Charlie and Natalie have always had a passion for food and drink. Now, husband and wife, they met whilst studying PhDs in Food Science.
Unfortunately, Natalie can’t drink alcohol (she turns as red as a tomato with even the smallest sip) and as such, she hasn’t been able to fully enjoy the food and wine pairings that Charlie so loves.
This came to a head, one night in an upscale restaurant. With limited soft drink options, Natalie had to make do with her usual glass of tap water. Enviously, she watched on as Charlie was regaled with stories of far-flung vineyards and detailed advice as to which specific dish’s tones and textures were most enhanced by a particular vintage and whyIt was clear that Natalie was missing out on a huge aspect of the fine dining experience. So, this got them thinking; surely there could be a non-alcoholic drink with ingredients that possessed the same sort of complexity and heritage that wine does.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I grew up in Hong Kong and moved to the UK in 2008 where I studied Food Science at the University of Nottingham and went on to complete a PhD in Flavour Chemistry. I also met my husband Charlie while we were doing our PhDs and we now have a little girl who is almost two. I love great food, but as I suffer from alcohol intolerance, I have always missed out on food and wine pairings. I wanted to create a delicious wine alternative that I could enjoy. It was then that Saicho was born, a sparkling tea brand which is now growing rapidly around the world, including back home in Hong Kong.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Yes, my original goal was to become a Flavourist, but after completing my PhD, we entered a business innovation competition at the University where we won prizes for our concept of a premium non-alcoholic drink that pairs well with food. That is where the idea for Saicho was born.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Absolutely, yes. Challenges are part of the journey when you have a start-up business. Every day is different, often unforeseen issues can arise and the need to be an agile problem solver is key. One example of a challenge we faced early on was making sure we had consistency and quality in the tea we selected. We tasted over 200 batches of Darjeeling before we landed on the final tea. We could never have imagined the time and perseverance that this process would have taken before
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Firstly, becoming a mum! For Saicho, our biggest achievement to date is that we are now available in seven different markets, helping consumers of different backgrounds and cultures to experience tea in a new way.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
While having a fantastic product is vital, being grounded in our purpose of creating drinks with no compromise is a huge factor. Having perseverance and determination to tackle the unknown and daily challenges is also hugely important.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I think mentoring is really important. Although I don’t have an official mentor, I have been lucky enough to have some great people around me from university, other startups and my previous career where I have been able to ask for advice on a whole range of issues. From general business challenges, to very technical aspects to just needing to have a coffee and chat with someone who will listen and understand. It’s important to reach out for help, you will be surprised how many people in your network are willing to help if you just reach out.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
I actually have two things:
- Be willing to try new things, even if you think you have no interest in something, because you can surprise yourself. New experiences will help you to be a more rounded person and help you have a fuller life.
- Take action, ideas can very easily stay on paper. What sets you apart is your ability to make something happen.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
Our next step is to grow the Saicho team. We want to bring in some amazing talent that will help us take Saicho to new heights. We are continuing to scale the business so we can share Saicho with more people around the world.