Eight months is not a long time. But in the business of selling food and beverages, it can pretty much determine your fate. Either you are killing it, surviving or it’s time to wind up. One of these outcomes decides your future. For Chai Point, a Bengaluru-based tea cafe chain, the last eight months in Chennai have been crucial. Of course, strange as this may sound, few people know that Chai Point has been in Chennai that long. Fewer still know, what it is doing there.
Founded in 2010, the company came into Chennai purely on the back of its dispenser business. Since then it has got on board 10 companies. Each company has an average of 100 people. Every person drinks about two cups of tea a day. That makes it 2,000 cups of tea a day. In Chennai. Across the country, Chai Point has 150 clients and 4,000 dispensers. That’s a lot of cups. Amuleek Bijral, the CEO of Chai Point knows this. And he believes that in the last eight months, the company has found its calling.
But first, tea. India is a tea-drinking country. The market was estimated to be around Rs 10,000 crore in 2015, with an annual growth rate of 1.5%. The alternative beverage market (except water and alcohol), too, has been on the rise. Almost $80 million has been invested in companies across tea, coffee and other beverages in the last seven years, according to Tracxn. Tea, in particular, has seen interest from venture capital firms, the likes of Saama Capital, Fidelity, Accel Partners and Tiger Global Management. And just this sector, alone, has received funding, worth $25 million, as per Tracxn data. Of that, Chai Point has raised $11.66 million from Saama Capital and Fidelity, among others.
In a nutshell, the bet is this. Tea as a beverage of choice will only grow upwards despite the draw of coffee, even with Starbucks and Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) in the market. And Chai Point thinks it can capitalise on the tea-drinking culture to become one of the best non-tech venture-funded startups in the country and beat its rivals. It plans to use its business-to-business (B2B) muscle to get there.
Bijral says the B2B business found him. “It was maybe 2012 when we started to notice a trend in our Bengaluru outlet,” he explains. People would walk in with flasks and ask for tea. His staff would dutifully fill the flasks and return them. The orders kept climbing. The administrative staff of companies would come with bigger orders. But then the orders dropped. “There were complaints that the tea wasn’t up to the mark, or the company had run out of petty cash,” he says.