On the up · 12 July 2017

This UK matcha tea brand was copied by Starbucks

James Shillcock's matcha green tea brand was the first to launch the product in Britain
James Shillcock’s matcha tea brand was the first to launch the product in Britain

James Shillcock, founder of Vivid Matcha, tells Business Advice readers how his matcha tea brand sparked a trend that would see the likes of Starbucks and Pret quickly follow suit.

  1. Who are you and what’s your business?

James Shillcock, founder of Vivid Matcha – the UK’s number one matcha green tea brand.

Matcha is a high-grade green tea powder sourced from Japan packed with antioxidants, natural caffeine and L-theanine – an amino acid that stimulates alpha waves in the brain to promote concentration. My belief is that the mind is our most important asset.

My commitment to improving mental performance and wellbeing extends well beyond drinks and you should expect to hear exciting new developments from me in the near future in this space.

  1. How long have you been around for?

We’ve been around for three and a bit years. In 2013, matcha was unheard of in the UK, despite being a huge part of Japanese culture thanks to its potent health benefits. I discovered matcha whilst visiting Asia and subsequently working for a tea business in the UK.

The launch of our range in 2013 was a UK-first and sparked the creation of all a whole new category. Since our launch, “matcha mania” has well and truly swept the UK with Starbucks, Pret, Nestle and many more jumping on the bandwagon.

  1. How do you make money?

We make matcha products and sell them to retailers including Whole Foods, Selfridges, Waitrose, Holland & Barrett and from the end of July 2017 we’ll also be available in over 500 Tesco stores across the UK and Ireland.

  1. What makes you different and why should people take notice?

Vivid Matcha sources organic ceremonial grade matcha from Japan and is now officially the UK’s number one matcha drink having sold over two million servings of matcha.

Our products are all natural but our major point of difference is our commitment to mental performance and productivity. Whereas most health brands focus on physical wellbeing or performance, we focus on the mind.

Whether you’re Lewis Hamilton, Serena Williams or a lawyer sat behind a screen, your performance will always be dictated by your mental state and capabilities, both in the short and long term. Matcha helps people perform because unlike coffee and other energy drinks it provides a slow, sustained release of caffeine for a continued boost.

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  1. What was key in terms of getting started?

For me it was the realisation that if someone else has launched a drinks business before me, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do it too. When you’re starting out it’s the unknown that seems daunting, but I think having gaps in your knowledge is sometimes helpful.

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Vivid Matcha is already available in Whole Foods, Selfridges, Waitrose, Holland & Barrett

If you know too much, it’s easy to build excuses for why things shouldn’t work, whereas naive optimism helps you get the ball rolling.

  1. What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Starting the business! Starting is the hardest element of building a business. Don’t get me wrong, there are unique challenges every day. Some minor and some that can kill the business and all the work and finance built into it, but that’s what makes it fun.

Nothing is possible if you don’t start, but anything is possible once you do.

  1. What setbacks has your matcha tea brand had along the way?

We’ve had loads – we’ve had trademark disputes, production problems, cash flow challenges and issues with retailers who have placed orders and then cancelled them after we’d produced the stock.

Tiny things stressed me out initially, but over time you come to realise that problems are not an inconvenience, they are part of the journey.

Issues arising come with the territory, solving them is what makes you successful and keeps you ahead of the competition.

  1. In five years’ time, I will be…

Watching people walking out of Vivid Matcha Bars drinking matcha lattes rather than walking out of Costa or Starbucks. Don’t believe me? Watch this space…

  1. What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Make sure you are always seeking to tweak and improve your products and remain flexible about the direction of your business.

Over time we’ve developed products and evolved our brand in ways I would never have thought about at the start. If we hadn’t have made those changes and introduced new products we’d be dead.

Keep getting as much customer feedback as possible and make sure you act on it.

  1. Who are your business heroes and why?

I don’t have any specific heroes. Anybody who has had the nerve to take the leap and launch something, even it fails, has my respect.

Until you try you never know, and unless you’re doing it you cannot understand the highs and lows that come with running a business.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is a reporter for Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and previously worked as a content editor in the ecommerce industry.

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