Simple ways to revitalise your tea business during COVID-19

Extract from a Webinar & an article created for the Tea & Herbal Association of Canada in 2020



For most tea businesses, regardless of where they are based in the World, March 2020 saw major disruption to their normal trading patterns.  Whether you are a tea producer, a trader, a store owner, or supplier of tea to the hospitality industry, everything that you regarded as normal stopped that month. And it soon became clear that things would not necessarily fit back together in the same way again.

This has been a very difficult time for many businesses, but it has also acted as a pause, and in this time many people feel their priorities may have shifted. What is key to their happiness and wellbeing coming out of this may require a new way of thinking too. Whether you have been able to sell more online, started selling online, have gone paperless in your accounts and communications, have learned how to use new IT programmes or have had to create a new business to survive until something else is possible, most businesses have made a change.  Often you hear people describe this as pivoting.


 Embracing change in tough times

pivot usually occurs when a company make a fundamental change to their business after determining (usually through market research) that their product isn’t meeting the needs of their intended market.  This time, the pandemic has made people pivot and they have had to be prepared to launch their Minimum Viable Product (MVB). Many larger businesses, and governments, have implemented changes they would previously have spent 2 years discussing and finessing.  That is perhaps something we can learn from; how you can shorten the timelines from ideas to launch.

A few weeks in and businesses supplying grocery stores and online retailers (or with their own online presence) were doing well.  Hospitality, education, and visitor attractions were all shut so businesses supplying them had their income stopped immediately and many of these customers did not pay outstanding invoices either.

Many business people achieve their greatest successes in unexpected areas. They begin a business and then they find that it isn’t as profitable as they had anticipated, so they change direction, using their experience and their momentum, and strike profit in something else. The most important thing is to take action.  (Brian Tracy)

This is certainly true, businesses that will do well are those who act now and implement changes to meet their customers changing needs.


Here are some emerging trends and how  tea businesses can get on board:

1. BAKE OFF. Everyone begins to bake at home – whether you have a tea bread recipe, a shortbread flavoured with Early grey or a tea-inspired macaron…offering recipes or even tea pairings for banana bread, which became the symbol of lockdown baking.

2. Healthy Recipe, healthy mind. A lot of people were looking at ways to stay healthy and boost health – it’s a good time to share kombucha recipes and facts about the health properties of teas (the genuine properties you can safely lay claim to).

3. Mindfulness. Mental health and staying calm were all being searched on Google. This clever little post helps people relax, associate tea with calmness, help tea businesses to stay connected to their customer base and help people without actively selling to them.

Jane Milton

4. Gifts, treats and kits. After the initial clamour to get essential food, people are wanting treats for themselves, gifts to send others for birthdays etc (as they are not out shopping), or things to send to friends that need a ‘pick me up’ – so more indulgent things became popular. Afternoon tea packs, tea-based cocktail kits etc have become popular. Now that people have tried online shopping for themselves and others, it is very likely that they will stick with it (and you should have their details too, to market new things to them in a friendly, non-pushy way).

Jane Milton

5. Greeting cards never go out of style. This tea greeting card was devised by Shibui Tea in Scotland UK (they also have a partner business in Canada). Their owner told me that he had the cards printed last year and had not had time to use them, so when lockdown began and his foodservice business stopped, he thought ‘now I can try these’. I found out about them as someone sent me one – I then sent 50 to friends and family at the start of lockdown, one of them sent 100 to her franchise owners and staff, many of them sent them on to friends too, and I have heard that people who received them came back to buy teas in larger volume too. (At one point he had to halt orders for the cards until he caught up).  This is a great way for people to keep in touch, and for a tea business to introduce their products to more people.

Shibui have several different card messages for the front or you can make your own up.  These appeal to people of all ages and were packed in a slim box that fitted through the letterbox too.

6. Stay top of mind with your customersI spoke to Oscar Woolley co-founder of foodservice tea seller a few weeks ago about his experience of selling online and he had some great advice to share:

We sold on Amazon before COVID-19, it started out simply with a couple of lines and as a bit of curiosity but turned into a sales channel of its own and stands up well. It is tricky to navigate and sometimes frustrating. We used an agency to get us up and running to start with. They charged a 5% fee on sales, but it was worth it in the early stages. We look after the admin ourselves now.

If your business does not lend itself to selling B to C online, how else can you keep yourself front of mind with existing and new customers?

Create new recipes, menus, and support materials, YouTube videos etc.  for when your corporate /foodservice clients will return to work.

Create new retail products – summer drinks, new teas that focus on key trends such as wellness, tasting kits for retail.

Build new online materials for your staff, your customers, new customers to use…?

Take advantage of all the free and low-cost workshops being run online now, to learn new skills or brush up some you already have. (THAC)

This is a lovely example of how Dilmah Tea repurposed information from their Conservation arm and shared It with the community, many of whom had become interested in gardening and growing food during the pandemic.

Jane Milton

7. Look at your digital presence – research, play and exploreAnd finally, if you feel you have exhausted all the outward-facing things you could possibly do, here are some more ways to use your time wisely. Remember all those days when you are so rushed off your feet and would love to have enough time to:

  • Clean your files
  • Sort your online photos
  • Clear your database
  • Look at all your social media profiles – are they reflective of what you do?
  • Look at your website. What needs to be changed?
  • Can you plan your next 6-month social media and find all the resources etc. you need?

As lockdown has carried on many people have said they don’t want to return to a very rushed, intense lifestyle they had before, and want to use this time to re-address the balance. Ask yourself if you want life to be different after Lockdown – and if you do, what do you need to change to make that happen? Map it out in 12 weeks/90-day plans – create a strong purpose and then you can work on that and don’t need to wait to see what anyone else does before you can make progress.



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