Zumbani, safflower, hibiscus, pineapple sage, lemon grass, baobab: you’ll be forgiven if you don’t know what some of these are. Yet all of them have found their way into Flourish-Budirira, one of the new products in local brand Petalilli’s range of teas and seasonings. It is a loose herb tea claiming benefits for circulation, hair and the immune system, and makes a delicious infusion.
Petalilli’s recent launch of seven new products – including a line of seasonings – is part of a strategy to increase its share of a market dominated by imported products. It is a brand owned by Peta Searle.
Starting a new business and raising young children is rarely an easy combination, but Searle hasn’t let this stop her. She registered Petalilli in 2013 when her daughter Lily -for whom the brand is named – was just two. Back then Searle was working on a venture that turned old magazines into jewellery. Searle loved the work but realized that this wasn’t what she wanted to be doing ‘forever’.
Instead she decided to turn her passion for herbs into a business. Since 2013 she has been growing the brand slowly, at first holding down a day job while developing her packaging, creating the right combinations of herbs for the teas and pitching the product to possible retailers. At the end of 2014, she put her job aside to focus on really getting Petalilli up and running. This meant a much more aggressive sales drive, getting the products onto the shelves of the major supermarkets – Pick N Pay and Food Lovers stock her products as well as a host of smaller outlets. “It’s been a hard slog,” explains Searle. “You have to restock the shelves yourself and you need to watch your product to make sure it looks good on the shelves.”
Like all businesses starting out, there have been many challenges. “It’s taken far longer than I envisaged,” she says. “You think people are just going to buy your product but you really have to reach out to the public. Marketing is critical.”
With imported products flooding the market, as well as a strong local competitor Four Seasons, is there really a space for Petalilli? Searle says there is. “The market in Zimbabwe is huge. It is just about helping consumers choose a healthier beverage to drink.” Her teas have no additional flavourings so consumers can be sure they are drinking 100% herbs.
Growing the herbs has been the easy part. Most of the herbs that go into her products are cultivated on a smallholding within city limits. Whilst Petalilli itself is not certified organic, these two hectares of land are used to grow ingredients for the products using organic methods. The new range has been developed to be more affordable at around $4 with almost twice the amount of herbs. She is also currently setting up a network of growers she hopes will help to bring the price down.
The business is just about breaking even. For Searle however, being both ethical and environmental is as important as turning a profit. The concept of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ infuses everything she does. From the packaging of her teas – both the card and the plastic is compostable – to its packing, which is done in a hut built of old bottles and cans. “I don’t want to have a company that is making more waste. I want to know that most of my packaging will disappear in ten years,” she explains.
What advice does she have for others starting out? “Imagine yourself doing [this] and if you can see yourself doing it for the next 20 years. Then understand the importance of just taking small steps,” she says. “Your dreams can be big, but the reality is that each nail has to be hammered in.”
Peta Searle was one of the exhibitors at the Traditional and Organic Food and Seed Festival over the weekend at the Botanic Garden. For more information about her products visit www.petalilli.com
Image: Herbal tea entreprenuer Peta Searle