Bhuman Dani, an MBA graduate from INSEAD was working at The Boston Consulting Group in London when he discovered a new love – tea. Exposed to teas of different varieties, blends and flavours, Bhuman became a regular at the Amanzi Tea Bar.
A visit to the East India Company store in central London decided for Bhuman that he had to build a business around teas. This was the birth The Good Life Company, which brings unique varieties of teas and tea blends.
In another corner of the world, Shariq Ashraf, an MBA graduate from Oxford University and an avid tea drinker, got his Eureka moment while travelling to Antarctica via Argentina where he met Ines Berton, the owner of Tealosophy, South America’s biggest specialty tea company.
“Ever since then, the concept of starting a specialty tea company in India was on his (Shariq’s) mind, and when we met at an alumni event of The Boston Consulting Group in Mumbai, it was the perfect launchpad,” says Bhuman.
With no background in teas, Bhuman studied under Jane Pettigrew, a recipient of the British Empire medal and part of the UK tea council.
Bhuman’s research on the Indian specialty tea market brought in the realisation that there was no one player he could relate to when it came to premium teas. “At TGL Co (The Good Life Company), we emphatically believe that the world’s finest teas and blends should be an everyday luxury that celebrate sophistication, tranquillity and good health,” he says.
The company sources teas from different parts of the globe, and they are infused with different botanical variants and flavours.
To ensure the best blends and brews, Bhuman and Shariq knew they had to get their sourcing model right. To this end, they visited several plantations across different countries and interacted with numerous tea masters and sommeliers, and carefully selected leaves that were of the highest quality.
Working out the supply chain to get these teas from around the world to Europe for blending, and then to India to retail was a major logistical challenge. In order to ensure the freshness of the teas and blends, they decided on air as against shipping it.
While this adds to the cost, the duo says it helps retain the freshness of the teas. However, the initial days were challenging.
“Coming back to India after almost nine years, to working out of a desk at a co-working space in Powai to spending long hours debating on the brand nomenclature, to actually filling teas manually in metalised polyester pouches, to conducting more than 20 tasting sessions a day, to build the right SKUs in our portfolio, everything was challenging and different,” says Bhuman.
The team incorporated the company with an initial capital of Rs 50 lakh and decided to focus on the B2B segment before venturing into the tougher B2C market. During one such B2B pitch, Bhuman and Shariq met restaurateur Farhan Azmi to have their teas listed with his hospitality ventures – Café Basilico, Koyla and Chai Coffi.
Farhan, himself a connoisseur of fine teas, fell in love with the offerings and decided to invest in the company.
With a toe in the hospitality industry, The Good Life Company decided to build a team and the first employee to be hired was Marketing and Operations Manager Jeel Nayak. By May 2017, the team had grown to 11.
In seven months, The Good Life Company was listed with over 75 hotels, restaurants and cafes, including the Taj Land’s End, Sofitel, The Lalit, Yauatcha, Burma Burma, The Fatty Bao, and Café Basilico.
While the team refused to share revenue and sale details, it claims the company saw 10x growth in seven months.
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 (Apr-Mar) 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.
Bhuman says most players source a majority of their tea from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan but The Good Life Company goes beyond.
To cite an example, he says the Oolong leaf grows best in Taiwan, while white tea grows best in the Fujian province of China due to the weather and soil conditions in the regions.
“At TGL, after we’ve got these leaves, we ship them to Europe to our contract manufactured blending facility where we mix our teas with dehydrated fruits, flowers and natural flavours in the presence of European botanists and culinary experts – botanists to ensure our blends are healthy and culinary experts to ensure the optimal taste,” he says.
The team claims to follow a streamlined central purchasing principle – source ingredients from locations where they grow best – it sources barberries come from Iran, schizandra berries from Russia, muira puama from the Amazon rainforest, and mangoes and strawberries from India.
He adds a typical blend that TGL Co. offers is Green Sencha Tea mixed with mango, banana, melon, guava, sunflowers, cornflowers and passion flower leaves.
The company recently launched its e-commerce website where consumers can buy the entire product range. It also retails through various e-commerce sites such as Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, Qtrove, Nykaa and Scootsy. The team claims to have repeat orders from 70 to 80 percent customers within four to six weeks.
On the company’s future plans, Bhuman says,
“In the next three years, we intend to continue growing rapidly in the HORECA (Hotels, Restaurants and Cafes) segment. Apart from this, there are three other segments we are focusing on – e-commerce, retail presence with own retail stores in Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Panjim, and international presence. We are currently in talks with various distributors in USA, UK, Canada, Singapore and the Middle East, to help us set up our brand and a strong distribution network there.”