It was love at first sip when we first came across chai latte while visiting the US to watch the ball drop on the new millennium with two million other people in Times Square.
We brought a pack of the gorgeous-smelling powder home with us... it lasted a few months and the US owners that we contacted for more told us there wouldn’t be any... unless we wanted to sell it in Australia ourselves. We had our own PR/marketing business at the time, so we thought how hard could it be?!
We soon found out.
Selling an unknown product with a weird name ("chai what!?") to an industry we knew nothing about - and that didn’t want to know us - was incredibly difficult, and very frustrating.
But we still thought it was a good idea and after three years of persistence our US import began to get some traction.
Then came our next major challenge – our US supplier sold their brand and Australia was scratched from the new owner’s plans, leaving us with no chai latte and some very upset customers!
It took about one minute to decide to create our own brand but about 12 months to get it ready for launch – in June, 2005 – much of that time being spent on developing our recipes.
With limited cash and no real appetite for debt, we built an out-sourced business model that we retain today.
That kept cash flow in check, gave us access to vital professional expertise in every area from day one, kept direct employees to a minimum and didn’t saddle us with expensive and unnecessary plant and equipment. Because we managed the whole process via telephone and the internet, it also allowed us to live anywhere where we could get a phone signal and internet access. We chose Port Stephens in NSW... aka Paradise!
Our experience with the US ‘chai latte phenomenon’ helped to us frame a very simple business plan: Step 1 – create a profitable food-service base big and strong enough to support a move into retail and international markets.
Step 2 – strengthen brand and product awareness in the retail arena, in turn feeding consumer demand back into the food service arena, strengthening it further to help finance more expansion... and so on.
We launched with two flavours, manufacturing 1 tonne of each, and in our first month sold the grand total of 17 x 1kg packs!
Ten years on, Bondi Chai has grown exponentially and has earned a reputation as the ‘gold standard’ chai latte in Australia with more awards for taste and quality than any other product of its kind.
Export was always a big part of our growth plans – it’s one of the key reasons we chose the name Bondi – and we’re also well down that track. These days you can enjoy a Bondi Chai Latte in places as far apart as Kathmandu and Katoomba, Amsterdam and Armadale, Launceston and London. It’s absolutely amazing for us to hear someone ordering a Bondi Chai Latte at Zilte Zoen, a beachfront cafe near Amsterdam, or in a crowded bakery cafe in London or in the Oberoi Hotel in Delhi, or a ski lodge in Switzerland...
We’re really proud of our ‘coal-to-Newcastle’ sales into India – where chai latte (or chai masala as it’s known there) has been the traditional ‘national drink’ for centuries. Every chai latte has a different flavour and consistency, but chai masala is the base recipe for them all.
After achieving our aims in supermarkets, we moved into cyber retail with our own webshop and our international expansion continues with efforts now concentrated on Asia and the Middle East.
We’re excited by what’s in store for Bondi Chai, but we’ve never lost sight of the fact that it’s the product that’s the real hero in this story.
We’re grateful – every day – for all the people who help us to make Bondi Chai and distribute it to every corner of the country and many parts of the world. But we're most grateful, of course, for the most important people of all… those of you who have made Bondi Chai your favourite drink.