Meet the luxury tea brand available in 42 countries worldwide making $90m
Luxury tea brand TWG Tea, which opened in the UK earlier this year with tea salons in Leicester Square and Knightsbridge, has seen an incredible rise since establishing in Singapore in 2008.
Founded by husband and wife team Taha Bouqdib and Maranda Barnes, TWG Tea made $90m (£68m) in 2016.
Business Leader Magazine spoke with Bouqdib about the rise of the luxury tea brand and how he started the company.
Tell us about TWG Tea, how it started and how it has grown.
TWG Tea was established to celebrate Singapore’s great history as a trading post for fine teas in 1837 with the establishment of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce. As a brand born in Asia and made for a global audience, we are committed to bringing the world’s finest teas and the savior-faire related to the selection, preparation, service and appreciation of these teas, to tea lovers around the globe.
In the 10 years since its launch, I am proud that the brand has grown from strength to strength globally, and has successfully launched 70 TWG Tea Salons & Boutiques across 19 countries, and is distributed in 42 countries worldwide.
What makes TWG Tea stand out from its competitors?
TWG Tea offers the largest tea list in the world with over 800 types of whole-leaf, single estate finest harvests and exclusive blends from 46 tea-producing regions around the world, from India, China and Japan – to more exotic locations such as Argentina, New Zealand, Hawaii or Malawi. I have cultivated exclusive relationships with tea growers worldwide to ensure unparalleled and exclusive access to harvests from the world’s best tea plantations and renowned gardens. We are also able to influence and often innovate new processing methods in order to create innovative and better teas with flavours that will appeal to the modern tea drinker.
Your products are quite expensive as far as tea goes. Do you think people are prepared to pay for quality tea?
We have noticed that global consumers are thirsty for gourmet, luxury teas as they are more conscious of what they are drinking and purchasing, and are more willing to pay more for premium products. Customers are becoming more attentive to the quality of the teas and are also keen to know more about the differences between gourmet and mass market teas.
For instance, we take great care to source excellent fruits, flowers and spices – on the same par as our teas – when we create blends, and I also am very attentive to ensure a balance between the tea used in a blend and the other ingredients, to ensure that the flavours don’t overwhelm each other. We also only ever source whole leaf teas (as opposed to dust and fannings) for the best quality and most flavourful experience.
What is the biggest difference between the British and Asian tea markets?
Tea drinking has shaped British society, politics and economics for the past 400 years but a steady democratisation has led to tea becoming more of a commodity than a speciality in the UK. Having lost some of its refinement and range, entering the British market today required that we accommodate to current tastes – a predilection for stronger, black teas – and a lower price point, given that British tea drinkers have not been exposed to the many qualities of tea available.
However, younger tea drinkers are keen to explore more niche varieties, allowing us to showcase the world of tea to the next generation of tea British drinkers.
In Asia, on the other hand, everyone has long regarded the tea cultivation, preparation and service as an art. Although tea has long been an essential part of the their daily lives – as with the British – the Asian tea drinker has more exposure to varying varieties of tea, such as white tea, green tea, blue tea, black tea and matured tea.
However, so strong is the tea culture of each Asian country that they may not always be aware of teas from other tea producing countries or continents, which is what we see in China, for example.
What is your leadership style?
I believe in a hands-off approach by empowering my team with the trust and authority to make critical decisions and be responsible for the daily running of the business. To me, a strong leader is one who stands with his team and equips them with the right tools and guidance, not one who stands on the sidelines giving out orders.
That said, we spent over two years to develop a series of training programmes at our TWG Tea Institute in Singapore, a full-fledged centre designed for learning and development. These programmes address brand experience, luxury behaviours, tea connoisseurship, retail sales, fine dining service and management to provide our employees with the relevant skills to develop their own careers with the brand.
What are the main challenges you face as a business?
One of the main challenges was to elevate tea as a luxury product. This is because everyone in Asia is born with a cup of tea – tea is served at every Asian restaurant. So many naysayers argue that we would never be able to get Asians to actually pay for a good cup of tea when it was so easy to get one for free. However, we made sure to source truly exceptional harvests and conceive novel blends, and this savoir faire has generated trust in our brand and an appreciation of the consistency and quality of our products. This has really spearheaded our expansion around the world.
What are your plans for future growth?
TWG Tea has invested considerably in building up an internal infrastructure in order to sustain and even surpass its current rate of expansion, culminating in the launch of the TWG Tea Institute last year and a new omnichannel ecommerce/mcommerce platform and membership program. The company’s expansion strategy is to continue to grow the brand and reach out to a wider tea-drinking market across China, Europe and North America.