DoMatcha CEO Shares Tips on Succeeding in the $100 Million Matcha Industry

By Grit Daily Staff Grit Daily Staff has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on November 20, 2023

It’s hard to imagine a world without shamrock-colored matcha lattes or pillowy green soft serve. But this has been the reality for most North Americans, prior to the year 2007. Before matcha, a fine green tea powder became synonymous with health food or an ice cream flavor, it didn’t exist outside of Japan. Then, around a decade ago, word got out and the illusive nature of matcha, with its traditional whisking ritual, and antioxidant-rich profile took the West by storm. Once an obscure food product, it gradually spawned into a $100 million industry.

Camellia sinensis was first introduced to Japan by a Zen monk named Eisai, who brought back tea seeds from his travels throughout China. His teachings and adoration for green tea, have since transcended into a long history and culture of green tea consumption. Its journey into the West would occur several centuries later.

The impact of Western interest on Japan’s matcha industry has been dramatic, to say the least. An article written by Fox Business in 2015 penned that the increased demand for matcha in the US has caused a doubling effect in terms of production in Kyoto, “rising from 564 tons in 2003 to more than 1,163 tons in 2013.”

Tea field in Kagoshima
Tea field in Kagoshima.

According to data from Japanese customs statistics on matcha export in 2022, the amount is closer today to 3508.34 tons. Between 2022 and 2023, US exports have grown 154% and globally, by 113%.

One of the earliest to bring matcha to North America was Canadian businessman John Harrison. Harrison had operated an established wholesale distribution business since the eighties in British Columbia. Two generations back, his great-grandfather, William H. Andrews, co-founded the first foreign-owned corporation, in Tokyo, named Andrews & George Company Limited. On a trip back to Japan in 2005, John became certain there was a gap in the marketplace back in Canada for this valuable tea product: Matcha.

Andrews & George Company Limited, Tokyo Office, 1929
Andrews & George Company Limited, Tokyo Office, 1929.

After conferring with an old friend, Kenny Sembokuya, he was introduced to one the oldest and most respected matcha suppliers in Japan, Shohokuen. Upon discovering John’s ancestral ties in Japan, they became receptive to the idea of teaming up to export matcha to North America.

After 2 years of R&D, the brand DoMatcha, deriving from the Japanese word Sadō, for “Way of Matcha” was born. The road to market penetration, retail success, and brand maturity has not come without its fair host of challenges.

Challenges with First Matcha to Market

Our modern, data-driven society makes it easier for people to pinpoint which businesses have greater market potential. When Harrison began the import process for DoMatcha, he didn’t have the luxury of data. In fact, he faced the unique challenge of no retailer knowing what matcha was, even the most advanced health connoisseurs. First to market, meant first to validate the market.

In its first couple of years, DoMatcha focused on establishing a retail presence across Canada and the USA. Product education became paramount, and John leveraged the existing health data for green tea, to help position matcha, as a more potent health food. Adaptability was key; North Americans were initially not familiar with whisking matcha prompting John to get creative in the way he positioned matcha.

Using a jet spray, John started sampling a blended matcha beverage made with cold almond milk. This would later be known as the “Iced matcha latte.” The sampling technique performed so well, that the store sold out of DoMatcha within a day. In a few months, Whole Foods Market headquarters in Austin, TX, reached out and inquired about carrying DoMatcha in their US locations. That began the swift effort to bring matcha to the West Coast.

Feeding the Matcha Frenzy

Matcha powder in production.
Matcha powder in production.

The interest in matcha has percolated globally in the past decade. According to Ahrefs data, the global search volume for the term “matcha” sits at approximately 710,000 searches per month. The ascension of matcha in the wellness world has trickled down to habitual consumers through mass coffee chains like Starbucks.

An increase in competition meant that consumer expectations began to grow. “High-quality matcha comes at a higher price point, and you must cater to that expectation. The ability to answer people’s concerns swiftly and effectively, can make or break your brand,” states Harrison.

Standing Out in a Sea of Green

A cup of hot matcha.
A cup of hot matcha.

Besides having a consistent, high-quality product, there are a few things that John recommends to succeed in the business of matcha. “You have to stay focused on the vision,” Harrison says. “Having a clear vision enables more accurate decision-making and helps the team work in tandem with the brand’s long-term goals…. and that is to promote authentic, Japanese tea culture in North America. Where some brands fail, is taking shortcuts in quality.”

As the reigning importer and craftsman of matcha, Japanese tea suppliers remain crucial to the crusade of bringing matcha to the West. Based out of Uji and Kagoshima, DoMatcha has maintained the same business partners for over 16 years, whilst working with 16th generation tea master Kazunori Handa-san to prepare all their blends. “We try to lead with integrity, as the success of the business depends on a mutual relationship of respect and trust between us and our suppliers,” says Harrison.

DoMatcha CEO John Harrison and Mr. Kazunori Handa, Kagoshima, Japan, 2023.
DoMatcha CEO John Harrison and Mr. Kazunori Handa, Kagoshima, Japan, 2023.

Another way DoMatcha has stayed ahead of the curve is by innovating to meet market demand. With a growing segment of caffeine-sensitive customers, DoMatcha released the first ever, decaffeinated matcha in 2016. They retain exclusive rights to carry decaf matcha in North America, from their 300-year-old supplier Marukyu Koyamaen Co., Ltd, one of the indisputable top fine tea producers in Japan.

The matcha boom has created customers who demand more transparency, organic certifications, and quality from brands. Brands that want a portion of the market must find a way to demonstrate what makes them stand apart from cheaper grades.

“Creating the perfect matcha comes down to a science of intuition. It’s a craft that is honed through decades and centuries. And I feel grateful I’ve been given this opportunity to share this ancient tradition with the world”, ends Harrison.

 

 

 

By Grit Daily Staff Grit Daily Staff has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Journalist verified by Muck Rack verified

Grit Daily News is the premier startup news hub. It is the top news source on Millennial and Gen Z startups — from fashion, tech, influencers, entrepreneurship, and funding. Based in New York, our team is global and brings with it over 400 years of combined reporting experience.

Read more

More GD News