What would it be like to have held Marketing, Innovation and Directorship positions at Coca Cola, Unilever, Mars, Kraft Foods and Nicoventures, only to say goodbye to it all in pursuit of your own health drink start-up? Sophia Nadur did exactly that. Not only did she gain a wealth of experience from huge brands, but she also practiced as a lawyer with a law degree, physiology degree and business MBA under her belt. Now as an entrepreneur, mentor and Founder of Tg Green Teas and Ideas 2 Launch, there’s no better person to provide top tips on the start-up journey. We were lucky enough to dig deep and discover Sophia’s views on the current and future landscape of the health market in London.
Getting to Know Sophia
What sparked your passion for healthier brands?
I have always been a firm believer in eating well and as healthy as possible. I was lucky I guess to grow up in the Caribbean surrounded by lots of fresh fruit and vegetables – many of which we ate came from our backyard or from bartering with neighbours. We usually knew where the butcher got his poultry and meat from (and we even reared our own goose that later became Sunday lunch). Drinks like Coca-Cola were only ever an occasional treat (and I often had to share 1 glass bottle with my sister and brother). My eating & drinking habits changed a lot when I moved to the UK with the prevalence of processed food & drink and poor work-life balance. Eating healthy was no longer easy nor particularly cheap.
At work, I was deeply involved for many years in food & drink innovation activities in major markets across the world. It became clear to me some years ago that consumers were fast becoming interested in more natural products, in where products came from and connecting with products and brands that were both internally and externally “better”. I tried to encourage healthier brand development at work but in the end decided that I could make things improve faster and in a more meaningful way from “the outside”.
Why did you move from a large corporations and into start-ups?
I have a big idea that evolves around spreading a holistic green tea revolution. Big companies don’t do big ideas well anymore. A small start-up like Tg Green Teas will. Lu-Ann Williams from Innova Market Insights says it better than me:
“Small players only do one thing, but they do it well, which holds high appeal for discerning millennial consumers. Because they are less restricted in their development process, small companies are getting their ideas out much quicker.”
Can you describe your journey as a founder?
The phrase“you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” comes to mind. It’s certainly been a huge learning curve starting up and running your own business. We think we’ve made some good progress so far if you consider how many people already love our organic and ethical drinks. Plus, we have won a Global Packaging Design Award, been a finalist for a World Beverage Innovation Award and have gained multiple Great Taste Awards. By this measure alone our products should already be available in Whole Foods, Planet Organic, As Nature Intended, and even Waitrose. They are not (as yet) partly I think because of as much what we’re not doing as what we’re doing. The pressure to cut “ethical corners” is huge for start-ups. We’re different in the sense that we want to do right by ourselves, our partners and our customers from the start.
Why did you decide to set up a business in the drinks industry?
It’s exciting! From a design & development point of view, we are seeing the merging of food and tech which is creating opportunities to deliver better food and drink that we want to consume in the future – and tech-driven support systems. Our involvement in a recent Hackathon run by some fantastic young folks from the tech, business and food space introduced us to new partners of the same mindset including Tim West, Sara Roversi and Yinka Makinde, and we’re looking forward to exploring opportunities with them to further evolve the healthy food & drink landscape. Getting better food & drink into consumers’ hands is another big issue as big boys like Coca-Cola, Tesco and Amazon still control a lot of what we eat and drink every day. Hello Fresh, Gousto and Artisan Food Club are all part of the solution but this is an area that is seeing lots more smart minds coming together to close availability and access gaps.
Which trends in the health food market are significant?
I think the move to a more plant based diet (food & drink) is significant with a huge positive impact likely. I am a flexitarian and maybe someday become a vegan or vegetarian – or maybe one day none of these narrow “titles” will matter as we become more in harmony with evolving, better-for-the-planet food ecosystems.
Can you tell us about the ingredients of Tg Green Teas?
