Dutch-British multinational Unilever has acquired pioneering British organic herbal tea and supplements brand Pukka Herbs for an undisclosed sum.
Unilever says that Pukka’s core health and wellness philosophy offers a synergistic fit with its own sustainable living plan.
Pukka, formed in 2001 by Tim Westwell and Sebastian Pole, has a turnover of over £30m and growth of around 30%. It has also been growing rapidly across Europe and the US. According to Euromonitor 2016, Pukka is the fastest growing organic tea company in the world.
Unilever’s refreshment category president, Kevin Havelock, said: “Pukka has strong values and a clear purpose that aligns fully with our own sustainable growth model. There’s a clear strategic, philosophical and cultural fit for us.”
“Both of us believe in business being a force for good in society. Tim and Sebastian have cultivated Pukka into a successful business without compromising their ingredients or their ideals. The acquisition strengthens our tea business, addressing a gap in our portfolio. Pukka is a premium player in the natural, organic, health and wellness segment which is fast-growing, attractive and scalable. We look forward to bringing Pukka to even more consumers.”
Tim Westwell, Pukka co-founder and CEO said: “From day one, our mission was to connect more people with the incredible power of plants and herbs. Sixteen years later, with 1.5 billion Pukka teas enjoyed, we’ve made huge progress – and it’s just the beginning.”
“Pukka will remain 100% organic and a champion for fair trading through pioneering schemes like Fair for Life, and continue to donate 1% of its sales to global environmental charities. With Unilever, we have new levels of reach and opportunity”
Sebastian Pole, Pukka co-founder and master herbsmith said: “Choosing Unilever came down to two fundamentals: scale and sustainability. It is a leader in social and environmental change and it wholeheartedly embraces Pukka’s beliefs. So, there’s a meeting of values. Pukka will remain 100% organic and a champion for fair trading through pioneering schemes like Fair for Life, and continue to donate 1% of its sales to global environmental charities. With Unilever, we have new levels of reach and opportunity.”
Industry insiders and consumers have been reacting to the news of Pukka’s sale to Unilever. Pukka’s co-founders Tim Westwell and Sebastian Pole have since written a ‘personal letter’ to customers commenting on the “huge response” they had received. The response has been a mixed one, with many individuals and organizations sending messages of support, but many others signaling their dismay that the company – which many have come to regard almost as a community of fellow travellers – is now owned by a multinational corporation.
Keep buying into Pukka values
“It’s too easy to knee-jerk to this news. Having spoken yesterday to Sebastian, I have been reassured that there will be no dilution of the principles on which Seb and Tim founded the company that so many of us hold so dear. The things we all love about the company, other than its founders, are the organic herbs, the ethical sourcing, the sustainable and environmentally responsible production systems – helping to make the planet a better place to live while assimilating herbs that make a real difference to our health. That won’t change, nor will Seb and Tim’s hands-on involvement: it’s exactly what Unilever are buying into, along with Pukka’s B Corp status and organic standards.
If I didn’t know so well the strength of the commitment to do the right thing, I’d be a lot more worried about these core principles being diluted. We’re at a place where there is so much disillusionment over the low ethical standards of big businesses, any mega corporation buying into an ethical business would fail if it abandoned the principles. Look what happened in the early stages of the Cadbury’s buy-out of Green & Blacks. I’d be the first to say stop putting Pukka products in your shopping basket if you found any element of the products no longer represent the principles we all value so much. But as consumers, if we keep buying into these values, and encourage an even wider audience to do the same, we can not only help a lot more people benefit from the magic of plants, but the culture of transnational corporations can be changed too. Call it the greening of Big Food if you like. In my book, now’s not the right time to give up on Pukka. My PhD and a good portion of my 7 years of postdoc at Imperial College in sustainable agriculture was funded by the Leverhulme Trust, the non-profit research and educational funding arm of Unilever. The Trust specialises in supporting projects that are typically difficult to fund through normal university, government and commercial channels. From what I can gather about this acquisition, it’s in a similar vein. The fact that earlier this year Unilever sold off its margarine interests (Flora, Stork, Bertolli, etc) and then acquired Pukka is probably a sign that the company is getting its priorities more in line with healthier people who want to live on a more sustainable planet.”
Robert Verkerk, founder and scientific director, Alliance for Natural Health International
Unwavering passion won’t change
“Good on them! Two fantastic guys that I like a lot and admire deeply. I do not for one second doubt that they will continue to be the brand that they were. Anyone that knows Seb and Tim knows the absolute unwavering passion that they have. That won’t go. Bloody good on them getting a reward for their hard work too.”
Dale Pinnock, food writer and broadcaster
Organic future at risk?
I love my Pukka tea, but how long before it’s no longer organic?
Janey Lee Grace Natural health writer and broadcaster
Power to influence is gone
The point isn’t really whether Pukka maintains its own standards and integrity (organic etc) – although history tells us that rarely happens, as there’s usually a date built into the contract after which the original owners no longer have any influence over the product. Even if Pukka remains exactly the same, the point is that when we buy their products, the money now goes to the parent company, Unilever. Pukka products may remain healthy and lovely in every way, but many people will no longer feel able to buy them, because they don’t want to boost the coffers of the vile Unilever. Surely they could have found a better company to sell to?
Sadly Pukka have sold out to Unilever so we are delisting them. Stock up on your favourites now, when they’re gone they’re gone for good at The Natural Choice.
Jo Carpenter, independent retailer
Picture: Pukka co-founders, Tim Westwell and Sebastian Pole