Thursday, 17 March 2011

tea entrepreneur

Some weeks ago, Neil from Neil's Yard told me a story that I'm sure I've heard before but not in such detail. The way he explained it was that there was a business professor in Berlin who wanted to show his students an example of entrepreneurship. He also happened to really enjoy drinking tea. Darjeeling tea to be exact.

If you've read even a little of my blog, you know that this story quickly got my attention. The professor's name was Günter Faltin and his company is called Teekampagne. He was fascinated with how inexpensive products were in their country of origin, so he resolved to sell Darjeeling tea in bulk with nearly no markup. He was offering fair-trade long before it was the done thing. Here's how he describes how his rationale for not charging more for fair-trade:

'The education reformer Ivan Illich who I got to know in the early 1980s, used to argue vehemently against charging extra for fair trade. In this practice, he argued, the customer pays not only for the product but also contributes to an invisible “charity box,” a modern version of buying “indulgences” (paying money to save your soul) – a trade that Martin Luther was already inveighing against. Although charity has some positive effects, it does NOT challenge the business models that put pressure on commodity prices in exporting countries and inflate prices for consumers at the other end. Since it does not represent a systemic change of business practices, it is also not sustainable: it may stop when the charitable giver’s attention is drawn to
another urgent need. We practice fair trade with a different method: we do not charge the consumer so that we can feel good about ourselves; instead, we challenge costly conventions, and the savings benefit everyone.

That's just one interesting point he makes in a lengthy article called “Citizen Entrepreneurship” for a Meaningful Life. There's enough here to make several meaty blogposts, which I intend to write, but I wanted to quickly introduce him to those of you who might not have heard of him or his company yet. Teekampagne is Germany's largest mail order tea company, as well as the biggest Darjeeling importer in the world.

If you're in the US, you might know his company as Boston Tea Campaign. In Japan, it's called Teeidee. Can't wait to dig in deeper to this guy's ideas.


  1. Funny, I was just looking at Teekampagne in a diffrerent context(namely German branding) when I came across this on twitter. In marketing terms I think this is the worst style-German branding one could come across. A reminder of the dark days when "no packaging" "Zero fuss" and "her mit dem Inhalt, alles andere ist mir wurscht" ruled German consumer consciousness. Fortunately the tide has turned here, and aesthetics play once again an important part of the "Kauferlebnis". I am obviously not qualified to comment on the quality of the product which may well be excellent. As a tea lover, however, I am sad to see Aldi-style packaging and distribution channels mess up a hitherto lovely and niche-y world which allows many small suppliers to flourish. It may be convenient to buy loo-paper in huge multi-packs, with tea it is just off-putting, at least that's how I see it.

  2. Thanks for bringing that up Margit. It's something I plan on dealing with in a later post.

    When Teekampagne first started, it was apparently quite a renegade approach. Anyone else have an opinion about companies that forego any marketing or attractive packaging?