UK-based Pukka Herbs was founded in 2001 by Tim Westwell and Sebastian Pole. The tea brand has become a consumer favourite due to its taste and flavour and its commitment to high quality ingredients. Warren Beaumont asked the founders five questions.
OWN: Pukka Herbs today is close to a GBP40 million turnover company; have you achieved success faster than anticipated, and what do you put your success down to?
PUKKA: Pukka started as a simple idea: to connect people with the incredible wonders of herbs. Having tried many herbal teas, we were fed up with a mouthful of dusty flavourings and really wanted to make something different. Our idea was simple: to give people a delicious cup of herbal tea that brought a whole load of goodness into the world. We also wanted herbs to be at the heart of effective natural health solutions, and we put our heart and soul into making the best organic supplements. It’s difficult to pin point our success down to one single factor.
Being a purpose led business from the outset that seeks to bring positive change into the world has, we feel, significantly contributed. We want to honour people and planet and make sure that everyone who comes into contact with Pukka benefits. We are also obsessed with the quality and beauty of the herbs we grow and serve. At the heart of this is our Pukka People who pull the complex world of herbal creation and the idea of positive business together. The sprinkle of cinnamon on top of it all is that we have so many herbal experts in one place; we have 20 qualified herbalists, nutritionists, botanists, herbal quality specialists and organic agricultural experts making Pukka every day.
OWN: Is Unilever a good fit for Pukka?
PUKKA: A lot of people have approached us - and we mean a lot. Unilever were by far and away our first choice as a partner because of their ambitions and their approach to sustainability. We – along with a whole team of experts including leading environmentalists - made it our mission to get under the hood of Unilever. As it happens they have the most ambitious sustainability plans of any large company in the world: to halve their environmental impact and be socially and environmentally net positive by 2030 as well as improve the livelihoods of millions of people less materially fortunate than ourselves. Unilever aren’t experts in health food and organic brands – and that’s also an important point.
They bought us for our expertise in herbalism, our passion for regenerative business, our approaches to research and development, our philosophy and our philanthropy. Unilever has been around for 150 years; it has survived and thrived because it never stands still. Meanwhile, Pukka will continue to operate stand-alone from our Bristol base.
OWN: How will Unilever ownership help Pukka tea reach more consumers?
PUKKA: When we started Pukka our intention was to bring the power of herbs in to as many people’s life’s as possible in an equitable way – the more we do, the more organic land we create. Partnering with Unilever allows us to accelerate this vision because of their access to markets.
OWN: What about fears over 'greenwashing' of organic and 'Fairtrade' certification or use of cheaper ingredients?
PUKKA: The founding values that Pukka was built on will never, ever be compromised. This was key part of the agreement with Unilever. We have a cast iron commitment that Pukka will only make 100 percent certified organic products and we will always champion ethical and sustainable business practices. So, this means more organic land certified and sustainable FairWild herbs sourced; more money to environmental charities through our commitment to '1% for the Planet'; and a greater support to marginalised communities through our initiative with the independent fair-trade scheme, Fair for Life. And, of course this commitment is also enshrined in our active participation as a B-Corp company.
OWN: What makes Pukka's teas special? Firstly, the tea has to taste as good as it looks. We really focus on delivering the best Pukka cuppa!. Secondly, we aim for our teas to make you feel as good as they taste. We now have over 40 blends which are designed to support a range of wellbeing needs, delivering a specific functional benefit – from helping people to sleep, supporting their digestion or even rebooting their energy levels. We’ve chosen zeitgeist herbs, blending them into healthy, organic, sugar-free drinks which pack a significant health benefit in the convenience of a hot beverage.