Speaking to BeverageDaily.com, director Adam Soliman said he founded the Cheshire-based firm in 2009 after seeing extensive innovation in wine, chocolate and coffee but little in the tea aisle.
“Tea was pretty much the same product in a different box, with the average price point of the category at the time around £1 [$1.67]” he says.
“There were there old established companies in there – happy doing what they were doing at the volumes they were doing – not really innovating in the category,” Soliman adds.
Targeting the ‘more discerning’ tea consumer
Charbrew is challenging this inertia with kooky flavors including Chocolate Orange Rooibos, and last month Tesco tea buyer Tom Edwards praised the firm’s “interesting and fresh tea flavors”.
“My premise for starting the business was the need for a more premium product but at the right price point in a supermarket, allowing them to split the more discerning consumers from the less so,” Soliman says.
After coming up with quirky blends including Strawberry & Cream and Tropical Rooibos, Soliman began selling his teas at local farmer’s markets to find out (1) if people would buy his products (2) if they would re-purchase the products, and (3) how much they were prepared to pay.
Taking the brand to 25-24 year olds back in 2009 he established his brand, which he now describes as similar to Tetley-owned Teapigs in terms of product offering, but at a cheaper £3.49 price point, for a 15-bag pack sold at Tesco.
“We try and be affordable to the masses who want premium, as opposed to Teapigs that are just for discerning tea drinkers prepared to pay near enough a fiver [£5] now, I think, for a box of 15 teabags,” Soliman says.
‘We think the Tesco timing is right’
After launching, Charbrew quickly expanded into major UK supermarkets, and the latest launch into Tesco at the end of January will see the brand (with five tea varieties, a matcha tea is also coming next month) cover around 230 of the retailer’s bigger stores, with smaller Metro stores another long-term goal.
“We worked with Sainsbury’s in the past, but only had two products on the shelf and really struggled with what they wanted from us,” Soliman says.
“It’s taken about four years to get into Tesco but I think the timing’s right – it’s come off the back of brands like Twinings cottoning onto these premium products, and they’ve developed a product in nylon bags – but they’ve entered the category and boosted sales in this speciality category.”
“We’ve got quite a good facing in store in Tesco. So we’re really just looking to grow that, promoting the products on the shelves, but also looking to bring RTD iced teas into supermarkets as well, to grow the brand in that area as well with more innovative flavors,” Soliman says.
Explaining how Charbrew hit £500,000 in terms of sales, he explains the bulk of the brand’s business is US-based, via sales of gifting style products in around 2,500 stores Stateside including TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods.
“Stick a Union Jack on it and it seems to fly out there,” Soliman explains, adding that the brand is now pitching its teas to US grocery retailers. “We also have stores in Germany and Poland,” he says.
Manchester United fans chill out with Charbrew…
Manchester United FC corporate boxes also stock Charbrew, and Soliman says the brand – which is produced and packaged by a partner in Sri Lanka – is also exploring tie-ups with major coffee chains and retailers worldwide in the private label sphere.
Asked about tea trends, Soliman says that health conscious consumers are looking at caffeine-free alternatives, and are trading up to speciality teas, “which have proved quite recession proof, a small little luxury people are prepared to pay for.”
In the meantime the brand will soon add to its portfolio of quirky flavors, with a consumer taste panel due to whittle down 10 concepts to three this week.
We ask Soliman what he wants to achieve in 2014: “The main achievement for me would to become a recognized brand that is able to bring innovations out quickly – a recognized force in the tea category,” he says.