by Emerald S. Morrow
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, owner of the Village Tea Company brand of premium loose leaf teas and tea accessories. “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 36-year-old health-conscious entrepreneur.
The Village Tea Company brand is currently available in several major retailers in North America, including Vitamin Shoppe, Whole Foods, and Amazon. Village Tea producers are also available of the company’s website, www.villageteaco.com.
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. With the increased emphasis on health and wellness in the US market, the tea industry has seen exponential growth over the past five years. With the recent %620 million Starbucks acquisition of Teavana and the ever increasing popularity of gourmet and boutique tea brands, Village Tea is positioned to grow exponentially.
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 tea) 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.
During its inaugural year in business, Village Tea generated $69,000 in sales revenue. Revenues for 2011 reached $368,383 and Ekechukwu nearly doubled sales to top $750,000 in revenues in 2012.
Breaking into the tea business wasn’t 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.
But getting tea suppliers to take him seriously was a major barrier starting out. “I called often and I sent them presentations. I sent them mock-ups of what we have. I sent them samples of our product line,” says Ekechukwu. That persistence paid off. After facing some initial rejection, he found a supplier willing to take a chance on a fledgling company.