RE-POST - Atlantic Business Magazine: Millennia Tea Makers Capturing Best Of Sri Lankan Leaves
Millennia TEA was recently featured in Atlantic Business Magazine. Read below:
Tracy Bell and her husband Rory were just chasing an idea years ago, when they found themselves in a small community outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, picking at tea plants.
It’s been a long and sometimes difficult road from that nursery through the launch and early growth of Millennia Tea. But the company recently announced its products – including flash-frozen loose tea – will be carried in Sobeys stores nationwide, growing out of Sobeys’ Support Local program. The Bells, from the company’s office in Saint John, New Brunswick, are celebrating it as a milestone.
“We have a good, dedicated base of customers here and throughout Atlantic Canada and now to be able to share our product across the country is a really good feeling and speaks to the consumers’ interest,” Tracy Bell said, in an interview with Atlantic Business Magazine.
The couple began sifting through marketing around healthy foods and drinks after a health scare in the family (it involved Tracy’s father-in-law, who is now doing much better). Their research led to greater interest in tea, and they began to dig deep into some of the reported benefits, particularly tied to the high antioxidant content of certain tea products.
They thought it might be possible to have an even better cuppa, one with saleable traits like some of the highest antioxidant levels, if you worked with fresh leaves from the tea plant – Camellia sinensis –instead of the dried leaf found in just about every kitchen in North America.
The business started with a theory, launching them on the hunt for healthy tea plants. The search led them to rent a car and drive to the small nursery in North Carolina. They used leaves from tea plants there for some initial lab tests. Bell says the results reflected some of their early understanding from their research on fresh tea, and from there it was a little more lab work paired with a lot of sweat equity in product development.
By 2017, they were incorporated and branded as Millennia Tea and, with a small run of flash frozen tea leaves, made their way to Las Vegas to the World Tea Expo. The expo is pitched as the leading tradeshow and conference featuring premium teas and targeted to wholesalers and leaders in the industry. Millennia Tea was named best new product.
Bell said Whole Foods tea buyer (through subsidiary Allegro Coffee Co.) Brian Keating was involved in the Expo awards and went on to offer mentorship, prior to his passing in 2018. Keating introduced the Bells to the market, “the who’s who of tea” as Tracy said. He also introduced them to some of the challenges of launching a new tea product but offered ideas on sourcing and supply chain, for scaling up.
It was an essential requirement to find the right source area and the right relationship with farmers. The Bells needed a primary processor able to carefully handle, wash and more importantly flash freeze their leaves and produce more than trade show samples.
“We travelled to Sri Lanka and spent time in the fields, meeting the farmers and families there, understanding the geography, meeting with researchers,” Tracy said.
They met Dr. Sarath Ranaweera, founder and chairman of Bio Foods and ultimately landed the company as a supplier, with its co-op ties. In 2014, the World Fairtrade Labelling Association awarded Ranaweera the first-ever title of “World’s Fairest Fairtrader” and he introduced the Bells to some...