An Auckland company's range of exotic, premium iced teas are on the verge of going global. Ti-Tonics is the brainchild of health psychologist Tracey King, a former New Zealand tennis representative with an interest in nutrition who first dabbled in beverages while in Britain a decade ago.
"Nobody was making Spirulina smoothies or the things we take for granted here, so I started making them for myself and friends."
Before long the drinks were being sold in a Cardiff cafe and the Tiger Bay Beverages Company was born. The business outgrew itself and needed an investor, but King's marriage ended and she returned to New Zealand. "We never really cracked the mainstream market."
After finding her feet back in Auckland and deciding to create a functional health drink she picked the brains of plant scientists Peter Wigley and Andrew Broadwell, and got talking about the lack of health benefits in bottled water. They alerted her to the positive health properties of polyphenols - antioxidants held in the skins and seeds of plants.
King explained the difficulties in blending anything fresh - a short shelf life and challenges with freight and storage - and made it clear she wasn't keen to go down that path.
"They said it doesn't have to be fresh, you can extract the goodness from the plant and infuse it."
The trio formed BioDiscovery Health Products in 2006 and offshoot Ti-Tonics was set up in 2008. King attempted to attract an angel investor but discovered people were reluctant to get involved with beverages, perceiving them as being too risky.
About that time she met designer James Ehau. "He saw the potential and decided to put money into it."
To save costs, Ehau took over all design work as well as sales and distribution.
"We're life partners now and engaged with an 18-month-old baby," King said. She also has a 10-year-old son.
Two ranges were created - four glass-bottle varieties for within New Zealand, including pomegranate green tea, blueberry white tea, nectarine white tea, yumberry green tea and mango acai white tea. They retail at $4.50 each. Five plastic-bottle varieties were created for export. They come in larger 500ml bottles and include nectarine, blueberry, passionfruit and pomegranate flavours. All have a base of white tea and grape seed extract.
The couple entered the local market by cold-calling cafes and restaurants, and found most had fridges owned by companies like Coca-Cola or Charlies. "It makes it harder for independents to break into the market."
But some, including the Nosh chain, Prego in Ponsonby and Zarbo in Newmarket, had their own fridges and were taken with the products. Ti-Tonics' first commercial sale was in April last year. The drinks can now be found in up to 100 cafes or restaurants in Auckland and twice that number in Australia. Deals have been struck to supply the beverages in Taiwan and the Cook Islands, and negotiations are happening in the United States and Canada.
The drinks have been served at events like New Zealand Fashion Week and the Audi A1 launch party. King said they fitted into the category of "lifestyle" beverages and appealed to fashion-aware people. "There is a mutual benefit when brands are similarly positioned in the marketplace."