At home in Co Louth, Donal McEntee grew up on a mixed family farm, of beef, dairy and sheep production.
He then attended University College Dublin (UCD) where he studied economics and law, followed by a financial masters in the UK.
Prior to founding McEntees Fine Teas, Donal’s career was centred in banking and finance, in both the UK and Dublin, most recently.
Helen, Donal’s wife and business partner, grew up in the Isle of Man, where she spent time working at her family’s hotel, before going to Newcastle University to study agricultural food marketing.
And although it was Donal’s brother Conor who took on the McEntee family farm, Donal and Helen also work from the farm yard in Charlestown, blending and packaging their loose tea leaves.
The business idea did not come as an overnight epiphany, as both Donal and Helen have fond childhood memories of tea leaf brews. Donal reminisces on abiding childhood memories of his great uncle Eddie’s rural shop, in Co Monaghan, which sold loose tea leaves.
“The pungency and old presence of the loose tea in Eddie’s shop was part of our rural Irish childhood. And this is where our business idea came from. We wanted to bring life back into the concept and sensual experience of brewing a good cup of tea and sitting down to chat about the day’s farm work,” he says.
Having previously spent many years working with various global food companies, it was Helen’s product design and marketing expertise that helped lay the foundation for McEntee’s Fine Teas.
“Initially, I opened an Amazon UK business account and began selling the big Irish food and tea brands within the UK.
“This was a great research exercise as we gained experience, knowledge and a large volume of customer feedback.
“The long-term plan was always to streamline the business, to sell our own range of teas, which we did in 2018 with the launch of our first tea,” Helen explains.
Helen advises business owners to enter competitions – as her experience of claiming gold, silver and bronze at the 2019 Blas na hÉireann awards has boosted McEntee’s Fine Teas business immensely; with improved brand recognition and networking opportunities. From speaking to the McEntees it seems that their secret to success is to never compromise quality or character, for convenience sake.
“Although tea bags are convenient, we knew that if consumers had the opportunity to taste a better product, they would say it is worth the effort. People go to such lengths now to get a better cup of coffee than an instant one. So we are slowly re-introducing that same idea to the tea business,” Donal adds.
Visit mcenteestea.com for more.
Helen’s top business tip:
“It is so important to choose who you link with carefully. We didn’t go with a national marketing agency - we went with a local girl up the road, who really listened and understood us and by choosing her we have not lost control of our product’s values, which is of utmost importance to us.”