“We make tea in a way that pretty much is opposite the rest of the world, where typically people will pick tea leaves … and wither them and dry them and steam them, and cook them really, and it sits on the shelf,” said Millennia TEA co-founder and CEO Tracy Bell.
She explained that Millennia TEA washes and flash freezes freshly picked tea, which allows “the leaves prepared in our method [to] deliver five times the antioxidants of a green tea made from the same leaf” but dried.
While looking for tea in the freezer section is unconventional, Bell believes that consumers increasingly are returning to the frozen aisle because they now understand that if they want products in their nutritional prime they need to be flash frozen at their best to safeguard the nutrients.
She adds that Millennia TEA also is a perfect addition to smoothies, the ingredients for which often are stocked in the freezer aisle. Plus, she says, consumers increasingly are supporting brands with a back story that is authentic and health focused, which Millennia TEA has.
Teaming with Food-X
Even though consumers are interested in brands’ stories and they are returning to the freezer aisle, Bell recognized that they are also creatures of habit and that she would need help creating compelling branding to convince them to look for tea alongside frozen fruit instead of in the center store. She also knew she would need help convincing retailers that consumers could make the switch, which is one reason she joined the venture capital fund SOSV’s Food-X accelerator program.
“To partner with a venture capital fund like SOSV and an accelerator program like Food-X gives so much value to companies in a couple of ways. For us, it is the contacts and the access to subject matter experts along every step of the process from sourcing and supply chain” to marketing and PR, she said.
“The second piece is when you are part of a program like this it lends so much credibility to what you are doing,” which can help reassure retailers, she said.
When to listen to others & when to listen to yourself
As Bell notes, food accelerators and incubators can provide invaluable expertise to entrepreneurs, but she adds it is up to founders to determine when to listen to the advice of others and when to listen to their own intuition.
“There are so many people willing to help” that it can lead to “advice whiplash,” where an entrepreneur or brand can feel pulled in too many directions, Bell said. She explained that she sifts through the advice and measures it against her own intuition by finding a quiet space, clearing her mind and looking at where she wants her brand to go.
Find your North star
One way Bell determines when to listen to others and when to listen to herself is to look at her consumer as her North star.
“So often, I think companies forget to go back and really examine who is my customer, what is my purpose, what is that North star, that guide-light we can look to every time we have to make a big decision so that we have clarity on where we are going,” she said.
She explained for Millennia TEA that North star is what her consumer needs and how her company can uniquely meet that need, which also represents its clear differentiator.
“We spend a lot of time heads down trying to get the answers to those [questions] and they are not always easy, but figuring out the ways to measure that … and then test again and test again,” is the best way that Bell says she knows to move forward with confidence.