Few people might be familiar with purple tea and rightly so, as it was introduced in the country in 2011 and it is yet to make in-roads in the Kenyan market. However, in the other parts of world, the purple tea is giving green tea a run for its money because of its nutritional and medicinal properties. Roselyn Njoki is a proponent of the purple tea and even swears by it. The purple tea farmer-cum-marketer talks to LILY RONOH-WAWERU on charting new paths.

Please tell us about yourself.

I am Roselyne Njoki, a 35-year-old business lady. I am married to Henry Njeru and this is our fifteenth year in marriage. We have been blessed with two children aged 13 and six. I am the managing director of Angie’s Tea – a subsidiary marketing arm for Njeru Industries Ltd.

What do you do?

I am a farmer and a marketer. Together with my husband, we run family tea estates in Nyambene Hills in Meru County owned by Njeru Industries Ltd. I oversee the production, packaging and marketing of purple tea, which is sold locally and internationally under the brand name Angie’s Tea.

Why purple tea and not the popular black tea?

Purple tea is a variety of tea that was introduced by the Tea Research Institute of Kenya in 2011. It has been scientifically proven to have more health benefits than black or green tea, mostly for health and beauty purposes because it contains high levels of a component called anthocyanin only found in reddish purple plants like grapes, apples, raspberries and blueberries among others.

The tea also contains antioxidants and polyphenols. It has also shown to be effective against wide spread chronic diseases, diabetes, hypertension and neurological ailments. Scientific studies also show that the Kenyan purple tea has more antioxidant activities than green or black tea with a radical scavenging rate of over 51 per cent and the antioxidant activity twice as high as green tea.

That’s not all, it also supports weight loss through the inhibition of lipase, the enzyme that breaks down fat for digestion, assimilation, as well as improving lean body mass and providing anti-ageing benefits to the skin.

Impressive. How did you venture into it? The Tea Research Institute introduced us to it back in 2011 and we embraced it immediately. It was a very capital-intensive project because it takes two to three years for the purple tea plant to mature. So it matured in 2013. Around the same time, the normal black tea sales at the auction had dipped and farmers got very little out of it. Together with my husband, we decided to venture into processing and exporting the purple tea in addition to the black tea that we were already dealing with. We embarked on acquiring the right certifications from the Tea Board of Kenya. We are thankful for the support we got from the Tea Directorate and Tea Research Institute.

Products for export are usually required to be of high quality. How do you ensure the quality of the tea you produce is top-notch?

At every step along the production line, there are specific monitoring parameters and controls to ensure conformity of a product. We harvest our fresh purple tea plucked in high altitude tea estates that is free from any pesticides and take it to our production plant for processing where we ensure that the tea product is free from contamination of any foreign materials.

Any challenges?

As a new product, and being the first to produce in a cottage tea factory, there are a lot of challenges with regard to establishing new parameters of production. It was also hard to convince people of its health benefits just by word of mouth, but the Tea Research Institute gave us support letters on the research they had carried out.

Purple tea is a premium tea, that’s why it costs more than black and green tea. Customers are finding it expensive to purchase but when they buy and see the health benefits, then they buy it often. Another challenge we are experiencing is penetrating through the local leading supermarkets because most of them are not listing new products – we are still trying to convince them that it is a new unique tea product only found in Kenya.

Banks and financial institutions are hesitant to lend money to people with new ideas or new products, which they term as start-ups.

What then keeps you going?

I am encouraged to work because of my two children – Ray and Angie – who I really adore. I was born in a humble family hence I would like my children to have the best education and the things I missed when I was growing up. My husband Henry really encourages me. He has taught me a lot about the tea industry and how to do business. He is my number one supporter and advisor.

Any word of advice to women in business or those aspiring to get into business?

I would like to advice my fellow women in business never to give up or fear starting a project however small it looks and to always have a feasibility study on the project and a good business plan to follow. As a woman, I believe what a man can do a woman can do it better. It is also an advantage because people are now gender sensitive and no doors can be shut for an aggressive businesswoman; you will always be given a chance to talk and market your product.

Published in July 2016