It’s always been a bit of conundrum for tea producers - why is the UK the biggest tea drinking country in Europe and yet one of the smallest consumers of iced tea?
This was the puzzle that drinks entrepreneur Guy Woodall set about solving three years ago. After a successful launch in mainland Europe, he believes latest business venture holds the answer.
Coming from a farming background Guy is no stranger to the beverage industry having grown elderflower on his farm for nearly three decades.
Over the years he has become one of the country’s leading suppliers of elderflower extract to the drinks industry, processing around 40 tonnes each summer.
Guy also set up the drinks brand, named after his farm near Leatherhead, Thorncroft Drinks back in 1986 which proved he had a good eye for business.
Initially offering elderflower cordial, the range was quickly expanded to include other naturally flavoured cordials and fizzy drinks.
Sold throughout the UK and abroad, with particular success in Japan, James White Drinks acquired the brand from Guy in 2011.
Selling Thorncoft Drinks didn’t do anything to quash Guy’s creative spirit however and, having had a passion for tea for many years, he turned his attention to iced tea with the launch of Yum Cha.
His aim was to solve the mystery of why iced tea hadn’t seen the same success in the UK as it had overseas – despite the UK being a nation renowned for its avid tea drinkers.
Guy soon discovered that a big part of the issue lay in the lack of a ‘tea’ flavour in the commercial iced tea drinks available.
He said: “In the UK we obviously drink a lot of tea and know what flavour to expect when we hear the word, whether preceded by ‘ice’ or not. In Europe where hot tea isn’t drunk so much the actual tea flavour isn’t such a big consideration.”
Wanting to initially test his drinks in a more traditional iced tea market, Woodall launched Yum Cha in mainland Europe in 2014.
The brand was an immediate success in Holland and France, as well as Germany, Estonia, Poland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
Following this strong growth, word started to spread, leading to further growth overseas in the Middle East in Dubai and Qatar.
Now, convinced he’s cracked the iced tea conundrum, Guy is ready for Yum Cha to hit UK highstreets this summer when the brand hits shelves nation-wide.
He added: “The decision to focus on European sales initially was partly serendipity. Iced tea is very popular in Europe, in fact almost everywhere in the world except the UK.
“A Dutch distributor I was in contact with in April 2012 was very enthusiastic about the first prototypes of Yum Cha and wanted to begin distribution as soon as possible to hit the summer season.
“I made the first commercial batch from him, but didn't launch in the UK because at that season I was preoccupied with making elderflower extract, which even now is the bread and butter of my business and has to take first place over more exciting developments like Yum Cha, since it provides the finance that makes it all possible.
“Other European distributors popped up in Estonia, Poland, Czech Republic, and most recently France, and I found this business amenable as all I had to do was supply the product and the sales and marketing effort was done by the importer.”
Speaking about his planned expansion into the UK, he said: “In the UK, because of the innate suspicion of the very notion of iced tea, it soon became clear that we would have to do a lot of work in order to win over the local consumers.
“It seemed sensible to wait until we had sufficient resources to do this, so while we did supply a few UK outlets such as local farm shops, we didn't start a marketing campaign until last summer when I felt I could afford to engage a salesman (James Morrison) and later New Chapter Marketing to spread the message.”
“We are working on three sectors,” he added. “The first is independent retail, especially Farm Shops and Delis, supplied through Cotswold Fayre who are perhaps the most important distributor in this sector and we are supporting this both through Cotwold Fayre's sales team, road shows and trade shows, and through our own independent contacts with individual outlets including where we can in store demonstrations.
“The second is in foodservice and particularly the coffee shop sector, where we are working exclusively with the distributor Pure Gusto. In Holland nearly all our sales are in this sector and we think it offers similar potential here.
“The third would be multiple retail, where some discussions are taking place but nothing agreed yet. So far our only multiple retailer is Monoprix in France, where we have a full national listing in 224 stores.
“In five years time I'd hope to have achieved this in the UK and be pushing into markets like the USA, where they drink four billion litres of commercial ready-to-drink iced tea a year!”
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