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Tea firm drinks to its success as it seals M&S deal

By John Mulgrew

Published 09/04/2015

Suki Tea founders Oscar Woolley (left) and Anne Irwin at a tea farm in Darjeeling with grower Rajesh Singh
Suki Tea founders Oscar Woolley (left) and Anne Irwin at a tea farm in Darjeeling with grower Rajesh Singh

Homegrown Belfast boutique firm Suki Tea has landed a major deal to sell its products in Marks & Spencer stores right across the UK - a decade after it was first founded.

Its very own Belfast Brew will be making its way in to around 200 foods stores in the company's first deal with a major multiple retailer.

And after turning down advances from other big supermarkets over the years, co-founder Oscar Woolley said he had worked to get his award-winning teas into the higher-end retailer since Suki's inception back in 2005.

"We had been working on something for a long time, that would sit on supermarket shelves," he said.

"We had said no to supermarkets for years. We thought, in our own time - we'll start at the top."

Belfast Brew is black Irish breakfast tea, with 90% Assam from the northern Indian region.

He said the Marks & Spencer deal could make up around 5% of Suki's total business, but didn't delve in to the total value of the deal.

And Mr Woolley hopes to grow Suki Tea's retail arm to around a third of its total business in future.

"M&S has been a target for us since the start of the business in 2005. While our focus has long been on food service, we always said we'd look at retailing - especially with M&S."

Founded by Mr Woolley and business partner Anne Irwin, Suki focuses on loose-leaf tea, fruit and herbal infusions.

It now employs 19 staff, but the size and scale of the latest supermarket deal could see that number grow.

Suki Tea also sources from Tanzania, with the leaves picked by hand and processed on site, using old machines made in the former Sirocco Works factory in Belfast.

Already on the shelves in a handful of stores, its Belfast Brew is set to hit shelves here, and across the UK, next week.

"M&S had a few options, and there were a few tea companies. We worked very hard with our packaging," said Mr Woolley.

"We've been selling on farmers' market stalls and have a big following online, but the packaging was always something that had held us back.

"We were delighted when M&S approached us about six months ago to see if we'd be interested in becoming a supplier.

"What helped us to secure this hugely important business is the accreditations we have achieved such as Safe and Local Supplier Approved (SALSA) and for ethical trading by conservation organisations such as the Organic Food Federation, Rainforest Alliance and the Fairtrade Foundation."

Just last year, Suki Tea revealed it was 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.

And it now sells to some 2,000 cafes across the UK and Ireland.

Suki deals in a wide-range of tea varieties aside from its staple Belfast Brew, hitting the shelves at Marks & Spencer.

That includes fruit and herbal tea blends such as Apple Loves Mint and Red Berry.

Belfast Telegraph

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