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Interview with Maxime Chailan and Elise Bellat, Founders of Tea Shop

Elise Bellat and Maxime Chailan, founders of TEA SHOP

In this month of February, nothing beats a good cup of tea to warm up. That’s why we chose to interview Maxime Chailan and Elise Bellat, two young people from Var (South of France) who are behind TEA SHOP, a French tea brand that is reinventing this industry with a deep commitment to organic tea and Made in France. From black tea to green tea, including teas with real fruits and infusions, their entrepreneurial journey is explosive. This interview reveals how TEA SHOP is gradually making its mark in the tea landscape.

Interview

Pierre-Antoine Tsady: Hello guys. Can you share with our readers your journey and what fascinated you in the world of tea?

Maxime Chailan and Elise Bellat: Our meeting dates back to our Master’s years, where we got to know each other after being elected class delegates. Then, we started dating. Later, during a car conversation, we discussed sugary drinks and tea. We then noticed that it was a forgotten and underdeveloped sector. So we decided to launch a brand without artificial flavors, with real fruits and real leaves. No more "grandmother’s teas", like chamomile or verbena!

P.-A.T.: Your collaboration seems to be a key element of your success. How did your meeting shape the idea of TEA SHOP and what were your common goals in creating this company?

M.C.: I’ve always dreamed of starting my own business.

E.B.: As for me, I’ve always wanted to use my creativity to create or improve existing products.

M.C. & E.B.: We then combined our talents and different qualities to create TEA SHOP. At the beginning, nothing was set, we had not done any marketing strategy or market study. However, the idea and passion were there. Our goals? To bring a breath of fresh air to the sector, to make tea a real moment of pleasure. In the long run, we aim for national reach.

Maxime Chailan and Elise Bellat, founders of TEA SHOP, accompanied by the French entrepreneur and author Anthony Bourbon at the Chinese Business Club
Maxime Chailan and Elise Bellat, founders of TEA SHOP, accompanied by the French entrepreneur and author Anthony Bourbon at the Chinese Business Club

[Also read our interview with Harold Parisot, founder of the Chinese Business Club]

P.-A.T.: Tea and infusions represent a vast and diversified market. What particular inspiration or unmet need motivated you to create your own products in this field?

M.C.: Personally, I was not attracted to this market at all. I found teas and infusions bland and had a low-value vision of these products.

E.B.: On my side, I started a kind of flavor hunt. I tested all brands and all possible blends to find the fruity taste that stands out. I searched, but nothing really satisfied me.

P.-A.T.: Your commitment to organic and Made in France is trendy. Could you detail how these values influence your production process and your sourcing choices?

M.C. & E.B.: Creating fruity and spicy blends is good, but we wanted to do all this in a French and local context. All this, while respecting social and environmental values. However, tea grows very little in France, it is expensive and incompatible with mass consumption. So we decided to import raw teas from fair trade organic cooperatives from all over the world: China, India, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

Then, we looked for dried fruits from French organic wholesalers. So, we have citrus fruits from Menton, plants and fruits from the Alps: raspberries, nettles, apples… Everything is packaged in the Var with the help of an ESAT [Establishment and Service for Work Assistance, ed.], where people with disabilities can work in the best conditions, without discrimination. All the packaging profits are returned to them.

The Energy Detox Tea from TEA SHOP, a perfect blend of organic oranges and ginger
The Energy Detox Tea from TEA SHOP, a perfect blend of organic oranges and ginger

P.-A.T.: The quality of your teas and infusions is a stated goal. Could you reveal the backstage of their manufacture? What sets you apart?

M.C. & E.B.: Our raw teas are selected in cooperatives where the leaves are almost entirely dried. They are neither cut nor ground to keep maximum flavor and authenticity. Then, they are mixed with dried fruits, spices, flowers, as well as dried plants. There are no added sugars or candied blends. We sometimes add natural and organic flavors when absolutely necessary.

What distinguishes TEA SHOP is that we only work from seasonal fruits. We have created four blends of teas and infusions for each season. This gives a unique and "limited edition" side to our teas, knowing that they will not be available all year round.

