This year marks the 21st birthday of local tea brand, Phendula Tips, the founding brand of local Durban tea business, Joekels Tea Packers – and what a journey it has been.
Joekels Tea Packers was formed by Joe Swart and Jonathan Kelsey in 1994. Durban local Swart and UK-born Kelsey lived a stone’s throw from each other in a Pinetown neighbourhood and later struck up a friendship on the rugby field. Although very different, they both believed that there was a gap in the market for an affordably priced, quality tea – and so the Phendula brand (which literally means “to turn around or change” in Zulu) was born. The name of the brand couldn’t have been more apt for Swart and Kelsey, who both left the security of corporate jobs to pursue the Phendula dream.
The planning began in earnest in Joe’s garage, until the pair were able to secure their first official work space at 13 Devro Park in Pinetown, where the 2 of them and 5 support staff started production of the first Phendula Tips tea bags. They initially used a cement mixer purchased from a friend to blend the tea, using an all-African selection of tea leaves to create a strong, rich flavour (which over time became the trademark of the Phendula brand). Friends and family were all roped in to promote and purchase the first packs of Phendula Tips, in order to start stimulating demand for the brand in the trade. Success did not come overnight, but Swart and Kelsey pushed forward, with the firm believe that “if we have a good product, then people have to buy it”.
Fast forward 21 years and 5 office premises, and Joekels Tea Packers is the 3rd largest tea manufacturer in South Africa, recipient of multiple prestigious awards, and producer of a wide range of tea brands that have become household names in South Africa – including Laager Rooibos, Laager Tea4Kidz, and Tetley. “It is a testament to our quality that we are still selling our very first product Phendula Tips, despite all the changes and growth that has happened over the last 21 years,” says Swart. The team still believes that Phendula Tips has huge growth potential as it holds true to the initial brand vision of “giving South Africans a premium tea at an economy price”.
While Phendula will always hold a special place in the Joekels history books, each brand in the Joekels stable has a special history and story of its own and each is a source of great pride for both Kelsey and Swart. As Kelsey notes, “each one of your kids has their own personality, but none is the favourite!”
In the 21 years since Joekels founders Joe Swart and Jonathan Kelsey brought Phendula to the market, the world has changed almost beyond recognition. In 1995 there was no internet, Google was still three years away from coming into being and South African “smartphones” were brick-size devices that allowed users to connect, without talking, via 30-character messages. Throughout these evolutions, Phendula has not only been a constant, but grown to be a firm KwaZulu-Natal favourite.