As busy moms to seven children (ages 6 to 13) between them, Ann Foley and her sister-in-law Morgan Walsh enjoyed drinking tea, but didn’t always have the time to wait for a cup of tea to steep. Although they knew K-Cups were an option, the environmentally conscious entrepreneurs sought to bring something new to the beverage aisle: a healthy, convenient and ecofriendly instant tea.
After 40 research and development attempts over several years, a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, 10th Avenue Tea rose up from Foley’s home to being available at select Target stores in Chicago and Los Angeles.
Founded in 2015, the Chicago-based 10th Avenue Tea line of shakeable matcha tea powders initially were available at a few La Grange, Ill., stores and Harvest Bar in California, says Foley, the company’s president and co-founder.
“Once we got our first distributor, we were able to expand our footprint. Now, we are in over 275 stores nationwide,” she says. “We’ve been able to add larger stores over the years due to connections we make at tradeshows and networking within the industry.
“Neither of us had any experience in the food and beverage industry, so there was a steep learning curve for us,” Foley continues. “As we grew, we learned more about the industry (sometimes the hard way), and landing the big accounts gets easier all the time.”
Walsh, the company’s co-founder and vice president, and Foley are longtime drinkers of matcha tea and note that the decision to use healthy, organic Japanese matcha as their product’s main ingredient was an easy one.
“Morgan and I were already drinking matcha, but because we don’t have time for the whisking and ceremonial aspect of it, we couldn’t make it part of our morning routine like we wanted,” Foley explains. “Since it’s already in powder form, it really inspired our choice to create a tea powder. There were other modes of delivery we were considering — tea beads was an early one for example — but knowing matcha could be a powder helped us to decide to explore creating an all-natural and instant tea powder with matcha as its base.”
Good for Mother Earth
Today, the three-person start-up is achieving double-digit sales and is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise. The teas are available in four matcha flavors: Green, Black, Chai and Tropical, plus Herbal Berry, which are sold in 45-serving shaker bottles at Mariano’s, Fresh Market, specialty grocers as well as yoga studios, Foley says. Bulk packages are sold on the company’s website.
Creating a product with less packaging waste is a crucial part of the company’s ethos, Foley notes. “Many of our competitors sell ready-to-drink tea beverages in plastic bottles. We know consumers like the convenience of that, but we wanted to marry convenience with our ecofriendly mindset.
“I did not want to be the founder of a company that contributed to thousands of tons of landfill waste,” she continues. “Every time a person buys a bottle of 10th Avenue Tea, that’s as many as 45 plastic bottles and single-serve packages that don’t go into a landfill.”
In addition to its compact size, 10th Avenue Tea offers retailers a unique product to their mix, according to Foley.
“Buyers for the stores really like our products because they are so different, and they take up very little space on the shelf. However, it’s our responsibility to get the message out to consumers to make sure they buy it off the shelf,” Foley says. “Our biggest obstacle is consumer awareness. At the beginning, people thought it was an energy ‘shot’ or they thought you added water to the bottle and shook it up for a single-serving drink. … It was very important to us that consumers realized the tiny bottle had 45 servings.”
A few big breaks also have contributed to the company’s success. “Morgan made a contact with the Hungry Girl blog, and she put us in her newsletter. We didn’t even know it was happening until I woke up to see a large number of orders suddenly placed on our website. Being on [ABC-TV’s] ‘Windy City Live’ [out of more than 170 entries] and being named a finalist on Peapod’s Next Best was also huge for us. Both of those gave us far more exposure than we’d ever received. We also got a boost when Melissa Rauch, a major cast member on CBS’s ‘Big Bang Theory,’ posted about us on her social media.”
In 2017, Walsh marketed the product on the Home Shopping Network, where 2,400 bottles were sold in about 10 minutes.
The company continues to test new flavors and tweak its current ones. “We are experimenting with a ginger tea and possibly a hibiscus, too,” Foley says. “… My dream is that one day someone would open their kitchen cabinet and they would have 10 different instant beverage shakers. We would love to move to functional drinks, lemonades, etc.” BI