I like brands which are transparent. I was cross and mortified when Innocent sold a big stake to Coca-Cola, but it felt like there was no hiding it. Bit the same with Pret and McDonalds.
So I was a bit miffed when someone told me that Teapigs belonged to Tetley. I’d never looked into it, I have to admit, but just felt like it was always portrayed as some young, plucky upstart in the world of tea. I had no reason to doubt the person, and posted a tweet:
Which led to some interesting similar responses from other people, but also one from someone who I would respect, who told me that they aren’t and that she had asked them the direct question. And Teapigs seemed very keen to tell us that I hadn’t got the right end of the stick:
Except I rather began to wondering. There usually really is no smoke without fire, and no one involved had anything to prove by getting this wrong.
So, here’s my view, having asked some direct questions of Teapigs, and not really getting a full answer.
- Teapigs are not owned by Tetley, but only on the basis that the owners are Tata Global Beverages GB Limited. Who also happen to own Tetley.
- According to the accounts lodged at Companies House for 2010, and also accessed through the Tata website, Tata own 100% of the shares, meaning none of the Teapigs’ directors had any shares in the business at that point in time.
- Tata had put in over £1million over a number of years.
Louise at Teapigs did respond to my initial email, but I would say not entirely directly to the questions I posed. I am sure that to the now 9 people involved it does feel like a small business, and that they work hard for the results they have achieved. But to me, and I think to many who responded to my original tweet, the ownership and funding put it a long way from our personal definitions of a small start up.
Louise also didn’t, reasonably, want to share what stake her and her fellow director had in the business, but as they own no shares, it’s hard to work out how that could be financial, based on that last set of accounts. She also said in her email that they’d both given up jobs in a corporate environment, and that if Teapigs had failed then they’d have been out of a job, which felt like a risk to them. I think many of us can relate to that, but many who are running small businesses have a lot more to risk than just their jobs. Like life savings, any equity in properties, even the houses (and homes) themselves.
To me, you can set a business up any way you like. You can be owned by who you like. Just don’t expect us not to be disappointed when you turn out to be something different to how you portray yourselves. Maybe you’ve even convinced yourself that you are a small business. But to most of us, when you’re owned by a huge multi-national, we may well have a different view.
You may well have set out to “get great tea into the hands of British tea drinkers”, you may well have a great tasting product. But if we want to support a small, independent business, then you’ll forgive us for moving our tea buying somewhere else.
For the record, I checked. And I’ll be buying my tea from Bellevue Tea and Lahloo Tea. Both independent, both doing great tasting tea in my view. And both risking more than just losing their jobs. At the end of the day, we all make our own choices, I would just say make them for the right reasons, on the right basis.
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr, had an appropriate title to reflect my personal view.
Update 3 April 2012
I just wanted to add a quick update as a few people have asked me. To date, I have not had a response from Louise at Teapigs to my second email, which was really asking her to actually answer the questions I had put to her in the first mail. Personally, I think that that is a very poor way for a brand to tackle difficult questions. I guess we will all draw our own conclusions.