Twenty years ago, siblings Ahmed Rahim and Reem Rahim Hassani launched Numi Organic Tea out of a tiny Oakland, Calif. apartment. Their first offering was a dried lime tisane, which they drank as children in Baghdad, Iraq before their family emigrated to the U.S.
They showcased the product at an international gift show in San Francisco. The company did $1 million in business that first year and Numi hasn’t slowed down since. Innovative product introductions and a continued commitment to fair trade practices, sustainable farming, and biodegradable packaging have kept the company in the industry forefront, and that initial $1 million in sales has skyrocketed. Ahmed Rahim spoke to World Tea News about reaching a company milestone, and what’s next for Numi.
From Strictly Tea to Wellness Brand
“Twenty years is a generation,” said Rahim. “We’ve pioneered new and unique ingredients, and we are the largest brand purchaser of Fair Trade Certified teas in the U.S.” Now, he says, Numi is “pushing pause” in order to refresh its mission. It will eventually launch a bevy of new products, some of which are tea-based, and some of which are not, as a move to expand the company into a “wellness” brand. Later this year, for example, Numi will launch a line of “Daily Super Shots,” some of which will feature organic teas, including matcha, combined with herbs, fruits, roots, spices, and “super mushrooms.” Others will contain neither herbal nor camellia sinensis teas.
Rahim describes this process as “getting out from under the lampshade into the sunlight.” He reassures customers that Numi will retain its commitment to organic ingredients, but both new and older products will be given new packaging, and marketing will reflect Numi’s success with Millennials, and the increasing demands for beverages and foods that promote a healthy lifestyle. Numi is the featured brand in many Silicon Valley tech offices, Rahim noted, as well as in Bay Area university food halls. The company both pays attention to trends and creates them, he said.
Though he could not go into detail at the time of the interview, Rahim indicated that new agreements would also allow Numi products to be used in collaboration with partners who maintain the same values and commitments his company does.
Not “Why” but “How”
Rahim regards questions about why companies should be part of the fight against climate change, and part of the fair trade movement, as being “very 20th century. We have no choice now. It’s a question of how we engage at this point.”
Numi is a certified “B-Corp,” company, recognized for its corporate commitment to social and environmental benefits, and was chosen as a B-Corp “champions” brand.
Rahim helped found OSC2 eight years ago, a group of CEOs committed to goals like Numi’s. The acronym stands for “One Step Closer to an Organic and Sustainable Community.” Now 40 core CEOs meet monthly to collaborate on practices designed to save the planet. This includes a “packaging collaborative,” launched seven years ago, that promotes less packaging and plastic-free, compostable, non-GMO packaging.
Numi’s own tea boxes are made of 85% post-consumer waste, printed with soy-based inks and are not shrink-wrapped in plastic. The company’s Nspire line, launched three years ago for high-end restaurants and hotels, uses hand-sewn cotton sachets instead of GMO corn or plastic “silky” tea sachets.
The “climate collaborative” now includes 420 companies including multi-billion-dollar mega-corporations such as Unilever. “Corporations create much of the waste,” Rahim said, “and we must take the lead and responsibility for solving the problems of waste.”
A new collaborative, called “JEDI” (“Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion”) is in the process of being formed now with seven pilot companies, Rahim said, and will focus on employment practices and advancements, as well as board membership.
As immigrants themselves, the Rahims were determined from Numi’s founding that everyone involved with the company would be treated fairly. This became a commitment to fair trade/fair labor practices now embracing the “16,000-17,000 farms in 30 countries” Numi sources from including farmers in China, India, South Africa, Egypt, and Madagascar, Rahim said.
“We came from an oppressed society,” he said, “and we work with some of the poorest countries on the planet. [Our partner farmers] are the heads, hearts, and taste buds that create the ingredients in our products. We are committed to giving them every opportunity to succeed.”
A decade ago, the Rahim and Rahim Hassani created the Numi Foundation, which funds the H2OPE program, bringing clean drinking water to sourcing partners around the world. The foundation also helps to provide school buses, enhanced sanitation, and other services to some of the remote villages Numi farmers inhabit. “We are exploring helping to install solar power in some places in India,” said Rahim.
Full Circle in Oakland
Oakland is now transforming into one of the world’s most exciting cities, but two decades ago, the Rahims decided to be part of its revitalization. Numi is now in its third Oakland headquarters, part of an entire block the company helped develop into a thriving retail, restaurant and business hub.
The Numi Foundation sponsors three programs in Oakland schools: an arts initiative, a social studies program that teaches kids about their own heritage, and a very successful inner-city gardening program, which not only shows kids how to grow vegetables but helps address the lack of fresh produce in neighborhood food deserts.
Rahim encouraged tea industry professionals and corporations to be part of the work the Numi Foundation does locally and worldwide by helping crowdsource through https://us.commitchange.com/ca/oakland/numi-foundation/campaigns/activingpurpose.
One thing is certain: Look for Numi’s next 20 years to be just as mold-breaking as its first 20 have been.
Source: Numi Tea