Dalgety Teas

Read time: 4 mins        Added date: 23/11/2023

We explore how Dalgety Teas, one of the Black In Business beneficiaries, went from a chance conversation in Brixton to being on the supermarket shelves.

Founding a herbal tea business wasn’t on the agenda for Mark Dalgety after graduating with an engineering degree. Born in London and brought up in Guyana, his journey has been fruitful, culminating this year in becoming one of the five beneficiaries of the Channel 4 and Lloyds Bank Black In Business initiative.

There’s a well-known proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and for Mark Dalgety and his herbal tea business, that couldn’t be more true.

The origins of Dalgety Teas can be traced back to Brixton Market in 1993. Mark had very little money and was looking for a way to make more. A conversation with a trader who wanted to source Cerassie/Corilla tea bush from the Caribbean saw him book a flight to Guyana on his credit card, the country he grew up in.

After making £8,000 from that one order and realising there was a gap in the market, the idea to develop it into a business was born. With a lack of 100% natural herbal teas being readily available in the UK, orders soon began to pour in. Mark invested the profits into transforming from loose-leaf packets to conventional teabags, and Dalgety Teas was ready to scale up.

Taking Caribbean teas across the country

Growing a business on a shoestring budget is no mean feat. However, Mark’s enthusiasm meant he covered many miles in ‘analogue mode’ as he calls it, visiting local markets, ethnic shops, church fairs and carnivals. In those fledgling days, word-of-mouth was the most cost-effective way to build awareness and a repeat customer base.

Mark started selling close to home in South London before targeting independent shops within the M25, then towns and cities with high ethnic populations, including Birmingham and Luton.

As the sole initial distributor, Mark stayed in B&B’s nationwide, knocking on the doors of 50 shops per day. Slowly but surely he established a network of customers across the country, and it wasn’t long before he made the decision to outsource distribution to wholesalers. This enabled him to focus on other parts of the business, such as setting up a dedicated factory and new product development.

Full steam ahead

When trying to get Dalgety Teas stocked in the multiples, Mark took a novel approach. He wrote to individual supermarket managers with a product sample, asking them to recommend it to their buyer. This tactic resulted in 11 managers out of 15 responding positively and landing a three-month trial listing in Tesco’s ‘World Foods’ section.

You’ll find them in over 3,000 independent stores throughout the UK and three major supermarkets — Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

Beyond the UK, Dalgety Teas are available in Africa, South Korea, the US, and the Caribbean. Online customers have ordered from all over the planet, including Afghanistan and China, demonstrating opportunities for further global growth.

“Selling the product is helping hundreds of small farmers and their families across the Caribbean and Africa, which is a major driver for me.”

Mark Dalgety — Founder, Dalgety Teas.

An ethical approach in every cup

Dalgety Teas has been an ethical business from day one. While Corporate Social Responsibility wasn’t talked about much when it began, community remains one of its core pillars.

Mark’s seen first-hand how buying tea from lots of small producers in the Caribbean, and now Africa, can transform underprivileged people’s lives. Supporting others through his business still motivates him today.

“You realise the difference you’re making to people. For example, parents are able to send their kids to school or improve their homes. Selling the product is helping hundreds of small farmers and their families across the Caribbean and Africa, which is a major driver for me,” Mark states.

They’ve also worked with the NHS as well as diabetes and blood pressure charities. The tea cartons have a QR code to educate and encourage more black people to donate blood and help others with rare blood types.

Don’t forget to enjoy the journey

Mark’s somewhat unconventional path has taught him so much, and he has advice for other Black entrepreneurs who are starting out. “It’s important to be determined, focused and make work as fun as possible. People should enjoy what they’re doing and be passionate about the niche they’ve carved out”, he says.

While there have been many business successes to date, Mark’s philosophy is not to rest on a job well done but to keep building momentum to take Dalgety Teas to the next level — and it’s working.

From importing one loose-leaf tea from Guyana to Brixton, the business now produces 36 herbal varieties, which are available online and in 16 countries worldwide. However, there’s always room to grow, and Mark’s grasping the Black In Business opportunity with both hands.

As one of the five beneficiaries, Dalgety Teas will receive advertising on Channel 4 worth £100,000 airing in early 2024 and the creation of their own bespoke TV ad. In addition, each Black-owned business gets a six-month tailored marketing and mentorship package powered by DOES, which Mark is already benefiting from. “Most of my journey to date has been on the outside looking in. A direct mentorship with people who have experience and data behind them has been great for me. It’s helping me formalise my structure to take the business to a truly global level,” he concludes.


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Read more about the initiative and the other beneficiaries and what they hope to gain from the Black In Business initiative.

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