Belfast Telegraph

Jobs boost as beverage business Suki Teahouse expands

Why Suki is everyone's cup of tea ...

By Margaret Canning

Suki Teahouse in Belfast is investing £250,000 in expanding its sales outside Northern Ireland. The tea blending business already exports its wares as far afield as Norway and Japan.

Now it will adapt a more strategic focus to overseas sales, and has created seven new jobs as part of its investment, which includes £35,000 of assistance from the Invest NI Jobs Fund.

The company is based at Twin Spires at Northumberland Street in the city. Managing director and co-founder Oscar Woolley said: "We have always had a focus on export because of the potential that tea has – it's a global product."

As well as attending trade shows, Mr Woolley described one unorthodox approach to selling the company's products – ranging from traditional breakfast teas to fruit and herbal infusions – overseas.

"We follow the coffee market around. We were at the World Barista Championships – I suppose it's kind of a guerrilla tactic. There is a trade show attached to that – and everyone who likes good coffee likes good tea.

"It's an amazing place to pick up new business as sometimes you can get lost at food fairs."

Suki teas are now exported to Japan, Croatia, Belgium, Poland, Norway, Romania, Rwanda and Kenya.

And a distributor agreement doesn't necessarily arise from a face-to-face meeting – for example, their Japanese link began with a Facebook inquiry, Mr Woolley said.

Tastes vary in its international markets, he said. "Two really big export markets are Poland and Norway, which are really into their fruit and herb teas."

The company has even established a 'tea academy' for buyers to educate them about tea, especially its provenance in the same way as baristas are educated about coffee, though "tea has been around much longer," Mr Woolley said.

The traditional Belfast Blend of Assam-heavy black tea was the most popular in home markets – a "spicy, malty, full-flavoured breakfast tea".

However, English markets preferred lighter East African blends.

Teas could be sold to an overseas customer for the equivalent of 10p per pot – but in a market like Norway, could be sold to the ultimate customer for £5 per pot, Mr Woolley said.

Complying with new EU laws on food packaging, requiring each ingredient on a label to be translated into the language of the country of destination, was proving onerous, he said.

"To add a country has to be a considered decision because we have 40 products in different sizes.

"That's a lot of label work," he said.

John Hood, Invest NI's director of food and tourism, visited the company's newly-extended premises.

He said: "The company has targeted opportunities to grow its business significantly through foodservice, retail and the internet and is implementing new equipment and processes that will strengthen its productivity and overall market competitiveness.

"The new equipment will also assist the business in the development of innovative products to enhance its portfolio of popular teas."

Mr Woolley said: "Our objective in making what is a substantial investment for the business is to increase our capacity, capability and flexibility and thereby enable us to exploit the opportunities for our existing and new products."

Suki began business at St George's Market, where it still has a stall, and is now a supplier to major retailers and independent delis across the British Isles.

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