Despite the relentless rise of Ireland’s coffee culture, we are still the second-largest consumers of tea in the world.
Alongside an increase in the popularity of wellness products, the global functional foods market was estimated at $161.5bn last year; and the demand for green teas and herbal infusions is on the rise.
A recent convert to healthy beverages, Rosalind Beere was a Diet Coke “addict” for 20 years, relying on caffeine and sugar for her to keep up with her busy lifestyle of children, work, and studying for a PhD.
A turning point came four years ago, when she was knocked down by a drunk-driver. Her back was injured.
“I couldn’t walk or exercise, so I knew my whole lifestyle had to change.”
Ms Beere was aware of the health benefits of green tea, but she hated the taste.
So, she began experimenting with loose-leaf teas in her kitchen, initially adding mint to gunpowder green tea to create a drink that she hoped would give her a continuous energy boost and supply antioxidants.
Her original tea was a 10-ingredient blend that contained rose petal, black and white teas, hibiscus, oolong, and pu-erh.
Unlike other herbal teas, which are “watery and insipid-looking, this tea has a fullness,” she says.
She carried a pack of loose tea, with an infuser, to work and her colleagues began to notice the difference in her.
“Despite having two small kids, I had more energy; the Diet Coke thing was gone out of the window. I didn’t need biscuits, or a chocolate bar, at 4 o’clock.”
Since switching to the teas, she says she has more energy now, at 42, than she did in her 20s.
Ms Beere’s background is a blend of business acumen and interest in wellness. She is on a career break from being a lecturer in entrepreneurship at the National College of Ireland.
Ms Beere’s mother is a biochemist with an interest in alternative medicine, while her father and uncle set up the fast food chain Abrakebabra.
She describes her products as “premium quality, functional beverages.” Her “heroes” are the original tea blend, sleep tea and turmeric latte.
She’s developing other blends, including a calming tea for daytime, similar to her sleep tea, and a fermented fruit-and-vegetable drink.
The serial entrepreneur — her first business, as a teenager, was making and selling candles — was pregnant with her third child when she started Chi Fit, in January 2018.
She tested and sampled with 70 producers in China’s Yunnan province, eventually settling on a small family business.
In keeping with an ethos of sustainability, she chose a Japanese zein fibre made from corn for the teabag, “which is biodegradable and gives an infusion similar to that of loose tea.”
She placed an initial order for 1,000 units. Within one month, thanks to a social media post by stylist and blogger Gails Rails, she was inundated with orders, but unprepared for the demand.
Her third baby was due, and she didn’t have a printer. She describes the chaos of keeping up with customer orders.
“My husband was running into the office, printing off orders and packing them with my mum.”
Having bootstrapped and self-funded the business so far, Ms Beere is currently participating in Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme, which includes a stipend of €15,000.
Chi Fit had a stand at Vitality Expo at Dublin’s RDS in September 2018, and the exhibit attracted massive interest from retailers.
The business has grown, with turnover in the first quarter of this year equal to that of the entirety of 2018.
Ms Beere signed a deal with pharmacy chain Boots in April 2019, which she says was a “huge gamechanger.”
Chi Fit products are available online in 10 countries, from 50 Boots stores and other stockists, including Meaghers Pharmacy, The Health Store, and a selection of independent health food shops and pharmacies.
Products are priced at €19.95 and Ms Beere says tea bags can be reused for four to six cups of tea.
While working on developing new products, Ms Beere is looking to raise finance, as she works on plans to move into the UK market.