We took some time to ask the founder of Monteaco, Kenneth Rimdahl, a couple of questions regarding our current expansion in Europe. Read this interview to learn more about what we have going on!
Hello Kenneth! Tell us what you’ve got going in in your life right now?
I am currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand, sourcing and purchasing wild-growing tea from Northern Thailand's highlands.
To protect biodiversity, Monteaco's tea is grown in harmony with nature and we collaborate closely with farmers to make them forest caretakers. This is one of the pillars of "Forest Friendly Tea," which I founded in 2013.
My goal and vision for "Forest Friendly Tea" is to demonstrate that 1 plus 1 is 3. By working long-term with farmers to protect the forest's natural biodiversity, we create viable and profitable conditions for a long-term sustainable tea production. Drink our tea to protect and safeguard forests, it's as simple as that...
When did you start working with Monsoon Tea Company and with you coming from Europe, how has it been to work with tea in Thailand?
I started almost ten years ago now and well, in the beginning there has of course been a lot of cultural differences, but people have been very nice to me and so helpful. Without the people here, it wouldn’t have been possible to create this project.
When I realized that there was tea growing here in harmony with forests and not in normal tea plantations, I’ve needed help from a lot of people to realize my idea of creating a great product out of it. I’ve been introduced to so many people on this journey and it has really been highlight of my work over the past ten years. Since the Thai market is not really a tea drinking market, it’s not England or China, it was definitely a struggle the first couple of years getting started. We started off with a small little shop in a quite shopping center with mostly Thai people that really did not attract much attention. But after opening our headquarters here in Chiang Mai we have seen interest in our work and in tea from Thailand in general increase a lot. Now we have five shops in both Chiang Mai and Bangkok, so we have definitely come a long way since that first quiet little shop. When Covid hit Thailand it impacted life for everyone a lot.
The tourism sector died completely, and we had to do everything in our power to keep the business afloat, and we’re so excited to come out on the other side of it and really get to work expanding the business. It’s been a rollercoaster over the past couple of years but we’re all here for the ride. There have been so many positives these ten years and so many positive reactions to the work that we’re doing.
How has the international recognition been for the project?
Quite fantastic actually! Very early on, maybe eight years ago when we had just started up, the tea consultant for Prada in Italy showed up telling me that they were looking for unique teas for a new tea and coffee house they were opening in Milano called Marchesi. I have no idea how they found me back then but since those days we have had a lot of media from all around the world.
We’ve done shows on national radio and tv in Japan and Swedish for example and then we’ve had a lot of international magazines and newspapers writing about our work. I was invited to the U.N conference here in Thailand to talk about our project, which really meant a lot to us. Bangkok is a international city and we receive a lot of international customers from Europe, U.S and South Korea, China and Japan especially.
Why are you now moving forward as Monteaco instead of Monsoon Tea Company?
Monteaco is the brand we will from now on work with internationally and in a near future also here in Thailand.
Additionally, Monteaco is also the company that owns the rights for all international sales outside of Thailand.
There are numerous reasons why we made the decision to start and set up a company based in Sweden/Europe, but the main ones are that we get closer to the customers, it is focused on sales and marketing and last but not least we managed to put together a skilled, motivated and competent team. In other words, a solid foundation for successful growth in the region.
With the new brand name, "Monteaco," which is a shortened version of Monsoon Tea Company, we can naturally use all the work, experience, and history we have accumulated over the past decade in our communication.
What is the goal of the expansion into new markets?
This is a journey we embark on, and we have to expand to justify our existence. Our entire purpose is to buy as much tea from farmers as possible as long as they produce according to our Forest Friendly Tea methods and don’t cut down forests or impact nature more than necessary to be able to produce tea.
There is plenty of land we can protect as long as we manage to buy more tea from the farmers in the north, and to do that, we of course have to sell more!
For me personally, if I just wanted to enjoy myself and live out a peaceful and relaxed life here in Thailand, I could run one or two tea shops and be happy with everything. But that’s not the point of this project, if we don’t manage to produce and sell large volumes, our impact is minimal in the grand state of things.
After having developed our business model and established our production chain here in Thailand, now is the right time to move forward and really expand outside of Thailand. We have a lot of international customers already.
By establishing Montaeco AB in Sweden with a central warehouse in Europe, we can cater much better to our customers’ needs and make some quality of life changes for everyone we work with.
What are we going to see from Monteaco in the first couple of months now?
The absolute first thing we have to do and currently are very busy doing is producing a lot of tea. Buying and producing Forest Friendly Tea is not like going to the supermarket and just picking it up. There are only certain time periods of the year when our producers can pick and produce tea, so we have to plan ahead a lot.
We have more than tripled our production right now to make sure that we will have everything we need for our first shipments to Europe and that we will have plenty of stock as we move in to new markets. In the next month we will start shipping. We are working on on our web shop that will go live at the turn of the month October/November. We’re also working closely with our partners in Europe. We are in dialog to open a shop in Amsterdam before winter and we’re also on the lookout for locations in Stockholm where we can invite guests and host tea tastings, workshops and sell tea.
These are just a few examples of various projects that are now being worked on by the Monteaco team in Sweden. This is only part of a larger business plan to raise awareness and position Monteaco by spreading the idea of "Forest Friendly Tea" a sustainable tea produced in harmony with nature.
This all sounds pretty great! But how will you handle the expansion? Are you moving to Europe now or are you staying in Thailand?
My role will still be here in Thailand, working closely with our producers in the mountains and continuing to expand on the Forest Friendly Tea concept. We have a great team in Sweden who will be responsible for business in Europe, but hopefully I will now spend more time at home in Sweden and around in Europe that I love so much. I’ve been working with tea for almost 30 years now since 1994, and I have to say that I think that I’ve definitely found my place here, moving between the forested mountains in Chiang Mai and the busy city life in Bangkok overseeing all production and making sure that our tea upholds the quality we’re looking for.