Finally, the individual pods of our teas, made in Marseille, are completely biodegradable. Instead of the muslin bag with a plastic overwrap, our cornstarch infuser is thrown in the compost. Even in our infusers, the fruits and plants are in slightly more cut pieces, but never ground into powder.

The quality of the whole, uncrushed tea leaves from TEA SHOP, compared to the leaves of competitor's teas
The quality of the whole, uncrushed tea leaves from TEA SHOP, compared to the leaves of competitor’s teas

P.-A.T.: Every company faces challenges at the beginning. What were the main lessons learned during the initial phases of distributing your products in gourmet grocery stores and organic stores?

M.C. & E.B.: We started by selling in gourmet grocery stores and organic shops, but the quantities ordered were far too low. We were not taken seriously due to our young age and received derogatory remarks such as: "Who are you interning for?". The vision of our brand was not in line with this market. We wanted to boost a sector with an aging connotation and the first distributors did not really help us…

Then, in July 2023, following the advice of our entourage, we decided to venture into mass distribution.

That’s how we went to the nearest Carrefour to present our tasting box. There, we waited for the manager to return from his lunch break to let him taste it. A week later, we were listed and we delivered to the store!

Then, other stores followed by introducing our teas. Currently, our teas are distributed in all Carrefour hypermarkets in the PACA region (Provence). In addition, we are in exchange with the Système U of the region.

We learned several important lessons from this experience. First, never give up, even if sales start slowly. Then, it is crucial not to judge supermarkets. They helped us promote our products. They agreed to talk to us without discriminating against us because of our age.

Maxime Chailan and Elise Bellat, well accompanied, during a tasting at the Carrefour in Vitrolles
Maxime Chailan and Elise Bellat, well accompanied, during a tasting at the Carrefour in Vitrolles

P.-A.T.: Your expansion into supermarkets and airlines marks an important step. How do you manage the challenges associated with this rapid growth and the expansion of your distribution?

M.C. & E.B.: It is crucial to progress quickly, but with caution. That’s why we collaborate with 15 large hypermarkets rather than a hundred. Otherwise, we would not have survived. We had to juggle obtaining our degree, storing products at home, and selling in hypermarkets. Currently, we plan to obtain bank loans to finance our logistics and a warehouse. This will allow us to develop further in these stores. However, despite this expansion, we do not plan to open 100 stores immediately. It is essential to act in stages, gradually increasing the number of stores and stocks each month. This way, we avoid jeopardizing our cash flow.

Maxime Chailan and Elise Bellat represent TEA SHOP at the Chinese Business Club
Maxime Chailan and Elise Bellat represent TEA SHOP at the Chinese Business Club

P.-A.T.: Collaborating with a major brand like Carrefour is a big step. What strategy did you adopt to establish this partnership and what impact has it had on your business?

M.C. & E.B.: Transparency and honesty were our keys. We presented ourselves to them with authenticity and simplicity, setting aside these roles of buyer and seller. This immediately established a climate of trust, which allowed us to create a partnership relationship.

From left to right: Elise Bellat, Dominique Schelcher (CEO of Système U), Stéphane Benhamou (President of PACA Distribution) and Maxime Chailan
From left to right: Elise Bellat, Dominique Schelcher (CEO of Système U), Stéphane Benhamou (President of PACA Distribution) and Maxime Chailan

P.-A.T.: After a successful fundraising campaign in 2023, what are the strategic plans for these investments? How do you envision the future of TEA SHOP, and what are your long-term goals?

M.C. & E.B.: The recently acquired funds have helped us finance existing orders that we could not produce before. Initially, we started with only 500 euros, then invested 4,000 euros of our savings. The fundraising boosted our production, improved our packaging, and supported our need for working capital. Currently, our goal is to take a new step by getting our own warehouse. We also want to supply the regional headquarters of supermarkets, especially in Provence and the Paris region, initially. In the long term, our goal is to distribute our products nationally in supermarkets.

TEA SHOP Website and Social Networks