The first lockdown wiped out 95% of NEMI Teas’ business, leaving founder Pranav Chopra in the thick of it. NEMI Teas went into full survival mode, having to furlough and lay off multiple employees. As a brand that prided itself on hiring and educating refugees, how can you help when you can barely stay afloat yourself?

Through a refocus on the market, NEMI Teas survived the uncertainty of COVID that would have taken out a lesser brand, and now you can find them thriving. With them being in talks with supermarkets across the country, the future is looking bright for the premium tea brand. 

Read more: Food and Drink Heroes 2021: 12 businesses thriving against all odds

NEMI Teas: A purpose-led luxury tea brand

NEMI Teas is a London-based tea company that offers a variety of whole leaf tea blends. The whole ethos of the company is to create positive change through business. The main issue NEMI is trying to rectify is that there’s a lot of immensely talented and employable refugees in the UK - but there’s a bias against them. Chopra identified the factors which have scared employers off:

  1. Language barriers
  2. Lack of experience
  3. Outdated labels of what it means to be a refugee

NEMI Teas is systematically destroying these biases and demonstrating to employers refugees’ employability. By employing them, NEMI is teaching them English, providing them with relevant UK work experience, and ultimately creating a more positive label that incentivises employers to hire them. 

As one of the winners of Food and Drink Heroes, we sat down with Pranav and talked to him about what it meant to go in survival mode as a business that had set such strong morals and ideals for itself. Pranav talked about coming to terms with the compromises he would need to make if he intended to help refugees and the environment in the long term.

“Initially we only used to sell loose-leaf tea because that’s a traditional way of drinking tea, but we have to survive so we have to sell bags. Because at the end of the day, we’re running a corporate enterprise, and if we don’t sell, we can’t hire anyone.”

The teas are completely sustainable, being packaged in plastic-free biodegradable tea pyramids.

Pranav talks about the importance of the Food and Drink Heroes award for NEMI Teas. While the brand is set for stardom, it is still a small company at the moment, and Pranav is embracing that.

“[The tea sector is] one of the toughest industries to be in, so awards like these really validate the work we’re doing, the products we sell, as well as the impact we’re creating.” 

In good company

It’s not often that you find someone whose hero recognises their talent, let alone work with them. Amazingly, Pranav Chopra has his retail role model on the NEMI Teas board. Her name is Renée Elliot and she founded Planet Organic, the UK’s answer to Whole Foods and the first in the UK to make organic produce the norm. But the star-studded cast doesn’t end there, also on the board is the self-dubbed Lord Chocolonely III and UK’s Country Manager of Tony’s Chocolonely, Ben Greensmith. Tony’s Chocolonely is praised for its aim to make chocolate free of slavery and child labour, not just for itself but also for all chocolate manufacturers around the world. With such influential and talented members behind it, it’s not hard to imagine Nemi Teas as a staple brand in the coming years. 

A note to all entrepreneurs out there wanting to start a social impact business. Don’t do it because it’s the ‘in’ thing

Pranav talked about today’s notion that owning a social impact business is a fad and easy. He explained how far away from the truth that is.

“It’s not easy because you’re pretty much running two businesses in of itself.”

Pranav explained the two sides of running a social impact business

1. The Social Impact

Stepping in for refugee charities who would normally be the provider of English lessons and health and legal rights - and instead, doing that yourself. 

“Just even employing refugees, just finding out where do you even recruit them from? I have no background in hiring and training refugees, so I had to learn everything from scratch there.”

2. The Tea Business

Taking on established brands like Twinings or PG Tips and the all-around technical side of owning a business - considering diversity and inclusivity, funding and money, sales and marketing, and redefining the standard for sustainability.

’So here we are, pretty much a start-up going in and convincing the big large caterers as well as large corporate clients, “Hey, look it’s time to change.” It’s time to adapt to the new ways of actually having sustainable brands on board. Rather than the traditional price-led brands.’

All in all

Pranav has a vision and work ethic that a lot of businesses would do well to take inspiration from. His employment and education of refugees in the UK are providing the world with an uber-talented workforce we never would have known about. He’s providing an opportunity for refugees to find their strengths and how to apply that within our society. 

His emphasis on sustainability within the tea industry is a breath of fresh air. He’s questioning the way the tea industry has operated and is currently demonstrating to the consumer and corporations that there are more viable and eco-friendly methods. 

And last but not least, his business mind and appreciation for commercialisation are what allows these world-improving ideals to take place. He strikes a perfect balance between business and charity. Pragmatically balancing certain ideals, so those ideals can be the norm in how other companies operate in the future.

Watch the whole interview and find out more about Pranav’s journey here. You can also read about the 12 Food & Drink Heroes of 2021 here