CHECKOUT: Meet the Makers; Nicola Kearns of Niks Tea – Love Irish Food

CHECKOUT: Meet the Makers; Nicola Kearns of Niks Tea

Time for Niks Tea

 Niks Tea CEO Nicola Kearns established the business in 2012, blending and pre-packing loose teas and herbal infusions for farmers markets and food events. In 2013, the first Niks Tea-branded loose teas launched into retail stores, and the company now supplies over 500 customers nationwide in the retail and food service sectors, including health stores, fine food stores, and supermarkets. 

“I always wanted to set up my own business in an area that I was passionate about and I was at a crossroads in my life, so the time felt right to take the chance and go for it,” she says. “Niks Tea aims to create organic herbal teas that are healthy and full of flavours for experienced tea enthusiasts.” Over the past decade, the business has evolved from setting up and selling loose teas at farmers markets, to now running a full production and packaging teabag and loose tea facility. Niks Tea originally supplied to the retail sector only, but the business has diversified into hospitality, gifting and, most recently, private label.

Funds for investment can be a major challenge for smaller producers, but that hasn’t been the case for Niks Tea. “Organic growth has enabled the company to buy the Niks Tea HQ in Greenogue Business Park in Rathcoole and to finance our manufacturing plant,” says Nicola. “Banks have been very supportive, and the Local Enterprise Expansion Grant was another welcome support.”

Shoppers have become a bit more adventurous in their tea drinking habits in recent years, particularly during the pandemic. “Over last ten years, the growth of customers’ awareness of speciality tea drinking and wellness herbal teas has been monumental,” says Nicola. “It is a diverse category, ranging from sleep remedies to Irish-themed teas to pure enjoyment. Thankfully, Niks Tea offers tea ranges across this spectrum, and that is reflected in our customer base, which includes Tesco, Fallon & Byrne, The Health Store, and Irish tourist locations such as the Cliffs of Moher.”

Striving for sustainability

Niks Tea is committed to an ecological production process and packaging plan. “We strive to create a memorable and enjoyable tea experience that is affordable and convenient for customers to source and prepare,” says Nicola. “As members of Bord Bia’s Origin Green programme, and a Gold Member company, we delivered an exemplary performance within our target areas of raw materials certification

packaging, and energy throughout 2021,” she says.

“Within the energy target area, Niks Tea has reduced usage per kg of output by 16.6% from a 2020 baseline, already more than 6.5 percentage points ahead of the original target set. Implementing energy saving measures and creating an energy efficient environment within the workplace will ensure that Niks Tea is striving to reduce its overall emissions, an important message which runs through our everyday business practices. Over the course of 2023, we will begin to explore the potential to install solar panels at our site to further drive energy self-sufficiency.”

Made in Ireland

2022 was a year of change and preparation for growth, and Nicola is proud of what Niks Tea has achieved, including reaching targets on its sustainability journey, the commencement of in-house production for its entire product range, and the diversification of that range. “We have just launched distribution in Spain, and we hope to create further export opportunities this year,” she says. 2022 also saw the growth of Niks Tea’s wellness herbal range in pharmacies and in the dedicated wellness areas in supermarkets. Sustainable tourism is another big area for the company, where they are aligning with companies that have made sustainability a top priority.

“Made in Ireland is a powerful marketing and unique tool for our brand at home and abroad, so we will focus on companies who are genuinely supporting Irish businesses,” she says. “My ultimate ambition for the Niks Tea Brand is to penetrate the retail market in Ireland and be the priority Irish choice for speciality tea in the category. I would also like to develop the private label side of the business and continue to expand our export markets. We have a very niche business model, employing local people and supporting communities, which I’d like to maintain.”

In order to prepare themselves for what is likely to be a difficult business environment in 2023, Nicola says they will strive continuously to be competitively priced. “Also, not outsourcing production means we are a reliable supplier, so during the pandemic and Brexit periods, and at other uncertain times, we aren’t as dependent on third parties,” she says. “We have built up good relationships with tea suppliers over the last ten years, although more recently, we have had to negotiate with new tea brokers to maintain our competitive pricing.”