Building a Tea Brand

Brewing an Empire

Martin Ekechukwu, Founder of Village Tea Co.

Experts have long touted tea as a healthier alternative to sugary drinks and even flavored water. That was the catalyst behind Martin Ekechukwu’s launch of Village Tea Co. Distribution Inc. out of Dallas in 2009. “The baseline for everything we focus on is health and wellness,” says Ekechukwu. “It was all about combining these things with really flavorful products.” Sugar-saturated drinks like sodas, lemonades, and fruit punches can be detrimental to the body, notes the 35-year-old health-conscious entrepreneur. About half of the U.S. population age 2 and older consumes sugary drinks daily. But in spite of consumers’ love affair with sweetened beverages, the world’s most consumed drink is water, followed by tea. That bodes well for Ekechukwu, whose love for tea coupled with his passion for health helped him mold Village Tea into a successful wholesale provider of organic loose-leaf blends. The teas come in 23 flavors (a wide variety of white, red, green, oolong, and black teas) that are packaged in 100% recyclable and biodegradable containers. Village Tea also makes eco-friendly mobile teapots, allowing customers to have freshly brewed tea on the go.

Ekechukwu and his Village Tea team spend months every year traveling to global tea farms and meeting with farmers to create his brand of blended teas. He has relationships with three local packaging suppliers that warehouse his inventory, selling his tea to distributors and retail stores, including Whole Foods Market and The Vitamin Shoppe. Consumers can also buy Village Tea directly online.

During its inaugural year in business, Village Tea generated $69,000 in sales revenue. Revenues for 2011 reached $368,383 and Ekechukwu is predicting nearly doubling sales to top $750,000 in revenues for 2012.

Village Tea is attracting the attention of celebrities such as film and Broadway actress Anika Noni Rose and R&B singer Deborah Cox, who recently become a company spokesperson and a business partner (investing an undisclosed amount). “What really resonated with me about Village Tea Co. is the quality of the product. The company’s philosophy fit my philosophy, which is about being green,” says Cox. “And to find out that it was an African American-based company, that was just like icing on the cake.”

Breaking into the tea business hasn’t been easy for Ekechukwu, who spent a large part of his childhood in the Czech Republic and was introduced to a variety of loose teas by his grandmother. It was only natural for him to start with something he knew well when he took the leap of faith to set up shop. He founded the company and started running the Village Tea brand after having spent several years managing multimillion-dollar corporate consumer brands. He was able to finance the company with $750,000 combined from his personal savings and funds from a private investor.

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