Twenty years ago, siblings Ahmed Rahim and Reem Rahim Hassani launched Numi Organic Tea out of a tiny Oakland, Calif. apartment. Their first offering was a dried lime tisane, which they drank as children in Baghdad, Iraq before their family emigrated to the U.S.
They showcased the product at an international gift show in San Francisco. The company did $1 million in business that first year and Numi hasn’t slowed down since. Innovative product introductions and a continued commitment to fair trade practices, sustainable farming, and biodegradable packaging have kept the company in the industry forefront, and that initial $1 million in sales has skyrocketed. Ahmed Rahim spoke to World Tea News about reaching a company milestone, and what’s next for Numi.
From Strictly Tea to Wellness Brand
“Twentyyears is a generation,”said Rahim. “We’ve pioneered new and unique ingredients, and we arethe largest brand purchaser of Fair Trade Certified teas in the U.S.” Now,he says, Numi is “pushingpause”in order to refresh its mission. It willeventually launch a bevy of new products, some of which are tea-based, and someof which are not, as a move to expand the company into a “wellness” brand. Later this year, for example, Numi will launch a line of “Daily Super Shots,” some of whichwill feature organic teas, including matcha, combined with herbs, fruits,roots, spices, and “supermushrooms.” Others willcontain neither herbal nor camellia sinensis teas.
Rahim describes this process as “getting out from under the lampshadeinto the sunlight.”He reassures customers that Numi willretain its commitment to organic ingredients, but both new and older productswill be given new packaging, and marketing will reflect Numi’s success with Millennials, and theincreasing demands for beverages and foods that promote a healthy lifestyle.Numi is the featured brand in many Silicon Valley tech offices, Rahim noted, aswell as in Bay Area university food halls. The company both pays attention totrends and creates them, he said.
Though he could not go into detail atthe time of the interview, Rahim indicated that new agreements would also allowNumi products to be used in collaboration with partners who maintain the samevalues and commitments his company does.
Not “Why” but“How”
Rahim regards questions about whycompanies should be part of the fight against climate change, and part of the fairtrade movement, as being “very20th century. We have no choice now. It’s a question of how we engage at this point.”
Numi is a certified “B-Corp,” company, recognizedfor its corporate commitment to social and environmental benefits, and waschosen as a B-Corp “champions” brand.
Rahimhelped found OSC2 eight years ago, a group of CEOs committed togoals like Numi’s. The acronymstands for “One Step Closer toan Organic and Sustainable Community.”Now 40 core CEOs meet monthly to collaborate on practices designed to save theplanet. This includes a “packagingcollaborative,” launched sevenyears ago, that promotes less packaging and plastic-free, compostable, non-GMOpackaging.
Numi’s own tea boxes aremade of 85% post-consumer waste, printed with soy-based inks and are notshrink-wrapped in plastic. The company’sNspireline, launched three years ago for high-end restaurants and hotels, useshand-sewn cotton sachets instead of GMO corn or plastic “silky” tea sachets.
The“climatecollaborative” now includes 420companies including multi-billion-dollar mega-corporations such as Unilever. “Corporations createmuch of the waste,” Rahim said, “and we must takethe lead and responsibility for solving the problems of waste.”
Anew collaborative, called “JEDI” (“Justice, Equity,Diversity, Inclusion”) is in the processof being formed now with seven pilot companies, Rahim said, and will focus onemployment practices and advancements, as well as board membership.
Asimmigrants themselves, the Rahims were determined from Numi’s founding thateveryone involved with the company would be treated fairly. This became acommitment to fair trade/fair labor practices now embracing the “16,000-17,000 farmsin 30 countries” Numi sources from includingfarmers in China, India, South Africa, Egypt, and Madagascar, Rahim said.
“We came from anoppressed society,” he said, “and we work withsome of the poorest countries on the planet. [Our partner farmers] are theheads, hearts, and taste buds that create the ingredients in our products. Weare committed to giving them every opportunity to succeed.”
A decade ago, the Rahim and Rahim Hassani created the Numi Foundation, which funds the H2OPE program, bringing clean drinking water to sourcing partners around the world. The foundation also helps to provide school buses, enhanced sanitation, and other services to some of the remote villages Numi farmers inhabit. “We are exploring helping to install solar power in some places in India,” said Rahim.
FullCircle in Oakland
Oaklandis now transforming into one of the world’smost exciting cities, but two decades ago, the Rahims decided to be part of itsrevitalization. Numi is now in its third Oakland headquarters, part of anentire block the company helped develop into a thriving retail, restaurant and businesshub.
TheNumi Foundation sponsors three programs in Oakland schools: an arts initiative,a social studies program that teaches kids about their own heritage, and a verysuccessful inner-city gardening program, which not only shows kids how to growvegetables but helps address the lack of fresh produce in neighborhood fooddeserts.
Rahimencouraged tea industry professionals and corporations to be part of the workthe Numi Foundation does locally and worldwide by helping crowdsource through https://us.commitchange.com/ca/oakland/numi-foundation/campaigns/activingpurpose.
Onething is certain: Look for Numi’snext 20 years to be just as mold-breaking as its first 20 have been.