Packaged tea is a crowded, volume-driven market. But entrepreneur Allen Wong has created a premium specialty tea brand which is straddling consumer channels and the food & hospitality sector.
Or Tea? has already been adopted by luxury hotels and eateries in Hong Kong, Thailand, the Netherlands, China and the Maldives, and onto the shelves of upmarket retailers including Lane Crawford, Goods of Desire (G.O.D) Thailand’s Central Food Hall and Germany’s KaDeWe department store.
“There is no need for a new tea brand, there is enough for everyone already,” Wong shares with Saladplate. “So when you bring a new brand into the market, you must give consumers a very good reason to buy yours. We want to revolutionise tea drinking into a lifestyle for the modern generation.”
Wong, who has a degree in Hotel Management from Hotelier Cesar Ritz in Switzerland, splits his time between Amsterdam and Hong Kong. He started by sourcing high-quality tea, then created a brand charged with the ‘feel-good factor’ and developed a range of 25 flavours.
“Marlboro never talked about how good the quality of their tobacco was. It projected the masculinity image of the cowboy. In my opinion, no one in the tea industry is doing so. That’s why I came up with a [character] for our target audience to associate with – trendy, fashionable, witty, pretty, healthy, artsy and loved. The packaging for every single flavour is designed as a piece of contemporary art with a story to tell.”
Allen says his customers get to relate to Or Tea? not just through their taste buds, but with their eyes as well. “Visualisation plays an important role for a brand to extend its reach to consumers through different means rather than just the product.”
Wong’s short-term goal was to give tea drinking a refreshing new image. “We do not want to sell tea as a commodity, but to create an emotional bond with our consumers.”
When he started Or Tea?, Wong did not specifically design it for the HoReCa (Hotel, Restaurant and Catering) market.
“I just thought tea needed something refreshing. It was kind of a surprise how well we were received in the HoReCa market. It is simply because we are very new compared to all other brands that are available for them to choose from.
“Dealing with HoReCa customers is a completely different game to retail. Having a good product is not enough; it is crucial to understand how their business works and to offer them the support they need. We are more than just a brand to HoReCa customers; we are their business partner.”
The list of Or Tea?’s HoReCa channels now includes the Grand Hyatt, Mandarin Oriental, Lady M, Habitu and Sift Cupcakes in Hong Kong; the Anantara, Avani and M Gallery in Thailand; the Hard Rock Hotel and Cafe Del Mar in the Maldives; Niccolo in China and Fort Resort Beemster and Fashion Hotel in the Netherlands.
They will soon be joined by Wong’s own Or Tea? chain of tea houses. While reluctant to reveal too many details of the concept which he describes as a work in progress, he is adamant that like the packaged tea it will create a whole new concept of what tea houses should be like.
“Of course you will drink tea there, but it will also be about an experience, as with a kid in a toy store.”
Wong says he always wanted to build a brand that could leave a legacy behind. After 20 years in advertising and branding he started creating Or Tea? in 2015, aiming for a slice of a global market estimated to be worth US$20 billion by 2025.
“The idea came when my brother jokingly said: “You should sell Chinese tea in Holland like the French sell wine here”.
“It seemed like a sound idea, so I did some research and found out that there were more than 80,000 tea brands in China, yet none of them had made themselves known in the western market. All we Chinese could drink or find were Lipton or Twinings. The reason for that is simple: the Chinese brands do not know how to make a product that talks to western consumers. Or Tea? filled the gap, to make drinking a quality cup of Chinese tea hip, fun, and playful. Those characteristics are reflected in the brand name, the design, and our most recent blends.”
Long term, Wong says he wants to expand the culture of tea drinking into a lifestyle, offering consumers a unique retail experience and making its customers feel proud of being associated with the brand.
Such is the vivid, eye-catching nature of the brand and packaging, Or Tea? is now building a range of branded lifestyle merchandise using the colourful character illustrations. In Europe, the company has partnered with Hallmark to produce ‘drinkable greeting cards’.
And the company is also looking at developing online during the next few years.
“Our new online platform will be more consumer-centric, offering personalisation, a loyalty program and exclusive products to attract and retain customers,” says Wong.
“On the other hand, we will continue to be very selective with our brick-and-mortar retail partners.”