The world suddenly pressed Pause. Humans retreated and other species found it safe to reclaim their portion of Earth. This precipitous withdrawal of humans to their protected colonies and houses inadvertently had an impact closer home. You can see it in the furrowed brows and promptly pinched purses of entrepreneurs.
Passion – and not a rich bank balance – was what had driven them to start on their own. And now, these start-ups are face to face with what is probably their toughest challenge – a complete cessation of revenue with costs remaining what they were.
We reached out to a few of the tea related start-ups that we have chatted with over the course of the past few years. The intent was to gauge the impact of the lockdown as also to find out what they have been upto since we last spoke with them.
The motley group comprises retailers (Madhur at Chai34, Bhopal and Adnan at Dr Bubbles, Mumbai), specialty tea makers (Rupali at Tea Cultures of the World, Mumbai, Akshi at Butterfly Ayurveda Tea, NCR and Souvik at Nostealgia, Kolkata) and tea garden owners (Mrityunjay of Chota Tingrai and Tenzing, India’s first elephant friendly garden).
Let us look at what our chats churned up:
- Diversification and Expansion: reduce risks and grow the pie
This pretty much seems like the central theme. Be it geographical expansion and going from a single outlet to a multi branch setup, a brand extension or exploring completely new avenues, our entrepreneurs have been busy.
Adnan Sarkar has taken the franchisee route to take Dr. Bubbles to 35 locations. When we had first spoken with him, Dr. Bubbles had just come up in Bandra, Mumbai and Adnan was planning his second branch. Today, the chain is in cities in Gujarat, UP, Bihar and fast expanding in North India.
Adnan is now busy with Easy Cappuccino, a takeaway coffee chain. How does the idea of a high quality coffee cup costing only a fraction of the cost charged by large chains sound to you? The pilot outlet is up and running at 16th Road, Bandra. Once the lockdown ends, do give it a try and let us know how you liked the taste.
Chai34 too has opened up outlets in different towns. Madhur has also grown his hospitality business with his inn getting a big thumbs up from the travelling business community.
Rupali has taken a giant step – Tea Culture of the World has sold a stake in the firm to Society Tea, one of India’s oldest tea firms. Not only does it give financial strength to TCW, it adds legitimacy to the entire sub sector of specialty teas. Is TCW’s move a precursor to a lot more action in this part of the tea world? What is your view, dear reader?
Akshi’s Butterfly has taken its ayurveda tea brand and extended it into cookies and medicines. Nostealgia has spread their education and training services from India to Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Mrityunjay Jalan has bought a new tea estate – Durrung – on the north side of the Brahmaputra river in Tezpur. This is a large – close to 430 hectare – estate and increases the firm’s annual tea production capacity from 22 lakh tonnes to close to 30 lakh tonnes. Avantika, Avani Jalan and John Grams have in the meanwhile introduced Kolkata to the kombucha experience with The Kombucha Company. Hop across to the Sienna Cafe, Karma Kettle or the Corner Courtyard to join in the kombucha experience.
Tenzing deepens his connect with nature – the garden is now experimenting with growing different fruits. And even a mini coffee plantation, if you please. And that makes two of them making an entry into the coffee world (Adnan in retailing and Tenzing in plantations). If you were able to go Tenzing’s estate now, you might spy a small number of ducks at his duck pond and about fifty goats at his goatery. The goatery meets his fertilizer needs for the entire estate.
- Linkages: No entrepreneur is an island
A tea garden is a self sustained micro economy. Nearly the entire team stays on the estate, from the pluckers to the factory staff to the packers. In today’s lockdown scenario, the garden can remain cut off and yet continue to produce tea.
But even if they had been able to produce and pack tea, how does the garden transport it to the tea hubs? Mrityunjay had been on the phone with his largest transporter. The transporter – while willing – said that the truckers would need both the dhabas and the repair shops to be open and functioning before he switches on his truck’s ignition. Well, a trucker needs to eat, right. The dhaba owner, on his side, is worried that the migrants that cooked and served those meals might not return from their home towns in a hurry.
As we spend time on the virtual world wide web, the real world reveals itself to be an interconnected web too. One missing strand and the entire web is affected.
- Take a deep breath. And think of new ideas
The Darjeeling first flush – the most expensive and desirable batch of tea for the year – is more or less lost. The second flush may be lost too. For the single estate tea gardens in the region, the first and second flush comprise a disproportionate percentage of annual revenues. These estates are now facing the prospect of severe losses.
The lockdown has forced everyone to take a breather. Rupali says that she owes it to her team that the lockdown be seriously adhered to. Hopefully, the return to normalcy will get customers to seek out their favorite bevrage with renewed vigor. In the meanwhile, our favorite entrepreneurs are planning new ideas and spending time with family members. We hope all emerge stronger at the other end of the lockdown.