What Does This Vancouver Tea Purveyor Have in Common with a Paint Company?


For 21 years, Vancouver-based luxury tea blender Tealeaves has focused on selling to five-star hotels and Michelin-star chefs worldwide, but a collaboration with New York-based Pantone Color Institute designed to grow the brand’s retail presence is changing that.

The collaboration is not as unlikely as it may seem at first blush — at least from Pantone’s perspective. The one-stop-shop for all things colour has partnered with Keurig for more than five years, with the coffeemaker incorporating Pantone’s latest trend colours into its portfolio of single-serve brewers. This year, the colours of choice are Pantone’s 2016 colour of the year selections, serenity and rose quartz.

Working with Tealeaves helped take Pantone into a new arena. “People are physiologically and psychologically influenced by colour,” says Laurie Pressman, vice-president of Pantone Color Institute.

“There is a multi-sensory aspect. What you see is connected to what you smell and taste. We’ve been doing this mostly on the fragrance side. When the opportunity arose to connect it to taste, I jumped on it. We work with companies in many industries. This was a way to raise our profile in a new way.”

Likewise for Tealeaves. “Pantone is well-known and respected in the design world, a space we think would immediately appreciate what we are trying to do in the tea world,” Lana Sutherland, co-founder and CEO of Tealeaves, said.

“We speak a lot of the same language and it would be great to be exposed to them. It may not be a critical market segment for the business, but it would connect us to like-minded people.”

Tealeaves’ first marketing campaign takes the form of an online exhibit, paletteforyourpalate.com, that features tea-infused creations of 34 chefs and mixologists, and a documentary film that explores how colour can excite and tell a story. The film includes commentary from Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, co-founder of nail polish manufacturer OPI; Dave Schenone, innovation director at sports wear maker Nike, and Pantone’s Pressman.

While this partnership may not seem like an obvious one, Sean Wise, associate professor, entrepreneurship at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, said: “[Partnerships] are only limited by the creativity and willingness of the partners. They can be based on common goals, shared resources, or even similar challenges to be overcome.”

Tealeaves and Pantone share a common objective: to open doors into new markets. “When entering into a collaboration or partnership, I look to see if this is something new and different,” Pressman said. “Is it forward thinking? Is it an area Pantone has been less involved in?

“We work with companies on what colour food should be and we work with companies on colour standards but we’ve never worked with food in a way that brings in the senses. For us to be part of this growing market made sense.”

Wise calls this type of partnership, in which goodwill from an existing brand can positively influence another, the Halo effect. “Customers are bombarded by thousands of messages daily. Partnerships can help cut through the noise. Especially if you partner with a group that has an existing relationship with the customers you covet.”

More immediately, Pantone has helped Tealeaves create customer-centric packaging and a marketing campaign aimed at establishing the brand with consumers as the company expands its reach beyond wholesale.

When the original seven partners (there are now 15) from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds launched Tealeaves as a retail store in Vancouver 1994, it was a tough economy and loose tea was new for many consumers.

“From the beginning, we’ve been dedicated to bringing an exceptional tea experience to the world. For us that meant loose tea. We are one of a handful of tea blenders in the world,” Sutherland said of their vision.

Ruy Paes-Braga, then general manager of Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver guided Tealeaves into wholesale. “Four Seasons was our first hotel client,” Sutherland said. Tealeaves now sells to top hotel chains and chefs in North America, the United Kingdom, Europe and the Middle East.

It wasn’t until 2014 that the owners decided to get serious about growing Tealeaves’ retail presence. “We were coming out with 10 different teas. Each had its own characteristic mood,” Sutherland said.

Pantone helped Tealeaves show how mood could be amplified by the shade or hue of the colour chosen. “This was super exciting because we’re always trying to elevate the experience. Adding another level of sensory experience would bring us to the next level,” she added.

Tealeaves next challenged its hotel and chef clients to create and donate recipes that incorporate one of the 10 new tea blends, and that reflect the mood associated with the tea and specific Pantone colour.

“Business today is about collaboration, sharing, giving more value to the consumer,” Pantone’s Pressman said. “That’s not always about money. It’s about how do I become more important to the consumer? When you can combine strengths, integrate, educate and address a market in a much more cohesive manner, you are bringing added value.”

The collaboration with Pantone is helping Tealeaves embark on its next stage of growth. It is setting up a sales channel on its website and is in discussions with retail channels in Canada and the United States. “The goal is not to go mass market. We’re looking at higher end bricks-and-mortar retailers,” Sutherland said.

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