Kiran Tawadey - Hampstead Teas
Hampstead Tea has been a pioneer of biodynamic products from its beginnings in 1995. How did the adventure start and what was the company's vision at the time?
I was looking for something to do that related with food - I was a strategic management consultant and had 2 small children and was becoming very concerned with the quality of food available in the UK. In 1987, I had a chance meeting with Rajah Banerjee, the owner, manager of Makaibari and was so inspired with his story that I was determined to tell people about it. I began by selling Makaibari tea in bulk to tea packers in Germany, Japan and the US and soon decided to launch my own brand, Hampstead Tea. Hampstead was named after the hillside town in London where we first met. Having seen how Makaibari had evolved using the principles of Rudolph Steiner (biodynamics), I was determined to remain true to these origins even though it has proved challenging over the years..
What do biodynamic farming practices consist of and how do they differ from organic agriculture as it is commonly known?
The best way to describe biodynamic farming is that it is organic plus i.e. a more proactive system of agriculture using inputs in the composting that dynamise the farm. It is also a far more holistic way of farming. See the Demeter website for more details.
You describe your agricultural practices as organic plus. How big of a challenge has it been differentiating your philosophy from "standard" organic products and how has the consumer responded?
It has been very challenging without big advertising budgets to communicate the differences but we do have a strong following amongst communities where biodynamic is recognized as a higher quality standard. The problem has been in our interusage of the terms biodynamic with organic as the consumer has become aware of the organic standards far earlier than biodynamic.
We've witnessed amazing gains of awareness and interest in organic farming standards these past few years. Have you experienced a similar buzz in the biodynamic arena?
The organic trend has benefited us hugely as it has helped us to capture the attention of environmentally conscious consumers. And as biodynamic is also organic there is no inconsistency in our message.
Do you feel there is a danger of biodynamic standards being overwhelmed by organic ones in a "war of formats" (as we've experienced with video and DVD)?
No I don't thinks so - biodynamics is a totally different and unique philosophy.
Hampstead evokes a beautiful town in London and pays homage to the company's roots. What role does "britishness" play in your company's identity and where else does Hampstead Teas draw its inspiration from?
The roots of Hampstead are in the bohemian Hampstead town. This is where Karl Marx, Daphne du Maurier, Keats, Shelley all lived parts of their creative lives. It is a town where free and unfettered thinking and progressive ideas are encouraged and prosper. Makaibari, our partner estate, in Darjeeling, has also been a deep source of inspiration for me personally - to see what Rajah Banerjee, the owner, has achieved there is truly life changing.
Hampstead Teas continues to grow on an international level and can be found in faraway countries such as Japan and Australia. How receptive have foreign audiences been to your message and commitments?
As with all markets, you win some and lose some... we try and seek out the "Hampstead customer" wherever we are present and this is the most exciting and challenging part of venturing overseas!
Speaking of overseas, your exposure to the US has thus far been limited. What challenges does this market represent in your experience and how receptive has the American audience been to your philosophy?
It is a challenging market as the area is so diverse and consumers trained to buy on deal - something we at Hampstead avoid doing. We believe that our products already represent great value as they contain the very best in class and we therefore stay away from discounts and promotions. We cant really justify these as we believe in ethical behavior throughout the supply chain and that includes the consumer.
Finally, looking forward, how do you plan to reach the "Hampstead customer" in such a vast and competitive market?
We are working on it slowly building relationships with retail groups who support our philosophy.
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