Or Tea or Coffee?
To appeal to the modern tea drinker, Or Tea is differentiating its flavours and business approach
Story by Manta Klangboonkrong
This article will appear in the June-July edition of Elite+ magazine.
In the highly competitive and rather traditional tea market, the new Hong Kong-based brand Or Tea? (a name that plays on the phrase “coffee or tea?”) is setting itself apart with bright, bold colours and a not-so-traditional selection of blends. Consumers in Asia might have not heard of it, but Or Tea? has a presence in over 15 countries since its launch in France in 2011. As the brand returned home to Asia just last year, founder and CEO Allen Wong has big plans in store, with Thailand as a big part of the expansion. We spoke to him about his venture into tea.
How did you get into the tea business?
I have always wanted to build a brand that can leave a legacy behind; I guess that’s the drive for me to set up Or Tea? After running my own advertising and branding business for over 15 years, I decided to bite the bullet and pursue my dream. I started off with the idea of bringing Chinese tea to the world, with the knowledge I have from drinking the beverage on a daily basis during my dim sum ritual with family. That gives me a certain level of credibility to share how we can enjoy a good cuppa. I can’t claim that I am a tea lover or expert; I’ve just drunk a lot of tea my whole life.
What’s special about Or Tea?
First and foremost, we do not want to consider ourselves a tea product. We don’t just serve tea as a commodity, but also create an emotional bond with consumers, which is the ultimate core value for how you can build a strong relationship. In addition to our tangible selling points, our R&D team in Europe create the special blends using premium ingredients from around the world that are sought after by millennials. The entire production is done in Europe to meet world standards of food safety in order to maintain quality and sell our products internationally.
Young consumers and millennials can be a tough crowd. How do you plan to convince this group?
Tea is walking a similar path as coffee some 20 years ago. We do not want to start a new brand that will eventually die with the customers. Within our organization, we call ourselves the “tea of the modern generation”; it’s not necessarily for the millennials but the generations after. That being said, being a brand owner, you need to be innovative to come up with something refreshing for your valued customers. Simply listen to what they say and offer something they want. That the customer is king cannot be any truer than in the current internet social media era.
Most tea brands start from retail but you’re diving in with the hotel industry first?
Having our own retail presence is in our plan. But I do not want to launch another tea shop offering a similar experience as many other tea houses on the market. It’s a big investment, after all. Working with hotels will give us the opportunity to build a strong relationship with our customers, offering them a five-star experience rather than just buying it from the supermarket. We will learn more from their feedback before we finalize our retail roadmap. But I can guarantee you it will be a whole new retail experience you will not have seen before it’s launched.
What are the biggest challenges in the tea business?
The tea market is very crowded. There is no room for just another tea brand. So the challenge is how you can come up with a brand that is not buried behind many others. Perhaps traditional tea brand owners are not daring enough to change. You want your brand to grow into the future, and you ought to think beyond the current battlefield.
What’s your plan for Thailand?
Thailand is one of the fastest growing markets in the world. I've witnessed the change in the past 20 years. Thai people in general, especially the young generation, are very open to new ideas and concepts. There is no better place for us to build the brand riding on the growth of a market that has a base of very innovative and creative consumers. You will see a couple of new collaborations we will roll out with hotels and the HORECA [hotel/restaurant/cafe] channel. Hopefully you will find our brand-new retail concept pilot in 2020; don’t be surprised to see one in Thailand too!