NEMI Teas is a specialist London-based tea company that offers a variety of tea blends while providing life-changing employment for refugees. Modern Hospitality had the pleasure of speaking with Pranav Chopra, CEO of NEMI Teas, about his inspirational approach to hiring, his work in the hospitality sector, ethical, plastic-free products and much more.
How NEMI Teas began
NEMI Teas’ journey began in October 2015 when Pranav met a group of people and took time to listen to their stories. They were refugees that had been in England on refugee VISAs, with backgrounds as engineers and doctors. Pranav was surprised to hear that despite their expertise, they were struggling to get jobs due to the lack of local experience that they had. With none of them able to gain any experience as they did not have any UK-based recommendations, Pranav decided to take action.
He explained: “Despite being highly skilled individuals, they continuously got the push back of not having any local experience, but you can still have transferable skill sets. It’s a catch 22 because they couldn’t get a job without access to a referee in the UK, or without a UK-based job on their CV, but nobody gave them the opportunity. I realised how tough it was and knew that somebody needed to just come in and give them that opportunity by hiring them. On that day, I decided that I needed to do something, so I went home, set up a company and started working out what I was going to do.”
Coming up with a concept
Pranav decided to start a business selling something that he was passionate about, creating an opportunity to employ those that needed it most. He combined his interest and mission to support those that need it with his background in the corporate world to create a successful business model.
Pranav said: “I’m a massive fan of Chai, with Indian heritage, so I decided to brew some Chai at food markets and music festivals as nobody was doing this at the time. So I hired the refugee I spoke to as my first employee. He had a background in journalism, so he became friends with other stall holders, started a blog and took pictures. This meant he had great experience and a UK company on his CV, and I could vouch for him as a fantastic employee.”
Growing the hospitality and product side of the business
Following initial success serving tea in Clapham Common, the demand for NEMI Teas began to grow, prompting Pranav to invest further into the product and hospitality side of the business.
He said: “Local cafe owners started wanting to buy our tea for their businesses, so we started doing retail packs. Customers and businesses wanted to be able to buy all their tea from one supplier, so I looked at how we could do that and found a way. Now we supply our teas to many different suppliers with huge contracts and are replacing well-known tea brands. We’ve had so much support from the corporates as an ethical tea brand, due to the high quality that we provide, as well as the price point.”
Plastic-free packaging and eco-friendly products
NEMI Teas specialise in 100% biodegradable tea bags, even including the string and labels, attaching them via ultrasound rather than glue to ensure every part of the packaging can biodegrade effectively. Their packaging is also plastic-free, being packed in a cellulose-based material called NatureFlex™, which is one of the most naturally abundant organic materials and comes from renewable wood pulp. As well as being suitable for home composting, it is also marine degradable.
Pranav spoke passionately about the materials they use at NEMI Teas: “We took the hit on the price from day one, which I was fine with because that was the differentiating factor at the start. If it’s your ethos, you stick with it and you take a smaller margin to stick to what you believe in. Plastic-free material is much more expensive, but it’s what we believe in and I’m fine with that. We focus on growing the business instead of solely the profit side of things and then the economies of scale will come.”
Changing attitudes towards ethical products
Pranav spoke about the shift he has seen in customers’ attitudes towards more ethical products. As well as making sure NEMI Teas’ products have minimal impact on the planet, they also support local farmers with fair wages and make sure their teas are organic, fairtrade and Rainforest-Alliance certified.
He added: “We are noticing this particularly in the corporate space, which is their new way of doing CSR. Now it’s all about sustainable procurement. Supporting local produce is being appreciated and a huge percentage of consumers are making choices from an ethical perspective. People want to know the story and background which is a huge win for us, as there’s nobody that does what we do in the UK. People are taking the time to learn and educate themselves about the products that they choose and this has benefited the smaller, ethical businesses and hopefully this will become the norm.”
The challenges of COVID
NEMI Teas has done a fantastic job of continuing to create opportunities for those that need them, despite lockdowns.
Pranav explained: “We are driven by our social mission, so it’s been tricky over the last 12 months. One way we continued our impact while we were shut down and couldn’t employ our refugees on a full time basis, was by placing them in roles with our cafe partners and I still paid them. We had to pivot.”
Feel-food and do-good teas
NEMI Teas is set to continue growing, with the goal of helping more people through their fantastic retail business model.
Pranav added: “The whole ethos behind it is the more tea we sell, the more refugees we can employ. We reinvest all of our profits back into the business to train refugees and help them on their way. As an organic-certified tea supplier, we ensure that the tea you buy has been made in a way that is better for people, animals and wildlife, and respects the natural environment. You can create large-scale change through the simplest things in life, as we’ve found from our simple business model.”
Holly brings a wealth of experience in both print and digital publishing and is very passionate about the hospitality industry.