If you think about value addition in agriculture, think about Roselyne Njoki’s multi-million venture into purple tea.
As the founder and CEO of Angie’s Tea, an exporter and local distributor, Njoki has now stood out as the face of success.
“I have learned that being unique is the key to success in entrepreneurship,” she says. “When I was starting, I didn’t want to get into a line of business that is available at every corner of the street. I wanted to sell uniqueness, and Purple Tea perfectly fit the bill. It was reserved for exportation only, and I thought that apart from exporting, I could localize it.”
When she was starting in 2015, Njoki did not have enough startup capital and, like all beginners banks were not willing to finance her.
“Although I finally managed to get a loan, I spent the first year juggling between loan repayments and making profits,” she says.
There were some mistakes when she started – and it is a lesson to all beginners: “I underestimated the amount I’d require to run my business. Within a short while, I found myself spending more than what I had borrowed to cater for my operational costs. It was during the same period that I suffered my biggest loss in business. To begin with, I had to brand the business in order to fit in the local market. This involved a lot of design and advertising, and when I had my materials ready and in bulk, I realized that there were glaring mistakes. I had to start the branding and marketing exercise afresh, which consumed a large chunk of my capital.”
A lesson had been learnt.
What has made Njoki’s venture to be special is not the colour of the tea – but the highly medicinal properties it bears.
“Purple tea is best known for its unique ability to reduce cancer cells in the body since it’s an extremely powerful antioxidant. Added to that, it accelerates metabolism, which leads to weight loss,” the 38-year-old says.
The rise of Njoki’s business is intertwined with that of her husband, Henry Paul Njeru who grows purple on 130 acres of his 475-acre Athi Estate tea farm in Kirunguria, Igembe South.
“My husband’s family business, Njeru Industries, was among the first companies to grow this tea after it was developed and introduced into the market by the Tea Research Institute of Kenya. Njeru Industries, however, hadn’t considered Kenya itself as a market for the tea.”
In 2014, Njoki convinced her family, that she could make distribution of this product work in Kenya. Though initially sceptical, they gave her the support she needed to kick off Angie’s Purple Tea, named for her seven-year-old daughter.
“I was scared because I wasn’t sure I would succeed. I got married early, at 21, and had worked in my husband’s firm for 15 years,” she says.
“In fact, when I joined the company, they didn’t even have a position for me. I did all the small jobs that didn’t really fall in anyone else’s docket. So to imagine starting my own company was daunting.”
Her main problem was that she needed Sh2 million to start her venture but the problem was that even banks had not heard of purple tea.
“Before I could even convince banks to give me money, I had to convince them that this tea was legitimate and could do what I claimed it could do,” she told a local paper.
“Thankfully, one bank believed me and gave me a loan. I suppose their hesitation was valid because getting this product off the ground was extremely difficult.”
The good thing was that she could get the tea from Njeru Industries on credit.
Aside from purple tea, her company also produced black tea, oolong tea and, later, green tea. While purple tea comes from a variety of the tea bush with distinctive purple-reddish leaves, the other teas come from the more familiar green-leafed bush. Black tea is fully fermented, oolong tea is partially fermented and green tea is unfermented.
It was when she tried to get her tea to supermarkets that she realised that she was stuck. “Most of them had never heard of it, so I would send emails asking for appointments and receive no response. Eventually I decided to carry samples and simply walk into offices and sit there until I was seen.”
Her tea was later stocked by three supermarket chains: Uchumi, Naivas and Chandarana. Each supermarket bought 48 cartons each of the different teas that Angie’s Purple Tea carried. A carton contains 24 packets, and she sold each at Sh220, raking in Sh253,440 per tea brand. She typically restocks these retailers every 60 days.
“The fact that my tea was selling in supermarkets really boosted my confidence.
From then on, her purple tea has made it to duty free shops and at the moment the firm purchases approximately a tonne of tea from Njeru Industries every three months, which translates to roughly 20,000 packets of tea.
“We process the purple tea leaves into what is known as un-oxidised Crush Tear Curl (CTC) (non-fermented) which has higher levels of anthocyanin. This is the purple pigment which has numerous health properties,” said Mr Njeru who inherited the business from his father.
The family sells the tea leaves for at about $30 (Sh2,730) per kilo, which is about 10 times the $3 a kilo (Sh275) that high quality green tea fetches in the global market.
The processed tea is then packed into 10kg and 20kg packs made from aluminium foil and shipped to Shanghai Daning International Tea Co Ltd in Japan.