Ti-Tonics has won the Best Tea-Based Beverage and Supreme Beverage at the 2012/13 New Zealand Juice and Beverage Association Awards.
What made you launch Ti Tonics? We wanted to make a better-for-you beverage. We launched simultaneously in New Zealand and Australia and are quite evenly spread between the two countries. New Zealand is still a niche market while Australia is already a $100+ million iced tea market dominated by Lipton Ice Tea. What makes Ti Tonics different from other iced teas is that it is far lower in sugar using only natural plant-based sugars instead. We also infuse important antioxidant ingredients into the drinks and differentiate ourselves with our packaging - the name Ti is the Maori spelling for tea and Tonics refers to the fact that they are "super" drinks - much more than just a regular iced tea.
Where do you manufacture Ti Tonics?
Our bottling plant is right here in Auckland, well located for our third party logistics supplier based at the airport. The plant has around 18 workers. In a perfect world, we'd like to design and build a larger capacity facility, similar to Moa's plans - but we'd need to have more capital like they have now after their flotation. We did try manufacturing as well in Australia but financially it was difficult, essentially doubling up on inventory and warehousing in two markets. Then when we did need to bring product back from Australia, we had to pay very expensive TransTasman freight costs. It's one of the most expensive stretches of water in the world we learned.
Where else are you planning to export?
Our big next focus is the United States. We have spent a lot of time and money researching that market, building networks over there and intend to kick things off very soon. We are hoping to have our first full container in California in May and already have four distributors there ready to go. Ti Tonics will sell in nice cafes, delis, hotels and restaurants as it does in NZ and Australia. LA will be our main focus initially then San Diego and San Francisco but all the warehousing will be in LA. We will focus on having the drinks stocked in upmarket, socially influential places.
How do you differentiate yourself from other iced tea manufacturers?
We market ourselves as a super tea in a bottle. We use white tea, the most expensive tea and the tea which is most full of antioxidants. Most iced teas are quite sugary drinks - although not nearly as bad as juice which has around 11 or 12 per cent sugar - Ti Tonics are less than 2 per cent using plant based sweeteners.
Ti Tonics is about the delivery of polyphenols to people's systems. All of the emerging scientific research into immunity, longevity, anti-aging and cellular disease is showing it's all about polyphenols, the vital protective compounds found in the skins and seeds of fruit and vegetables. We infuse that in our tea.
We have had several shareholder/scientists helping us with our product including the world expert Dr Yeap Foo, who was the first scientist to talk about the health benefits of cranberries.
Tips to new producer/manufacturers
Don't rush into production with your idea and try and stick to a budget. Give yourself much more time to research and plan than you thought. Don't quit your day job til you are further down the track. It all takes so much longer than people think. Pay attention to branding/packaging and understand where you are different.
Also don't be afraid to ask people direct questions such as: "Who is the distributor of these products?" You can take so many shortcuts this way.
How can a board help SMEs make sound decisions and take brave steps? What have boards done for some of our fast growing SMEs?