In recent years, iced tea has become one of the nation’s leading consumed drinks, second only to bottled water.
Along with the surge of Americans deciding to eat healthier, they are also opting for healthier beverages. Magnolia Spice Teas is doing its part to provide consumers with a healthy drink unlike any other. Many iced teas currently found on supermarket shelves are made from liquid concentrate and water. Magnolia Spice Teas, however, has separated itself from the pack, by bottling authentically brewed Southern-style sweet tea.
Founded in 1998 by Chicago native Calvita Frederick-Sowell, the company’s all natural teas can be served hot or cold and contain 35 to 40 percent fruit juice. The idea to start the company originated when Calvita was unable to find real iced tea for her husband who was allergic to carbonation. Calvita says she was disappointed by the selection available in stores.
“I would drink these teas and wonder how companies could get away with this. Anyone who has ever had brewed tea, knows this isn’t tea.”
Calvita started to brew her own tea and received high praise from family and friends. That’s when she decided to bring real brewed tea to the market. The iced tea category is a crowded one, dominated by large companies like Lipton and Nestea. However, the timing was perfect for Calvita’s teas to hit the market. Magnolia Spice Teas were first introduced on the shelves of The Hyde Park Co-op, on the city’s South Side as well as Potash Brothers and Treasure Island. It was also at this time that Jewel happened to be looking for African American suppliers for their diversity program.
Just six months after completing product development, Clavita landed Jewel as a buyer of her teas. Dominick’s, who was also immediately impressed with Magnolia Spice Teas, came on board six months after that. Calvita, a graduate of Harlan High School, believes there is no contest when comparing real kettle brewed tea to tea made from concentrate.
“Dominick’s normally would allow newcomers to one or two stores, but they believed so much in the quality of the product and were also ready to expand their shelf space for tea products. So it was perfect timing.”
Because of this, Dominick’s did something they did not normally do. They placed Calvitas’s teas in more than 10 stores across Chicagoland. Calvita sites the help of The Rainbow PUSH Coalition for scheduling sit downs with major food giants and the Chicago Minority Business Development Council, whose goal is to increase opportunities between major buying organizations and minority owned businesses. The council helped Calvita land Costco.
Calvita’s teas have won many awards. In 2005, her Southern Style Sweet Tea took home first place at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas for best ready-to-drink sweet tea. Later that year, her tea made its way onto the shelves of Walmart in five different states. In 2007, Jewel continued its sponsorship of A Taste of Black History for the month of February. In celebration of Black History Month, consumers were able to enjoy, as well as become acquainted with, 25 African American vendors by sampling dishes prepared with their products.
Calvita was invited to participate by preparing an entrée, utilizing one of her Magnolia Spice Teas. For the media-filled event, she entered her recipe for Mango Passionate Chicken. Critiqued by a host of celebrity judges, her baked chicken recipe won first place.
Calvita, who initially received a degree in history from Eureka University, where she graduated cum laude, soon realized her major wasn’t really where her interests were held. This prompted her to apply to Howard University. Upon completion of her law degree, she began working in Ford Motor Company’s legal department, garnering one of the highest paying positions at the time.
“I never wanted to be a lawyer,” she said. “I just applied for law school and thought I’d figure out what to do with the degree later.”
Calvita eventually grew a very successful private practice. With the definite growth of her new tea company, she soon found it difficult to continue to juggle both her careers and eventually gave up private practice, admitting she was using it to fall back on.
“I got a leading from the Lord to let it go,” she said.
Magnolia Spice Teas is gaining visibility and notoriety. It has already secured a long standing position in many Jamaican and Caribbean restaurants. Sam’s Club has placed the company’s Southern Style Sweet Tea, its top seller, on the shelves of 11 of its stores.
The tea company has just signed on with Central Beverage, a distributor of predominately beer. With the distributing area of 2,500 retailers, this partnership means the teas will now be seen in stores it was normally not before, such as 7-Elevens.
“We are always looking for new distribution points and this is a wonderful opportunity for us,” said Calvita.
Magnolia Spice Teas complete line of drinks consists of Southern Style Sweet and Unsweetened tea, Green tea and Autumn Nectar.
Exotic Fruit Nectars offered are Mango, Mango Passion, Mango Carrot and Guava. There is also Vanilla Lemonade. All drinks can be used when cooking and making mixers.
Finisha O’Quinn is a freelance writer covering Austin’s business community. The Enterprize Zone is a regular feature in Austin Weekly News.