STiR coffee and tea magazine

Volume 5, Number 5

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14 STiR coffee and tea / Issue 5, 2016 (October/November) Q A NEWS By Janis Hashe The concept of "disruption" isn't limited to the high-tech industry. Just ask Ahmed Rahim, co-founder with sister Reem Rahim Hassani, of Numi Organic Tea, based in Oakland, Calif. Yet in 1999, when the siblings founded Numi, the intent was not to think outside the box. For them, a photographer and a painter, there simply wasn't a box. What they knew was that they had an idea for a business that would reflect their heritage as immigrants from Iraq, their creative thinking, and their shared commitment to the environment. Numi is named after the dried lime tisane they drank as children, and by the time they reunited in Oakland to found the company, Ahmed had been living abroad and had owned and operated teahouses in Europe. Reem's artist background would enable her to oversee Numi's brand identity, including all packaging design, brand voice, and marketing. Yet as Ahmed says, in that 750-square-foot apartment where they did their initial planning, they weren't concerned with R&D, though intuitively they had grasped the idea of "find a need and fill it." The need was for high-quality, organic teas and tisans produced by a company that operated under free trade agreements and principles. Yet consumers weren't aware, in 1999, that they did need such products. It didn't take long for them to find out. Numi Organic Tea grossed $1 million in its first year. The company now has a 50-member staff and operates from "The Hive," a reclaimed building in the rapidly revitalizing heart of downtown Oakland. STiR: Where did your commitment to organic/fair trade/sustainability come from? Ahmed Rahim: As an immigrant, you view the world in a different way. You think differently. You don't take things for granted as much. We believed you must take responsibility for your actions and treat people fairly. When we started Numi, we were very interested in how we could make sure every element of our business considered people, the planet, and the future of our environment. On our first trip to China, we spent three weeks getting to know the farmers and suppliers and assuring them it was not just about price. We told them we needed to get to know them and understand their needs. Ahmed Rahim Numi Organic Tea Also, as artists, we knew what it was like to deal with limited resources. You must embrace it. We want Numi to be a legacy brand, and we are always asking ourselves, "What if?" STiR: How do you discover/support your green and fair trade partners? Ahmed Rahim: It can be difficult, because even in the smallest villages and remote places in the world, over the last 30 to 40 years, pesticide use has become widespread. But we seek out partners and ask them, "Do you want to work with us?" We created our own fair trade standards, which are higher than what is required [by FLO the Fairtrade Organizations]. Our certifications have expanded to include non-GMO ingredients. We help create the need for these ingredients; for example, there was no fair trade tumeric being used before we brought it in from Madagascar. STiR: What challenges do you encounter trying to create eco-responsible packaging? Rahim: From the beginning we have been committed to using 85% post-consumer waste paper [for Numi boxes]. We now use soy-based inks and no shrink wrap, and biodegradable filter-paper tea bags. Our goal is to reduce materials used in packaging as much as possible. There continues to be a challenge in the teabag overwrap, and also a challenge in obtaining as much post-consumer materials as we need. But as retailers such as Whole Foods and Patagonia have joined in the movement [toward eco-responsible packaging], things are changing. One example for us is our creation of handsewn cotton sachets for the Nspire line [launched for the restaurant and hotel industry]. We do not believe in using bags made from GMO corn, or the see-through plastic sachets, which despite claims, are not really biodegradable. [The nine Nspire teas/ teasans, one of each included in each box, include golden oolong, Himalyan Darjeeling, silver & spice (white tea), Capetown chai, royal grey, chocolate silk Pu-erh, jasmine dream, rosy chamomile, and moonlight mint.] STiR: Millennials, in particular, cite "ethical business practices" as something they value as consumers. Does this bode well for Numi's growth? Rahim: Yes, and in all the businesses they use, have created and are working in, such as Google, Apple, and Uber, they made that choice. STiR: Are consumers better educated about the health aspects of tea, and is that a growth area for you as well? Ahmed Rahim: I actually like it when people say to me, "I only drink tea when I'm sick." It means they already recognize the health benefits of tea and are ready to be exposed to other tastes and experiences. When [mainstream figures such as] Dr. Oz tout the benefits of certain types of tea, it has a big impact. The anti-inflammatory properties of tumeric, for example, are now widely known. [Numi currently offers four flavors of tumeric tisanes, all made with organic tumeric from Madagascar: amber

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