We mainly use natural ingredients with very deep traditional health & wellness roots in Asia. Some of the ingredients are familiar to us like ginger, lemon, rhubarb, mandarin and of course green tea. Some are relatively new to us like jujube and osmanthus. Jujube is for example a superfruit in Asia and it will be talked about by Londoners in 2016 as we introduce it to the city through through TG Green Teas ‘hot’ and ‘iced’ versions.
What benefits would someone get from drinking Tg Green Teas on a regular basis?
Tg Green Tea, whether in a hot or iced format, is all about helping you add the goodness of green tea to your daily routine through authentic brews.
Although a nation of black tea drinkers, we’re increasingly reaching to green tea for its health benefits, rich cultural history and diverse flavour profile. Tg is designed to make green tea easier for our palates, encouraging more folks to enjoy premium brews. Tg went back to the “source” of the tea drinking tradition and to a small organic plantation high up in the mountains of China where, since ancient times, special preparation methods produce a green tea with a smooth and slightly fruity taste that folks – both purists and new drinkers – will simply love. We’re especially proud of our 2 Great Taste Awards!
How is the demand in other EU countries compared to London?
London and the UK is only now waking up to the delights and power of green tea which is already huge in other countries. We have started delivering our products to other markets including Europe and we expect “exports” to make up a sizeable share of our global business.
How will the health food market will evolve in the next 5 years?
‘Healthy’ food will become more and more affordable and accessible to everyone. It is simply unacceptable that we live in one of the world’s richest countries yet we continue to fuel inequality in health. The Office of National Statisics says that people who come from poor areas in Britain on average enjoy 19 less healthy years than people who come from rich homes. The gap is partly due to people not being able to afford better food & drink choices which are usually more expensive. It’s a real disgrace for a developed country. Jamie Oliver’s school dinner project can help to close the gap but there needs to be a lot more done to ensure healthy & affordable food & drink is available to everyone.
You do a range of Matcha which is trending at the moment, how is your product different from competitors?
Matcha is just one variety of green tea that has traditionally been used only for special ceremonies in China and Japan but is now appearing in weird and wonderful trendy food & drink places in London. Given certain issues in matcha growing/processing regions (pollution, radioactivity etc.), it is important that you always select organic matcha since you are essentially eating bits of leaves. Our matcha range is organic and light enough for everyday use.
Are you self funded or have you received help?
My co-founder and I have self-funded Tg Green Teas using our own savings however we would never have reached the stage we are at without the support of particular people and “institutions”. I can’t speak highly enough of the British Library Business & IP Centre which has a wealth of information available for free, coupled with useful advice and guidance available from staff and other folks who provide free or low cost seminars to budding start-ups. We were lucky too to participate in a government supported Growth Accelerator scheme which has helped us in many ways e.g. when and how to access funding, when and where to export.
Do you have a business mentor?
Yes, I have a few business mentors – one who I met through the Growth Accelerator programme and others I met through other folks running their own businesses. It is important to have people who are disconnected from the day to day business with whom you can discuss things honestly and in a less emotional setting. The perspective they have brought to our business has been immeasurable.
Rebel Wrap Up
What are the biggest lessons you have learnt?
I have worked for some huge brands that have transcended national borders and cultural barriers to reach almost everyone in the world. Having deep pockets can help get your product into every corner shop but getting folks to buy it and consume it (and do it again) is the harder bit. To get over this bit, 3 things become vital, namely:
(i) simplicity and strength of message (“call to action”) e.g. Coca-Cola’s more successful slogans have been one-liners like “Always”and ”Enjoy”that are easy to translate and never seem to lose their “freshness”,
(ii) the actual product experience and
(iii) how the product fits into my life and that of my “social circle”.
What advice would you give to others?
“Just do it” but ensure you have tested first your “big idea” and have stashed away about a years’ worth of income and refreshed your LinkedIn network before you turn your back on the big corporate pay cheque, a predictable work-life balance and wasteful big company work tasks and politics. Everything takes longer than you think to happen, you still have to put food on the table while your startup grows, and you will rediscover the art of dealing with real people.
“you still have to put food on the table while your startup grows, and you will rediscover the art of dealing with real people.”