West Bromwich-based business Kenya Tea Industries [www.kentea.com] is our #madeinsandwell Monday star for this week. The company is owned and run by Mohinder Singh Saimbhi, so this is his story.
Mohinder [pictured here with Think Sandwell’s Nicy Morgan] was born and raised in Nyeri in the Central Highlands of Kenya. He told us that Nyeri is the final resting place of Lord Baden Powell, founder of the Boy Scout Movement. It was at the Treetops Lodge in nearby Aberdare National Park in 1952 that a honeymooning Princess Elizabeth learned of the death of her father, and her own ascension to the throne as Queen Elizabeth II.
The greater Nyeri County is also known for tea, although Mohinder didn’t take much notice of that growing up. Instead he entered the family business, which supplied building materials.
“It’s funny to think now that we supplied the tea factories with aggregates, and my uncle on the other hand supplied and fitted the primary tea processing machinery,” said Mohinder. “I didn’t think a thing of it.”
It was only once he was living in the UK, now with his wife and three children, that Mohinder began to entertain the idea of importing tea to the West Midlands.
“I had unfortunately been made redundant twice from the industry as an electrical design engineer. I was back home in Kenya when some friends suggested selling Kenyan tea in the UK, and I wasn’t convinced,” he told us. “But I brought some tea over to the UK and began blending and packing it from my kitchen in Handsworth, and it all took off from there. I started trading Kenya Tea Industries in 2006. It wasn’t long before neighbours were complaining about the deliveries ending up outside my house.”
Realising he needed more space, Mohinder approached Sandwell Council about finding premises. The result was a unit at Ridgacre Enterprise Park in West Bromwich, where he moved in 2015. Here Mohinder focuses on two products: Kenyan black tea and masala chai, a premium blend of Kenyan tea and spices.
“The business is still a one-man show,” Mohinder told Think Sandwell. “I do all the work myself: the marketing, the branding, meeting new customers, importing, blending, packing and making deliveries to customers all over the region. But I have recently acquired a machine that has cut 30 days of my packing time to just two, giving me lots more time to focus on sales and setting up meetings. I supply a lot to British Asian and African businesses, including many small shops in the Midlands.”
Mohinder was able to buy the machine – a semi-automatic filling machine – with a grant from Black Country Transformational GOLD, a funding programme designed to boost the growth plans of local businesses within targeted sectors. Mohinder accessed the funding with support from Think Sandwell.
The machine [pictured left] fills and weighs the jars, and allows Mohinder to create industry-standard labels, including the all-important ‘e’ mark which indicates that the labelled weight of the tea is within legally accepted margins.
“The BCT GOLD grant and the machine have really given me the push I need to take my business even further,” said Mohinder. “Being in Sandwell has been great for the support offered by Sandwell Council, and also for the close proximity to the M5 for deliveries.”
Mohinder explained that he now wants to focus on branding and marketing, building an e-commerce website and, ultimately, getting Kenya Tea stocked in bigger supermarkets. “I would love to get my tea into Waitrose,” he said.
Congratulations to Mohinder, and good luck for Kenya Tea Industries’ next steps. We can confirm here in the Think Sandwell office that the tea is delicious!
#madeinsandwell Monday is a celebration of the talent and diversity of organisations within our borough. If you’re interested in being considered for a #madeinsandwell Monday profile and having information about your organisation shared on Think Sandwell and through Twitter, read this.