Launching a tea-based chilled drink in a country that stalwartly regards tea as something that should only be served hot doesn't seem like the most sensible approach for a start-up company. And indeed, in its early years green tea drink company Mangajo struggled to get a foothold in the UK.

But a lot has happened in the past year and the growing popularity of green tea, thanks to its much-publicised health benefits, and a boom in demand for juice drinks has meant the company now finds itself at the forefront of a new drinks category in the UK.

The clue to Mangajo's international aspirations is in the name. The founders wanted to choose a brand name that would be suitable on an international level. They eventually settled on Mangajo, an Esperanto word for health and nutrition, though the primary motivation for picking it was not its nutrition connection but the word's quirky sound, which they admit has caused problems in England. "English people do find it quite difficult to say," says Thresh, "but everywhere else consumers don't bat an eyelid."

The Mangajo proposition basically centres around blending green tea with fashionable fruits such as goji berries, pomegranate and acai berries. On its own, cold tea may be challenging to British taste buds, but when it is mixed with fruit it is much more palatable, says company founder Alex Hannon.

"Given what a nice refreshing drink cold tea is in the summer, plus the health benefits on top, we wanted to make it work in the UK," she says. "We are confident we can sell green tea because there is a lot of consumer knowledge about its health benefits and people like to try something different."

The company's decision to bring cold green tea to the UK was spawned from a trip by Hannon and co-founder Anthony Thresh to Japan in the late nineties, where green tea was already hugely popular. Subsequently the pair saw how a small US brand had successfully marketed cold green tea drinks in the US .

The drinks have so far achieved a small but loyal following, finding favour with top-end stockists such as Fresh & Wild, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges as well as a number of London hotels, but the company is now starting to pick up a head of steam.UK retail sales have hit £2m and the drink has been boosted by listings in Budgens stores and in Waitrose, which came on board as a customer in July. "We know we can market green tea to a much wider audience," says Hannon. "We are looking to expand much further into retail in the next 12 months."

Unlike other small UK start-up companies, however, Mangajo believes its real potential lies in exports. While the UK remains its biggest market, accounting for approximately half of all its sales, countries such as Australia and France are catching up. The brand is exported to nine countries worldwide, including Belgium, Italy, Hong Kong, the Republic of Ireland, Iceland, and even, in a coals-to-Newcastle way, Japan .

"Because green tea is such a challenging flavour for UK consumers we knew it was never going to be our biggest market," says Thresh. "But the UK is a great place to build the business because if we can be successful here we can be successful anywhere."

The company clearly has its eye on European markets with the size of its bottles. Except for the Kombucha tea, which comes in a can, the drinks come in 240ml glass bottles, which is much more in tune with juice brands sold on the Continent, such as Pago, says Hannon.

About 80% of Mangajo's customers are women who prefer smaller-size bottles that can fit into their handbags, she adds, though the company is considering launching a one-litre bottle for the retailers.

Despite its export aspirations Mangajo also believes it can continue to grow the brand in the UK, and particularly London, which accounts for 75% of UK sales. It plans to launch new flavours next spring to appeal to a wider customer base and is also assessing the potential for limited-edition seasonal flavours. "Most people haven't tried our drinks," says Hannon. "But we believe 10% of London are potential customers, so we will keep nibbling away."n

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