INTERVIEW: Teapigs Founder Louise Cheadle “Environmental Change Is Not Happening Quickly Enough.”

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We recently had the opportunity to chat with the co-founder of UK-based premium tea brand Teapigs Louise Cheadle. Founded in 2006, Teapigs was launched by Louise and Nick Kilby with the aim to make high quality teas popular amongst 21st century tea drinkers, and do so ethically, responsibly and with minimal waste.

As some of you may know, Green Queen partnered up with Teapigs Hong Kong to host our very first Green Queen POP UP Concept Store in January this year, where we featured the best value-aligned sustainable, zero-waste and eco-luxe brands alongside Teapigs’ collection of plastic-free and 100% natural teas. So it was timely to be able to speak to Louise herself about everything we have in common – our love for tea, sustainability and everything wellness. Below, our interview with Louise, where we talk about Teapigs’ ethos, fighting plastic pollution and what the future has in store. 

GQ: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you started Teapigs? We would love to know more about the journey that got you here – what’s the Teapigs story?

LC: Nick and I started teapigs in 2006. We are both utter tea nuts – I have been a tea taster for over 15 years and have travelled the world sourcing tea. On my travels, I discovered all sorts of wonderful teas but they weren’t available in the UK market around a decade ago. Tea was predominantly black tea in a dusty paper bag – and to experience quality tea, you’d have to go to a fancy London food hall or hotel for afternoon tea. Herbal infusions were in limited availability in the mainstream market, not that great tasting and consequently not that popular. We were a nation of tea drinkers who had got stuck in a very average tea rut. Nick and I wanted to change all that! So we started teapigs with a mission to make real, quality tea accessible to everyone – and to have some fun with it.

GQ: We see that Teapigs’ collection now includes matcha and other Asian blends of tea. Are you very inspired by traditional Asian tea culture? 

LC: Of course, Asian tea and tea culture is an inspiration to us. In the UK, nearly everyone drinks tea. In the past, this has been mainly one kind of tea, black tea, with milk. People travel and explore different kinds of tea but the range available back home in the UK was limited. We have tried hard to show off the selection of teas and botanics from around the world and we think the UK consumer is becoming more adventurous and knowledgeable.

GQ: What future innovations or products do you have in store for Teapigs? 

LC: We’re excited about people drinking tea and botanics in a different way, and we take further inspiration from Asia on this. Tea is being twisted and turned into so many different beverages and food products, and that’s what we would like to do next, to make tea more than just a cuppa.

GQ: Do you think that the explosion in health and wellness has contributed to the success of Teapigs and to the rise of global tea brands in general? 

LC: It’s certainly had an impact. More and more consumers are looking for drinks that give them specific health benefits and demand for healthy green and herbal teas is growing. All our teas are healthy but we’ve noticed that more and more people are asking specifically about the benefits. That’s why we’ve launched our new range of “feel-good teas” with ingredients that will give consumers specific benefits. And we’ve made sure they taste amazing too. These aren’t “healthy teas” that you have to consume whilst holding your nose, because we use real, whole, top quality ingredients to make them both taste and do good.

GQ: We love the plastic-free concept championed by Teapigs. Can you talk a bit about the scale of the plastic packaging problem in the tea and beverage industry, and some of the challenges of going plastic-free as a tea brand?

LC: The majority of traditional paper tea bags contain small amounts of plastic, making them not 100% biodegradable. Plastic packaging can be a real struggle, particularly for a tea company, as freshness is vital – but luckily there are alternatives, and more and more companies are moving over to plant based packaging.

For example, our products used to have a polypropylene recyclable plastic inner liner but we then led the way by switching to a material called Natureflex – it looks just like regular plastic but it’s derived from wood pulp.

We are happy to say our tea temples have always been plastic-free and have now been certified Plastic-Free by A Plastic Planet, an officially registered certification trust mark, just like FSC for forestry, for example.

GQ: Do you think that more brands in F&B are now paying attention and taking action on plastic use? 

LC: In the UK, we’ve really got to thank the great Sir David Attenborough and the recent Blue Planet II programme for bringing this topic even further into the public eye. He’s a real national treasure. Since it aired, we have seen more enquiries about what products and packaging are made from – and I think that’s fair to say the same across the industry. It’s great to be able to talk to customers and stockists about our sustainability efforts.

We recently became B Corp certified – another organisation helping to champion doing business for good. The increase in companies being working towards or being certified by these organisations reallhy does show the change in focus across the F&B industry.

GQ: Are there any other environmental issues Teapigs tries to tackle?  

LC: We are working with the B-corp community to find further solutions to addressing environmental issues together. We have taken some huge steps forward with elements we can directly control, but tea is a huge global industry and we need to ensure that more work is being done at source. Businesses have to learn from each other and work together.

GQ: In your opinion, what is the biggest environmental issue facing our planet today?

LC: Pace – the lack of it. Environmental change is not happening quickly enough. More pace is needed by our politicians and global leaders to enforce change. Awareness is at an all time high but now action needs to follow – quickly! 

GQ: If there is one habit you could convince every person to adopt, what would it be? 

LC: Be the change you want to see. As much as teapigs are ahead of the game with our sustainable and ethically sourced products, we realised that was just the start. We looked at just how much single-use plastic comes into the office – in people’s breakfasts and lunches, for example. So we decided to give ourselves the challenge to be single-use plastic-free and to reduce all plastics in our office and at our events. We’ve made a good start by making lots of simple switches and will keep tackling the bigger things in the fight against plastic

GQ: What is your favourite type of tea?

LC: Oolong!

GQ: Final question – we have to ask you: team rice or team noodles?

LC: Noodles!


Lead image courtesy of Louise Cheadle / Teapigs.


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