HotTea Mama, which makes teas specifically designed to help common health ailments for women, has grown at a 400% annualized rate in the past five years. Until this year, costs decreased year-on-year as the business scaled. Then they didn't.
Raspberry leaves are a key component of three different teas that HotTea Mama makes – and these varieties make up 70% of the company's sales. The price of raspberry leaf increased by 40% overnight. ‘Brexit had an impact on importing it,’ Bethan explains – but a more significant change has been that raspberry leaves have become popular among recreational smokers, burning up supply from eastern Europe, where the crop is grown.
Bethan traditionally imported the whole raspberry leaf to use in her teas, to ensure a high quality. ‘We don't buy the standard cut, torn and curled grade that's highly processed,’ she says. She didn't want to drastically reduce the quality of the product, and she also couldn't change formulations, because her packaging was printed with precise ingredient percentages.
Bethan chose to source three to five slightly different cuts of tea leaves that she blended together and packed into her tea bags. She had to carefully consider knock-on effects: different cuts of tea could affect bag plumpness, which could slow down flow through the machinery she uses. ‘It's a balancing act to stick within my current percentages and keep the flavor the same while finding a way not to have a 40% more expensive product,’ she says.
It's taken a lot of time for Bethan to find new suppliers and ensure their compliance with import rules. She also felt she had to tell her customers. ‘We have quite a big community on Instagram, and that's how we grew our brand,’ she says. ‘I've told people [about] the issue through email communication and social media.’ She feels that it's important to share with customers that changes have been made because they'll likely notice anyway.
Bethan is tied into a year's contract with the new suppliers of raspberry leaves for her tea. ‘I need to secure my supply chain,’ she says. She hopes that by then, things will have calmed down – but she acknowledges they might not have and she may have to think nimbly again.