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What it took to sell big brands on the unknown

By Mona Ombogo | Published Wed, February 7th 2018 at 15:47, Updated February 7th 2018 at 15:57 GMT +3

NAIROBI, KENYA: Many of us are familiar with black tea and green tea, but few of us have experienced a relatively new entrant into the herbal tea market: purple tea.

The crop is literally purple in colour and produces the same hue when its leaves are dipped in hot water. What makes this Kenyan tea special, however, is not its colour, but the highly medicinal properties it bears.

While most herbal teas grown in Kenya are for export purposes only, Roselyne Njoki Njeru started a company, Angie’s Purple Tea, to solely distribute purple tea and other herbal teas within the country.

“Purple tea is best known for its unique ability to reduce cancer cells in the body since it’s an extremely powerful antioxidant. Added to that, it accelerates metabolism, which leads to weight loss,” the 38-year-old tells Hustle.

“My husband’s family business, Njeru Industries, was among the first companies to grow this tea after it was developed and introduced into the market by the Tea Research Institute of Kenya. Njeru Industries, however, hadn’t considered Kenya itself as a market for the tea.”

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In 2014, Roselyne convinced her family, that she could make distribution of this product work in Kenya. Though initially sceptical, they gave her the support she needed to kick off Angie’s Purple Tea, named for her seven-year-old daughter.

“I was scared because I wasn’t sure I would succeed. I got married early, at 21, and had worked in my husband’s firm for 15 years,” Roselyne says.

“In fact, when I joined the company, they didn’t even have a position for me. I did all the small jobs that didn’t really fall in anyone else’s docket. So to imagine starting my own company was daunting.”

Despite her doubts, Roselyne was propelled by the firm belief that a natural medicinal product would appeal to women.

“Most women are interested in their health and their family’s health. They are also interested in losing or maintaining weight. I knew if I could target this clientele, my product would sell.”

She needed Sh2 million in capital, which she acquired as a loan after knocking on the doors of several banks.

“Purple tea is a Kenyan brainchild. Though its distribution was growing exponentially around the world, when I was looking for funding in 2015, the tea was still virtually unknown in Kenya. Before I could even convince banks to give me money, I had to convince them that this tea was legitimate and could do what I claimed it could do,” Roselyne explains.

“Thankfully, one bank believed me and gave me a loan. I suppose their hesitation was valid because getting this product off the ground was extremely difficult.”

The details

Because she had branched off from Njeru Industries, Roselyne needed her own brand and a location to package her teas.

“I’d not realised how much detail goes into packing tea. You need the small bags for the tea leaves, the inner lining in the box, the box itself, and the outer lining of the box. I couldn’t afford a tea-packing machine at the time, so I had to outsource this. All of this cost money,” Roselyne says.

“What really helped me was that Njeru Industries gave me the tea itself on credit.”

Aside from purple tea, her company also produced black tea, oolong tea and, later, green tea. While purple tea comes from a variety of the tea bush with distinctive purple-reddish leaves, the other teas come from the more familiar green-leafed bush. Black tea is fully fermented, oolong tea is partially fermented and green tea is unfermented.

Roselyne’s next challenge came when she tried to get supermarkets to stock her product.

“Most of them had never heard of it, so I would send emails asking for appointments and receive no response. Eventually I decided to carry samples and simply walk into offices and sit there until I was seen.”

Roselyne’s tea was eventually picked up by three supermarket chains: Uchumi, Naivas and Chandarana.

Each supermarket bought 48 cartons each of the different teas that Angie’s Purple Tea carried. A carton contains 24 packets, and she sold each at Sh220, raking in Sh253,440 per tea brand. She typically restocks these retailers every 60 days.

“The fact that my tea was selling in supermarkets really boosted my confidence. So in 2016, I applied to be an exhibitor at the Unctad (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) event Nairobi hosted,” she says.

“As a member of the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Women in Business arm, it cost me Sh60,000 to get a stand for three days. It was the best money I’ve ever spent. I got to showcase my product to many high-level individuals, including four presidents.”

The exposure

From the exposure she received during the conference, Roselyne’s sales shot up.

“I suppose if the President of the country samples and likes your product, people begin to believe it’s legit. One of the greatest benefits that came from the conference was my teas being stocked in three duty-free shops at the airport.”

She sold her tea to duty-free shops at Sh450 per packet. She distributed 80 packets each of her four different teas. Typically the consignment would take anywhere between 24 hours to two weeks to sell out.

Angie’s Purple Tea broke even in late 2017. Currently, the firm purchases approximately a tonne of tea from Njeru Industries every three months, which translates to roughly 20,000 packets of tea.

“One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned building my company is that being a woman in business is an asset, not a handicap. I can’t tell you how many doors opened for me because I was a woman brave enough to walk into someone’s office without an appointment and insist on being seen,” Roselyne says.

“As women, we need to look more at what’s working in our favour than at what’s not. When we do that, we can build whatever we desire.”