Saint John-based Millennia Tea has closed a seed round that bolsters its ability to meet the growing demand for its tea, which is prepared in a way that preserves nutritional properties.
The company, which declined to reveal the size of the round, said it had received investment from: Charlottetown-based Natural Products Canada; New York-based investment group SOSV, which operates the Food-X accelerator; and private investors. Millennia Tea received the SOSV investment because it attended the three-month Food-X program in New York in 2019.
Millennia Tea was founded in 2016 by CEO Tracey Bell and her husband Rory Bell, who developed a special process of washing and flash-freezing fresh-picked tea leaves, instead of cooking them. The result is tea that has five times as many antioxidants as normal green tea and none of the bitterness.
“Today’s health-conscious consumer has embraced ‘food as medicine’ and is looking for ways to optimize the nutritional value of their everyday pleasures like a simple cup of tea,” said Natural Products Canada CEO Shelley King in a statement. “Millennia Tea has a category-changing product that ticks all the boxes for today’s consumer.”
Though it has not raised capital before, Millennia Tea already has a storied history. It includes an appearance on the CBC’s Dragons’ Den (where the Bells received several offers) and winning the Best New Product (Innovation) award at the World Tea Awards in 2017.
Now that it has brought in capital, management plans to grow its team (which currently comprises five people) and increase marketing efforts to increase sales. The Bells also plan to shore up their supply chain as they work to grow their Canadian customer base and begin exporting to the U.S. this year.
“This marks an important milestone for us,” said Tracy Bell in an email, referring to the funding round. “We have bootstrapped it up until this point – getting our process in place to maximize antioxidants in tea, securing our intellectual property, searching the world over for the best possible partners, and proving there is a market for whole-food tea. Now, with the support of some incredible partners, we’re ready to really get out to market and do a lot of good by turning the conventional tea model on its head.”
The company has been selling its product, but of course the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing the management team to reassess its plans. Its focus for 2020 was going to be onboarding new health and specialty retailers. Early this year, Millennia Tea brought on its first West Coast distributor and retail chain, and had verbal commitments from retailers in Southern Ontario that would have added about 70 new locations.
“We also had our first interest from a health food chain in the Prairies,” said Bell. “Covid has put the breaks on those opportunities for the time being – although we are confident those sales will go through when this thing passes.”
During the lockdown, Millennia Tea continues to sell through independent health retailers, which are still finding demand for the product, and is improving its eCommerce capacity. The company has accelerated plans to enter mass grocery chains, and earlier this year began to sell through Sobeys locations in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, through its Support Local program.
Bell said she and her team “are seeing a really encouraging early response in that channel. And we’re excited to build out that channel.”