Pluck Tea is making a positive impact using sustainable and ethical production methods

Pluck Tea Toronto product showcase

A lack of good quality tea at restaurants motivated certified tea sommelier and entrepreneur Jennifer Commins to help foodservice operators create a better tea experience for its customers with the launch of Toronto-based Pluck Tea in 2012.

“Ten years ago, I noticed a big disconnect between the quality of food and the quality of tea on many top restaurant menus in Toronto, as well as service standards,” says Commins. “Several of my coffee-drinking friends would get beautifully layered espresso-based beverages with their desserts and I would get a scratched metal teapot with a tea bag still in its pouch and a dry lemon on the side. In many cases, tea is the final impression before you pay a bill, decide on a tip and make plans to return, so I think it’s an important point of service.”

Today, Pluck Tea’s team of nine is committed to making a positive impact using sustainable and ethical production methods for 12 tea types, including caffeine-free, wellness, black, green, herbal, rooibos, organic, upcycled, matcha, chai, superfine latte blends and iced-tea sachets.

Some ingredients, such as lavender and ginseng, are grown and dried in Ontario. The company also sources ingredients from farms in B.C., Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Additionally, many ingredients are upcycled to reduce food waste. Citrus peels are saved and immediately dried for Pluck Tea by Chasers Fresh Juice; cacao shells are reserved and roasted by ChocoSol Traders; and grape skins are saved after pressing for juice at Southbrook Organic Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

“We deeply investigate and consider our sourcing practices, and we are the only tea company with Upcycled certification to create new supply-chain loops with fellow food makers in our local community,” says Commins. “It’s important to look for these opportunities because there are so many products out there that can be optimized for premium food.”

Commins continues, “It takes a lot of effort, creativity and patience. You need to be nice to people because you’re asking another company to change their business practice to potentially make their lives more complicated. For instance, Chasers Juice installed a small drying facility to help facilitate this partnership. That’s an investment on all sides, so everyone needs to be invested in these solutions.”

While the tea plant itself (camellia sinensis) doesn’t grow in Canada, Pluck Tea works directly with a growing network of Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade and Organic-certified tea farmers to source its teas. The company partners with Rwanda Mountain Tea for its Pluck Pekoe and sources its Premium Organic Matcha directly from Kagoshima, Japan. In fact, Commins says the company’s sales have increased by 25 per cent on matcha year-over-year.

In addition to its ethical sourcing practices, Pluck Tea packages its teas, either loose or bagged, in zero-waste glass jars. Craft paper re-sealable pouches are also available. Furthermore, the company partners with Drop Distribution, a weekly emissions-free delivery service that brings orders to customers in Toronto via bicycle or electric car.

And, during the pandemic, Commins says, “government programs allowed us to launch our online store, which has become very active for us and now a major channel of business growth [across Canada].”

Overall, Pluck Tea’s Organic Pekoe has fuelled great interest from customers. “Pekoe is the most popular tea category in Canada and accounts for roughly 60 per cent of total tea sales,” says Commins. “I decided it would be fun to think about tea and coffee together and create three different blends – light, medium and bold – to follow the logic of roasting levels in the coffee world. These teas are capturing a lot of interest in foodservice.”

Pluck Tea’s signature blends comprise the largest share of foodservice sales, but the company also facilitates a white-label business. Customers include Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality, the Drake Hotel, the Royal Hotel, 360 Restaurant, Café Belong, Pilot Coffee Roasters, Propeller and Recipe Unlimited (multiple brands). Pre-pandemic, Commins says 85 per cent of Pluck Tea’s sales were from foodservice, education or office. Today, 50 per cent is retail and direct to consumer. 

“Recipe Unlimited is one of our big clients and its franchisees are loving our teas,” says Commins. “We’re working with them on many customized drink concepts and tea programs for adult menus, as well as kids’ menus. Luring kids away from sugary sodas and toward craft herbal caffeine-free iced teas has been fun, as many of our teas come in vibrant and unexpected colours. We’re also seeing a boom in no/low-alcohol cocktail menus, so we’re working with bartenders and mixologists to create innovative blends that are sophisticated and pair well with food.”

As for the future, Commins is looking to partner with larger organizations to accelerate growth. But for now, Commins says the company is happy to keep doing what they’re doing to grow organically, order by order.

By Nicole Di Tomasso

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