With a second pivot amidst COVID-19, the entrepreneur’s tea startup is tasting sweet success

Shalini Raj entered the wedding planning sector after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the travel industry. Her latest venture, The Infused Kettle introduces different tea blends, priced between Rs 4,000 to Rs 20,000.
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Shalini Raj was a coffee enthusiast while her friends were big on tea. While at a café a few years ago, she recalls a conversation around how the “T&C - terms and conditions in life stands for travel and chai.” 

“Travel already ruled my life as I was running a Gurugram-based travel startup Journey Weavers but I told them chai is something that just doesn’t have a place in her life in any big way,” she says.

In April, tea became a part of Shalini’s life in the most interesting way. When the coronavirus sent all of India into a lockdown, Shalini returned to her hometown in Ranchi. She happened to strike a conversation with her neighbour’s visitor, a lady in her 50s who owned a tea garden in Darjeeling.

Shalini says, “She told me that a lot of people were capitalising the tea market by launching different kinds of tea. As we talked, she suggested I build a D2C brand with my experience as she is purely focused on B2B.”

Starting up again

After the chance meeting in April, she thought over it for a few months and decided to turn to her friends for sample tests and honest feedback. She partnered exclusively with a tea garden complete with a kitchen, and a chef to create original flavours. Thus, The Infused Kettle began operations in July this year.

Some of its blends include green tea with lemongrass, hibiscus tea, masala chai, kawa, kara, white oolong tea, and a range of floral tea, with prices between Rs 4,000 and Rs 20,000 per kg.

Catering to a niche audience of health conscious experimental tea drinkers was a challenge in the beginning. Though India is identified as a tea-drinking nation, most people, she says, prefer the standard milk tea. 

As Shalini ramped up digital marketing and leveraged contact data of over 30,000 customers of Journey Weaver, she found many were open to trying different kinds of tea. 

Sold on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, Shalini launched a gifting range during Diwali with an investment of Rs 2 lakh and reaped nearly Rs 20 lakh as profits. Some of its peers include TeaBuzz and Dancing Leaf.

The infused Kettle's tea blends sourced from Darjeeling

On pivoting during a pandemic

When the travel industry was bad hit with the pandemic restricting movements, Journey Weavers pivoted to organising small weddings. Shalini took care of wedding invitations, shopping, and ensuring that rituals were conducted in a smooth manner. 

 

As she ventured into the tea business, the serial entrepreneur found the FMCG market to be a different ball game when compared to the service industry. 

“Despite packaging and selling, there is a lot of licencing involved, including authorisation and certifications as part of the process. There are different layers that need to be delved into,” she says.

The entrepreneur is now building an ecommerce platform for The Infused Kettle and plans to make it available on ecommerce platforms like Amazon and Flipkart soon. Focused on B2C operations, the startup is open to distributors in India as well. 

At present, it is in the initial stage of introducing summer brews and wants to expand internationally, to the US, Europe, or Canadian markets. 

“I want to target an audience where people have the time to sit in a cafe and relish tea, and I think that culture is very popular in Europe and Canada. I am studying three to four markets right and want to start off with me,” she adds.

Shalini is also working on a book of recipes that will highlight the pros, cons and side effects of the startup’s tea blends and will also include snack recipes, apart from chai and pakoras that will compliment her different teas.  

Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan