Liza Johnson founded loose leaf tea company Tea Enthusiasts over sixteen years ago and now employs four people at their base in Stanley, County Durham.
The company brings quality loose leaf tea in a myriad of flavours from the best tea gardens and plantations across the globe delivering a product that is of exceptional quality, environmentally friendly and ethically sustainable.
When the business was looking to expand their distribution into retail outlets they sought the support of the Durham Food and Drink Network (DFDN), supported and funded by the Durham Business Opportunities Programme (DBOP).
The Durham Business Opportunities Programme is a six-year ERDF funded business support programme. One element of the programme identifies sectors with high growth potential and develops a programme of support for businesses within that sector to help them make the most of those opportunities. This includes a mixture of events, one-to-one support and masterclasses.
The Durham Food and Drinks Network was designed to help County Durham food and drinks producers take advantage of the opportunities presented to them in the sector.
As part of the exercise to get the established online brand Tea Enthusiasts “shelf-ready” Liza signed up to take part in a labelling workshop organised by the network followed by one-to-one support. Another unique element of the DFDN was the Love Durham pop-up shop in Prince Bishops’ shopping centre in Durham City.
Liza said “When Tea Enthusiasts were making the step into retail the DFNW and Love Durham pop-up shop, in particular, provided us and many other County Durham food and drinks producers with an excellent way to market test our products in a real retail environment. We also launched our new product Durham Tea. The Love Durham pop-up shop enabled us to gather market intelligence and gain instant customer feedback, which helped us to establish and shape new products and a brand that was retail-ready at the right price point based on real customer feedback, which was of enormous benefit to Tea Enthusiasts. ”
Following their participation in the DFDN Tea Enthusiasts developed their packaging and are now stocked in over ten retail outlets across the region including much-loved eateries such as Broom House Farm in Witton Gilbert, For the Love of the North in Whitley Bay and Kaffeehaus Amadeus in Lanchester. Most recently Liza and the team have developed a new blend to be sold exclusively by Beamish Museum.
Guy Bashford, Business Engagement Officer for the Durham Business Opportunities Programme added: “The Love Durham pop-up initiative was an incredible success. It provided food and drinks producers across County Durham with the opportunity to market test their product in a high footfall area, providing valuable market insight at a very low risk to the business.
The feedback we received indicated that the networking element of the support programme was of great benefit as businesses were able to share ideas and support each other. That support network has now been extended thanks to Liza Johnson of Tea Enthusiasts and Matthew Booth of The Working Hand Brewery who launched Discovering Durham CIC earlier this year, creating a lasting legacy that was born from The Durham Food and Drinks Network. We hope this network will help many businesses it the sector for many years to come.”
Discovering Durham CIC is a community interest company or CIC founded just before the coronavirus lockdown of 2020. The CIC has a retail presence in Prince Bishops’ Shopping Centre in the centre of Durham as well as an online store and support network to help the many food and drinks retailers across the county that stock their products in Discovering Durham CIC.
Liza said “Matthew and I are passionate about continuing the support network that had been started by the DBOP programme and help other businesses develop by sharing best practice in the sector. We were delighted to launch in March of this year but unfortunately due to the coronavirus pandemic, we were forced to close the store for 12 weeks.
In a way this galvanised the network, we stayed in touch online, provided support for one and other to get through what was and remains a very difficult period. I have been trading online for over sixteen years, we have experienced some difficult economic challenges and I wanted to share my experiences to help others pivot and change throughout the challenging and unpredictable period we face.”
Being able to support others to pivot and change through tough economic times was a real driver of the CIC.
Moving forward Tea Enthusiasts continues to grow online, despite the pandemic with sales figures exceeding Christmas sales through April and May. Discovering Durham CIC are open for business and looking to expand their retails space in the coming months. The Discovering Durham store is working with Kick Start Jobs to take on another member of staff and across the CIC businesses are looking to provide six-month work placements to another twenty young people working with Durham works and Mint Business Club.
Liza concluded: “County Durham food and drinks producers have a great deal to offer. Matthew and I are passionate about passing on experience to other businesses in the food and drinks sector. Every business with a product on the shelf has a part to play and together we are stronger bringing a diverse range of products to the people County Durham and visitors to the city helping our industry thrive and grow in new ways.”
*The Durham Business Opportunities Programme is a six-year programme for SMEs running up until November 2022, helping County Durham businesses spot opportunities for sustainable growth. It is funded through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and delivered by Business Durham, the business support service for Durham County Council, helping to deliver more and better jobs and a strong competitive economy.
To find out more about Tea Enthusiasts visit https://tea-enthusiasts.com/
To find out more about Discovering Durham CIC visit https://www.discoveringdurhamcic.com/
To find out how the Durham Business Opportunities Programme can help your business visit www.businessdurham.co.uk/dbop