[Startup Bharat] This Manipur organic tea startup uses indigenous herbs to promote good health
Elizabeth Yambem launched Manipur-based Dweller Teas in 2017, and offers organic teas made with indigenous herbs, plants, and fruits. It aims to serve natural blends and improve livelihoods.
Lack of opportunities in her hometown led Elizabeth Yambem to pursue her undergraduate degree from University of Warwick, UK. She studied accounting and finance and had a flourishing career in Singapore, but soon realised that banking wasn’t her cup of tea.
She went on to found Dweller Teas, a tea startup that offers multiple blends made with indigenous herbs, plants, and fruits.
On why she decided to leave a thriving career to start up, she says: “I grew up in Manipur. Growing up, I found joy in simple things Mother Nature offered, be it the rolling hills, tall bamboo trees, fresh produce, and playing tirelessly under the sun and clear skies. Limited opportunities led me to move away for education and a job. I travelled distances, moved countries, all in search of a promising future. And though the journey was undoubtedly enriching yet, a part of me yearned to return.”
She adds that she could see what the future would look like in the corporate world, and wanted something that would bring excitement and meaning to my life.
“I wanted to experience starting up as early as possible, and so I decided to launch Dweller Teas. This decision was based on my childhood dreams and memories, and the strengths of the place I grew up in,” she says.
Elizabeth launchedin 2017 with an investment of Rs 20 Lakh from her savings.
The founder says studies reveal that 20-40 percent of horticultural produce in India goes waste, mainly due to the seasonal, perishable nature, and lack of storage and post-harvest food processing solutions.
“I also believe that indigenous produce that is unique, healthy, delicious, and naturally grown is undervalued and underutilised. So, I began product development, and started crafting infusions based on local plants and refreshing flavours that I and many others grew up with, to serve our customers the best of nature and improve livelihoods,” she adds.
Dweller Teas sells flavoured teas with options such as olive, lemongrass ginger, raw mango mint, and ginger green tea. It also offers black rice products such as black rice cookie mix and black rice cake mix.
Journey from cafes to ecommerce
Elizabeth shares that Dweller Teas was initially headquartered in Guwahati to gain access to experts in tea and food processing, and develop products. Following that, the startup moved to Manipur to build infrastructure in sourcing, processing and packaging.
She adds that the tea startup initially focused on offline channels and sold products by taking part in local events, conducting product tastings, placing products at local departmental stores, and via Dweller Cafes.
Dweller Teas has three cafes in Imphal, Manipur. Later, the founder decided to launch an ecommerce platform to sell products across India.
Speaking about the startup’s offerings, Elizabeth says, “We serve indigenous flavoured teas and infusions with traditional health benefits. For example, Nong-mang-kha (Phlogocanthus thyrsiformis) is a traditional medicinal plant, known by the dwellers of Manipur for antiviral properties. The leaves of Nong-mang-kha are wasted all year round because it is medicinal in taste and no one can consume that much of Nong-mang-kha. My grandma would boil the leaves of Nong-mang-kha to help with cough, cold, and fever. Another flavour is Sumac Berry (locally known as Hei-mang), which is citrusy, uplifting and digestive. We sell these flavours in tea bags and serve them at our cafes.”
The startup aims to promote local produce and healthy tea, and is also working to create job opportunities in the region.
Business and more
Speaking about the business model, Elizabeth says the startup purchases fresh local produce, including herbs, fruits, plants etc, and develops them into unusual tea flavours. The products are available for consumption at the three branches of Dweller Cafe in Imphal, Manipur, and can also be purchased in packaged form from stores and online channels.
The prices of the products range from Rs 50–460 and the packs are available in three sizes – sample pack (three tea bags), medium pack (18 tea bags) and everyday pack (50 tea bags).
“Our packaged product sales have increased by 118 percent year on year from FY19 to FY20. We have more than 2,000 individual and business customers on board as of now,” the founder says.
Explaining the COVID-19 impact, she says, “In terms of tea (from camellia sinensis or tea plant), we’ve noted a steep increase in tea costs from prior years, mainly driven by timing issues and lower production. However, as the majority of our ingredients are locally sourced and naturally grown, we were able to minimise supply risks.”
She adds that sales have declined, mainly due to the strict lockdown imposed in the state and temporary closure of three Dweller Cafes. “However, as a result, we have also found new opportunities in online and home delivery services and made upgrades in the online channels.”
The market and future
According to a report by Eon Market Research (EMR), India consumed around 1.10 million tons of tea in 2019. The tea market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 4.2 percent in between 2020 to 2025 and is expected to attain 1.40 million tons.
With India being the second largest producer of tea, there are several players in the tea sector. Startups such as Siliguri-based, Guwahati-based Namhah Tea, Siliguri-based , and New Delhi-based Vahdam Teas are among the many selling tea online.
Elizabeth says the market may be very competitive, but Dweller Teas’ USP is the use of indigenous fruits and herbs that offer health benefits and are not easily available elsewhere. All the indigenous flavours are made in-house without any use of artificial or natural flavouring, she says.
The bootstrapped startup is currently reviewing funding options such as grants and strategic partnerships to scale up, upgrade its infrastructure, increase supply, and enhance market reach.
Speaking about future plans, Elizabeth explains that Dweller Teas will continue to produce and promote healthy tea products as it works on creating more job opportunities in the region.
Edited by Teja Lele