How this next-generation entrepreneur is blending tea for the youth

21st Dec 2017
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The Tea Trove offers a variety of teas and blends through its kiosks in Kolkata and New Delhi.

Startup: The Tea Trove

Founder: Rishav Kanoi

Year it was founded: 2012

Where it is based: Kolkata

The problem it solves: Making tea appealing for the youth

Sector: retail / tea

Funding raised: Bootstrapped

The Tea Trove traces its roots back to 1917, when the Kanoi family owned and managed 42 tea gardens in Assam. Over the years, the business grew to be an industry within itself — including cultivation, processing, trading, and packaging. With every generation in the business, the Kanois furthered their expertise in planting the right teas (including clones created after years of scientific research), picking the best leaves, maintaining consistent quality, using state-of-the-art machines for processing. Over the years, they also came to develop a deep understanding of the Indian consumer — preferred blends, style of brewing, etc.

Rishav Kanoi’s (39) love for tea dates back to his teens. After completing his BCom from St Xavier's College, Kolkata, and CFA from the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India, Hyderabad, he joined the family business in 2003.

He says, “At that time, the tea industry was going through a bad slump and the business was facing multiple challenges. I realised that there was a huge gap in prices between premium quality and medium-grade teas. So, we decided to invest in upgrading our factories to ensure that we produced some of Assam’s best teas.”

Also, having realised that tea had always been marketed as an ‘adult’ drink, they thought of making it appeal to the youth as well.

Rishav Kanoi

Brewing for the next generation

“I restarted work on specialty tea recipes that I had written during my school days and came up with varied and unique concoctions that are popular items on the menu of The Tea Trove today,” he adds.

After profitably exiting the family business, he launched The Tea Trove Café for Kolkata’s tea lovers in 2012.

The Tea Trove has, over the years, won the Times Food Award (2013), Telegraph Food Award in the tea/coffee category (2013), Indian Restaurant Award (2014), and Zomato User’s Choice Award (2013 & 2014). “We take pride in sharing that we have successfully reinvented an age-old beverage and still continue to launch innovative variations of tea that have mass appeal, especially with the youth,” Rishav says.

Change of flavour

In 2016, he decided to shift to the kiosk model at supermarkets to concentrate on the USP — the tea itself. “After almost a year of researching ingredients and tea blending concepts, we launched first kiosk Spencer’s in South City in August 2016," says Rishav.

The Tea Trove sources freshly packed teas (black, white, oolong, and green) directly from cultivators within a week of manufacturing and blends them into unique and exquisite flavours using dried herbs (peppermint, lemon-tulsi, chamomile, lemongrass), dried fruits (apple, orange peel, mango, pineapple), dried flowers (rose, lavender, jasmine), and dried spices (cardamom, pepper, cinnamon). It has over 60 teas and blends on offer.

The Tea Trove claims to have the largest portfolio of organic ingredients — 22 — in India. “We are the only brand offering the spot tea blending option, wherein customers can blend their choice of tea with the flowers, fruits, herbs, and spices they like. In addition to the health benefits, the products are handcrafted and made fresh daily with all-natural ingredients.”

It has four stores in Kolkata and two in New Delhi and has its bestselling tea blend boxes on the shelves of supermarkets in the capital.

Tea samples

The brewmaster

Rishav, who likes calling himself the TeaEO of the company, takes care of product development, finance, and HR. His wife Shruti works closely with him, looking after day-to-day operations and heading the marketing domain. They have outsourced the branding to Pearl Enterprises, managed by Pallavi Jain, who has been a strong support to The Tea Trove since inception. All the outlets are manned by two ‘Tea Evangelists’.

The Tea Trove’s offerings include iced teas, shakes, and popsicles with an average pricing ranging of Rs 60 to Rs 135. On an average, it claims to sell 700 cups of loose teas per day per outlet (six outlets — four in Kolkata and two in New Delhi). It has witnessed a month-on-month sale growth of 12 percent.

Being bootstrapped since inception, Rishav says, “Currently we are self-financed and are organically growing by entering into new markets and developing new product ranges, our latest being the organic Ayurveda Tea range. We are looking for funding options to take The Tea Trove to the next level.”

Rishav and Shruti Kanoi

The brewing market

There are several players in the premium tea segment, and the premium tea market is pegged around Rs 3,600 crore in India. Notable entities in the segment include Ratan Tata-backed Teabox, Tea Culture of the World, The Kettlery, Tea Trunk, BuyTea, and Infinitea.

According to a report by India Brand Equity Foundation, India is ranked fourth in terms of tea exports, which touched 232.92 million kg during 2015–16 (April–March) and were valued at $686.67 million. Tea production was 1,233.14 million kg in 2015–16, led by Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala.

The Tea Trove now plans to enter Chandigarh, Mumbai, Chennai, and Bengaluru by 2018. “We plan to operate 3–4 company-owned stores in each city and put up our bestselling tea boxes on the shelves of all the major modern trade venues in every individual city we enter.”

Rishav, who believes that, “If at first, the idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it!” continuously strives to innovate with products to offer customers the very best.

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