with spices, fruit bits, flower petals, herbs, and a whole array of botanicals.
Flower tea is growing as a category, thanks to the internet. From celebrities like Soha Ali Khan to Kylie Jenner, the ‘vibrant colours’ have managed to seep into households across the globe, piquing curiosity. The market potential is unfolding owing to a major shift in the landscape of the consumption of beverages and evolution of organic wellness products.
Tapping the health conscious wave, numerous homegrown herbal tea brands have come up. The startup competes with brands like Vahdam and Teabox (India) and Yogi Tea, Tea Forte (US) in the category. “It all boils down to quality, variety, packaging, and availability of the product. It will take time to create a brand. The concept has been around for some time now but has grown popular recently,” the founder signs off.