Hojicha Co.’s Authentic Japanese Tea is Merging Cultures
It has been said that failure is a result of ignored opportunities. For Co-Founders of Hojicha Co., Francois Mathieu and Danielle Geva, the opportunity presented itself during a trip to Kyoto, Japan. Since then, the pair has taken advantage of an open market, becoming the first company to specialize in Japanese roasted green tea in North America.
After returning from Japan and running out of the sizeable stock pile they had brought back with them, Francois says they frantically searched for more with little luck.
“It turned out to be incredibly difficult to find fresh and authentic roasted green tea in Toronto, or anywhere else in North America,” said Mathieu, “we decided to contact a number of tea roasters in Kyoto in the hopes that they would ship to Canada.”
Evaluating not only their need for the product but that of their family and friends who wanted the product to be more easily accessible, Geva and Mathieu, who always wanted to go into business together, knew they had a great venture on their hands. Hojicha Co. now brings the sweet and smoky taste of traditional Japanese roasted green tea to Canadian consumers looking to diversify and indulge in their beverage collection.
An authentic addition to a saturated beverage market, Hojicha Co. is appealing to a new generation of tea drinkers who are as Mathieu puts it, “seeking novel ingredients to enjoy in modern beverages at home.” With its many health benefits, the powdered green tea also presents itself as an easy, healthy addition to cooking and baking making the product more than just another tea.
In launching Hojicha Co. Mathieu and Geva hope to create a new consumer culture around the line of products. Through their platform, the company is encouraging consumers to experiment with new recipes and explore a new kind of healthy lifestyle that is tried and true for the Japanese community that have been using the tea for hundreds of years.
For this week’s Start-Up Spotlight feature we spoke with Co-Founder Francois Mathieu about launching a traditional product in a foreign market, abandoning his career in tech to pursue a new passion and what consumers can expect from Hojicha Co. products.
Bringing an unfamiliar product to a new market, what has that been like?
When we launched, we knew we couldn’t be the only ones seeking roasted green tea in North America. There were likely others who travelled to Japan or lived there and enjoyed this type of tea. The first thing we did was to find those few people who shared our experience. These customers were thrilled to finally be able to find authentic roasted green tea, and their positive feedback reassured us that we were onto something.
Seeing that many people had never heard of roasted green tea before, we also spent time creating educational content. As the only company specializing in roasted green tea, we want to offer the best product as well as share the most valuable information to first time buyers.
What experience can consumers expect when using your products and what makes it a stand out?
Customers can enjoy the sweet and smoky taste of our roasted green tea in either loose leaf or powder form. Our flagship product, the Hojicha Powder, is the most popular format as it’s the most versatile and easy to use. It can be prepared in the same way as a bowl of matcha or a cup of cocoa, as well as be used for cooking and baking.
Our products are expertly roasted in small batches and packaged at the source to maintain optimal freshness. When customers reach out to us, they often mention that they felt transported to Kyoto on the first sip. We want everyone to experience that same memorable moment, even when they’re having roasted green tea for the first time at home.
These traditional products can be difficult for new audiences to adapt, how have you worked to make the product easy to use for new users
Those who aren’t familiar with roasted green tea are usually interested in learning more about the best way to prepare it. In addition to sharing tips and advice for making the perfect cup of tea, we also created recipes to showcase the many uses of this ingredient.
Some of the recipes include videos, which have helped customers see exactly how easy it is to use our products at home, as well as inspire them to create their own variations.
How have you had to change your mandate since the pandemic? How has it impacted business and what processes have you implemented to retain and maintain business.
As many of our business partners started to temporarily close their shops because of the pandemic, we quickly realized that we would have to scrap our 2020 plans. We started focusing our efforts on reaching out to consumers directly instead.
Initially there was a period of uncertainty, but eventually things picked up as we provided customers with an ingredient that could transform their kitchen into a home cafe. As the lock-downs loosen up, we have to maintain the momentum we have built up. We believe that the home baking trend is here to stay.
How important has leveraging community and influencers been in reinventing your product during this time?
Partnerships with bloggers and content creators have provided our audience with even more ways to enjoy roasted green tea. While spending more time at home, customers were eager to try the recipes and share the results online. In turn, this inspired even more people to make their own tea-infused food and beverages.
We love seeing people experiment with the product, and we always amplify content created by our community. We’ve found that our existing fans are the best way to help more people discover the endless possibilities of roasted green tea.
As (a) business leader(s) what have you learned about navigating during difficult times and how would you encourage other business owners who are facing some of the same challenges you faced?
At times of uncertainty like these, it’s important to keep on moving forward rather than waiting for things to go back to normal. Instead of dwelling on the challenges, we identified the new opportunities and trends within the changing times. In order to keep growing, we had no choice but to adapt. We let go of any preconceived notions about the industry we’re in, and reinvented the business.
How do you approach building your target market beyond what it was before COVID-19? What advice would you give business owners who are doing the same?
We used to mostly cater to people who had returned from Japan and had tasted roasted green tea before. With the ongoing travel restrictions, many of our customers will be tasting roasted green tea for the first time in their own home. This means we need to make this first experience a memorable one.
We’re creating more video recipes and other educational content to help people imagine the possibilities before they purchase, and then we guide them once they receive the product. Business owners should understand that consumer behaviours have changed and will never be the same.
What advice would you give business owners who are bringing a unique uncommon product to a new market?
We’d recommend starting with a small community of people who already understand the value of the product. These loyal customers are essential for building a sustainable business and they will help spread the word as you expand.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it takes time to build a new category or launch a product in a new market. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. When we started, most people we spoke to had no idea what roasted green tea was. Two years later, we are growing rapidly and we are increasing the size of the roasted green tea market with us.
Is there anything I haven’t asked you about your business, product and journey that you would like to mention?
After years of working in the tech industry, our friends and family were surprised when we quit to start selling tea. It may sound strange, but for us it was a calculated move. We saw an exciting product with huge potential, and a clear gap in the market. We are still in the early days of building a long-lasting company, but we believe now more than ever that roasted green tea will become a staple in every home.