Tea for kids? Why not, says entrepreneur behind Little Me Tea, 'There was a glaring gap in the market'

By Elaine WATSON

- Last updated on GMT

Melinda  Hicks: 'I was making herbal teas and added some juice and my daughter loved it and her friends loved it and I thought there is a glaring gap in the market here'
Melinda Hicks: 'I was making herbal teas and added some juice and my daughter loved it and her friends loved it and I thought there is a glaring gap in the market here'
Tea is an adult beverage, right? Wrong, says the entrepreneur behind Little Me Tea, who’s on a mission to replace the sugary juice box in your child’s lunchbox with an organic, caffeine-free tea sweetened with fruit and veg juice.

If you add a little juice to tea, what you end up with tastes more like juice than tea, but has a fraction of the sugar, according to Melinda Hicks, a former marketing executive based in Atlanta, GA, who came up with the Little Me Tea brand after trying in vain to find something less sugary than soda, flavored milk or 100% juice to give her daughter and her friends.

Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA as part of our new series of interviews with food and beverage entrepreneurs,Hicks said: “The 100% juices were loaded with sugar. Flavored waters lacked nutrition. And everything had some added sugar. There was just way too much sugar.

Little-Me-Tea

“I was making herbal teas and added some juice and my daughter loved it and her friends loved it, and I thought there is a glaring gap in the market here. The flavor is clean and light and crisp.”

A glaring gap in the market

She added: “I started doing some research and was really surprised to see that no one was doing this, so I contacted a beverage developer and everything started from there.”

Her first two products, Julia's Tropical Tea and Zane's Grape Tea, feature a blend of four organic teas (White Tea, Rooibos Tea, Hibiscus flowers and Chamomile) and contain 6g of naturally occurring sugar (from juice) per 6.75 ounce juice box. A third flavor will hit stores next year.

They are organic, caffeine-free and contain no added sugar (making them very Mom-friendly), but they are designed to appeal to kids, said Hicks, who chose to put children (including her own daughter Julia) - instead of cartoon characters or fruit - on her product labels.

Little Me Tea founders
Big Time Tea founder Melinda Hicks with her husband Michael and daughter Julia

“I walked down the juice aisle and through what will give me an emotional connection? A cartoon character or a child’s face?”

In the end people want convenience

So armed with some product samples and her sales pitch, she started knocking on doors.

And some pretty influential ones have just opened, said Hicks, who is set to take the Little Me Tea brand nationwide in the coming weeks as new distribution partnerships take shape. 

But success didn’t come overnight, said Hicks, who had originally envisioned Little Me Tea would work best in a 32oz format when she launched her first products in 2011, but soon learned that busy Moms want something they can just throw in their child’s lunchbox, and has now ditched the big packs and is focusing on the 6.75oz juice box format instead.

“In the end people want convenience.”

A steep learning curve

Recent deals include partnerships with key distributors to the natural channel including Nature’s Best, which has taken the products to stores across the Southwest and Western US in recent weeks; KeHe, which is distributing Little Me Tea to retailers in the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast and Southwest; and Unique Foods Marketing, which has placed Hicks’ products in Whole Foods’ South region (Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama).

Little-Me-Tea-Logo

The retail price is at the higher end of the organic juice box market, but not too high to put off target customers, said Hicks, who admits she has been on a steep learning curve since setting up her firm Big Time Tea Company.

“I would tell people to go in with their eyes wide wide open. Learn as much as you can before you go into production. How much do your ingredients cost, how widely available are they? Will they still be widely available in three years’ time?”

Make your margins right off the bat and don’t assume that you’ll get volume discounts later

One mistake she didn’t make was pricing the product so low that she wouldn’t be able to make any money until she achieved volume discounts at some unspecified time in the future, said Hicks.

“Everybody was cautioning us. Make sure you can make money from your first production run. Make your margins right off the bat and don’t assume that you’ll get volume discounts later.

“You also need to have enough money budgeted to support your brand and get it into the distributor networks you’re targeting, and that means attending the trade shows and working with retailers.”

 

Little-Me-Tea-packs

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2 comments

It's a great product!

Posted by Heather,

Just a mother her wants the best for her child. I had gestational diabetes so I became sensitive to how much sugar were in products I was consuming. My nutritionist looked at my daily diet and said "Sheesh! Just cut out all the fruit juice you drink and you'll be fine!". I don't want my child developing the same expectation for sugar in his beverages. It was a hard habit for me to kick. He loves Little Me Tea and I tell as many people as I can about it.

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Inspiration vs. Perspiration

Posted by Christine Wheeler,

I fully concur with the insights shared as I too am a 'mom' entrepreneur who launched a kid's tea. It has been a long road but as every entrepreneur can tell you, real success takes passion, hard work and persistence.

I initially had the idea for a kid's tea back in 2005 as a way of creating an alternative to juice and sports drinks for my children. I spent several years doing consumer research, product development and building the right team. We launched into a test market in September 2010. During this time, we confirmed that parents love the idea of an herbal tea for kids. We also gained insight on how we could optimize our product. While our mission was to offer a healthy drink alternative, we knew it had to taste great. After several more rounds of product development and consumer/kid testing, we achieved the right balance of brewed herbal tea and fruit juices for a taste kids' love.

Drazil Kids Tea rolled out in Northern California this year and the response from retailers and consumers has been tremendous. We're excited to report that the product is doing so well that we are expanding.

We owe all of this success to the work we did both prior to the test market and the changes we made based on the learning in test market. The old adage - success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration -really holds true as an entrepreneur.

We are thrilled that the kids' tea category is taking off. It's long overdue!

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