It all started in the mid-2000s with a throwaway comment during a tea break at brand design consultancy Elmwood’s London headquarters. The usual round of hot drinks were requested, but then Greg Taylor, one of the founders of the business, shouted “just make mine a builders”. It struck a chord with fellow Elmwood founder Jonathan Sands, who thought it would make a great name for a tea brand that sold no-nonsense, strong tea just like builders have it.
So Sands and his team started looking at the tea market and investigating whether or not there was an opportunity to launch a brand that stood out from the market leaders.
“We went into it full-tilt and wanted to really shake up the category,” says Make Mine a Builders brand manager, Jonathan Chiu. “From Elmwood’s perspective, there was potentially an opportunity to make money, but secondly it presented an opportunity for the company to put their money where their mouth was. They do this kind of work all the time for brands, but would they be able to do it for themselves?”
The answer was a resounding yes. In 2007, after doing a blind taste test with 300 builders at a trade show, the company hit upon the perfect blend of eye-catching packaging and a full-bodied tea.
“We went into it full-tilt and wanted to really shake up the category”
Jonathan Chiu, brand manager
Asda was the first multiple to list the brand later that year. Then, in 2009, Morrisons came on board before MMAB completed the full set with the addition of Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Ocado - the product is also sold in builders merchants throughout the UK.
Chiu admits it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Almost two years after gaining the Asda listing the brand was dropped following a range review. Had it not secured the listing with Morrisons a week later, things might well have panned out differently, but MMAB went back on to Asda shelves in 2011 and since then things have continued to go from strength to strength, with the brand securing a listing in more than 250 World Market stores in the US last year - MMAB’s first overseas foray.
Key to the company’s growth strategy is its innovative on-pack promotional activity. In addition to organising a hunt to find Britain’s most worthy building project (the winner was a wheelchair user from Sheffield who was unable to access his own kitchen), the company ran a promotion that offered the winner the chance to blow up a school, and launched a promotion with Morrisons this year giving away two red carpet tickets to the London premiere of A Good Day to Die Hard, the latest instalment in the Die Hard series.
“We try to give prizes that will make an impact on people’s lives,” says Chiu. “It’s things like that that really captures the imagination of the buyers because it’s something different and exciting.”
The strategy is working. MMAB estimates that more than 400,000 cups of its tea are drunk each week with the brand enjoying global volume sales growth of 21% last year. Although Chiu concedes that there’s probably a ceiling on how far the brand can grow while it remains under the ownership of a brand design consultancy, he’s adamant that the company has created a true alternative to the mainstay tea brands and that the strong cuppa brand has a strong future.
“Clearly, we have a different role to play to that played by PG Tips and Tetley. Can we compete against them? Yes, I think we can. We have already achieved a degree of success, but I think it can go a lot further.”