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Natalie Chiu

Inspiring Female Founder Spotlight: Natalie Chiu

Natalie Chiu is the Co-Founder of Saicho – a luxury, single-origin, sparkling tea brand. She grew up in Hong Kong and moved to the UK in 2008, to study Food Science at the University of Nottingham. She then went on to do a PhD in Flavour Chemistry which is where she met her husband, Charlie, who she co-founded Saicho with in 2019.

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

Saicho is a luxury, single-origin sparkling tea brand designed to be enjoyed with food as an alternative to wine or Champagne, and the idea for it came about due to my intolerance to alcohol. Having grown up in Hong Kong, I have always drunk tea with food and so I knew it could create the perfect pairing. Tea was chosen by us as the alternative for the wine and Champagne moments, as there is no compromise on the taste and sensory experience when using tea to compliment food.

How did the idea come to you for the company?

Whilst at University, Charlie and I entered a business innovation competition where we received multiple prizes, which helped us to start the business. We have always had a passion for food and drink and enjoy going out for dinner, but as I have an intolerance to alcohol which makes me go bright red, I have never 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, I had to make do with my usual glass of tap water. Enviously, I 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 why.

It was clear that I was missing a huge aspect of the fine dining experience and so must other people. This got us thinking; surely there could be a non-alcoholic drink with ingredients that possessed the same sort of complexity and heritage that wine does and that is where Saicho and its three original flavours were born: Hojicha, Darjeeling and Jasmine.

How did you achieve awareness?

A large part of achieving awareness has been through social media but we are also very lucky to work with some incredible restaurants and hotels which have given us a platform to get Saicho in the hands of diners, as recommended by the restaurants and hotels’ sommeliers who could also suggest delicious food pairings to their customers.

From the very start, we have also got in contact with relevant journalists to offer them samples of Saicho and off the back of that, we have received wonderful reviews from drinks experts who really understood the product and so then went on to write about them and recommend them to their readers, still today.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

Our first round of funding came from the competition we won at university and for many years, the brand has been self-funded by ourselves. Recently we completed our first investment round. And of course, as Saicho has become more popular over the years, the brand has gone on to be stocked in many wonderful venues which has enabled us to to grow globally.

What are the key successes?

Firstly, becoming a mum to my beautiful little girl who is two years old!

For Saicho though, a key moment that I will always remember as one of our biggest successes was securing one of our first ever clients – The Peninsula Hotel. I am also incredibly proud of the fact that we are now available in seven different markets, helping consumers of different backgrounds and cultures to experience tea in a new way. 

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

Naturally, 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. For example, our original 750ml bottle was discontinued due to the recent energy crisis. After an extensive search we found an alternative bottle, but this also prompted us to revaluate our branding and late last year we unveiled our beautiful new designs which really speaks the language of tea.

What are your plans now/for 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, and really get to know our customers.

We also hope to bring out new teas for more people to enjoy, which we are currently in the process of creating and we would love to collaborate with other like-minded businesses on exciting one-off projects too!

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

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.

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial 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. You must believe in yourself and never forget the good stuff in moments of stress.

I have also 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. 

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?

I have many people who have inspired me along the way but the one person who has truly inspired me is my mum. She has been such a great role model to me and now that I am a mum myself, I can really appreciate the types of things that mothers go through – especially when it comes to balancing my time between work and my daughter. Mum guilt can be very real!

What is your favourite inspirational /motivational quote?

“Don’t stress over the things that you can’t change, focus on the things that you can.”

What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?