TRYING to pigeonhole Ido Berger is a difficult proposition, but the description ‘entrepreneur with a strong creative flair’ works pretty well as a starting point.
As a young man he studied acting and worked as a journalist, and his resume also includes stints as a lecturer at art and design institutes in Korea and his native Israel. Ido also played a major role in making a family-run food and beverage enterprise a success, and when the company sold its business interests for a big profit, he ventured to Asia to look for new challenges.
Ido came to Thailand in 2008 and eventually hit on an idea to market mixtures of fruits with selected varieties of tea. Tea & Fruits Co., Ltd. was founded in 2013 with the motto: ‘Tea and dessert – in the same cup.’
A talent for business
“My family together with other families bought a food company in 1986. I became its first salesman and I was fortunate to have an opportunity to take my time and educate myself in the art of salesmanship,” says Ido. “With very limited resources, I gradually managed to achieve a good deal of success. Sales and profits grew, and my father made a smart move in becoming associated with a company from Buffalo, New York Rich Products, one of the world’s leaders in non-dairy toppings and bakery items.
“Non-dairy was booming in the US and internationally in the nineties and we in the market of Israel contributed by developing lines of cakes and other desserts, including ice cream under the license of Ben & Jerry’s.
“In the year 2000, my marketing ‘baby’ Rich-Israel won first prize in a marketing competition organized by the premier international management institute. We beat out product lines from Nestle and Unilever. Soon after this our mother company, which was owned by several families, decided to cash out the non-dairy cow and sell to a high volume trading company. All in all, it was a great adventure and it allowed me to follow my dream of heading East.”
Coming to Thailand
After arriving in the country in 2008, Ido says he was “surprised to find that Thailand is not just a kind and welcoming place to visit, it also has a great business environment. So I decided to join the lucky expats who had already discovered that the Kingdom is a place for business as well as fun.”
He spent several years introducing Western high-tech medical companies to partners here and in China, Taiwan, Korea and Vietnam. At the same time he was involved in community and environmental projects. All the while he was looking for an idea to build a creative and stable business in his adopted country.
“Like most entrepreneurial initiatives, the idea for Tea & Fruits grew out of bumping into a problem. I didn’t feel well and went to see a Chinese medicine doctor in Chinatown. She gave me wonderful mixes of teas and herbs which were effective in improving my health, but they were horribly brown and bitter.
“I got the idea of developing teas with healing properties that are flavourful and tasty. The problem is that the Food and Drug Administrations in many developed countries won’t allow any healthcare claims, so I had to give up on that idea.”
But not long afterward, during a trip to France, Ido was offered a cup of hot water with a mix of dried fruits. This revived his earlier idea and he asked himself: “Why not tea with real fruits inside?” He learned that the concept has a long tradition in parts of the Middle East and Asia. On a stopover in Istanbul he got his first taste of this cheerfully exotic way of serving teas, and his entrepreneurial path became clear.
“In 2013 I introduced Tea & Fruits to Central Group,” says Ido. “I had experience with business development, marketing and R&D, but not much experience at other functions of a business organization like finance, operations and production. I saw it as a chance to learn how business works in Thailand.
“I produced the first Tea and Fruit line by myself. It was mostly a one-man show, but I was supported by suppliers in all areas. I introduced the experimental line to Tops and Food Hall, and then to most other supermarket chains in the area like Villa Market and Fuji, as well as The Mall, Big C, Makro, Rimping and so on.
“Right away people liked the concept and seemed to enjoy the idea of a tea which is put together from two bags. One bag contains a fruit-flavoured tea and the other is filled with a mix of dried fruits. You put the tea bag in hot water and then add the fruit. You drink your tea and eat with a spoon the warm crunchy fruits. Like the motto says, this is tea and dessert in the same cup.
“After introducing the first line we took time to follow the product and learn how it should be improved. At the end of 2015 we finished developing the new generation of Tea & Fruits and set the launch for March 2016. The new line is based on a classical English breakfast tea from Sri Lanka and high quality fruit mixes with much less sugar than is normally found in dried fruits. The packaging is appealing too. It’s a pop art design style by Somchana Kangwarnjit from Prompt Design. He is the most globally awarded product designer in Thailand.
“We think Tea & Fruits has big potential in Thailand because most Thais love tea, and that goes for expats and tourists here as well. But the real market is export. This ties in with one of my main motivations for developing and promoting the brand: if it is accepted in international markets, it will give me a ‘ticket to ride’ and visit countries and cities around the word.”
Feeling at home
“Thailand is a wonderful country to live in and from a business perspective it’s a great home base,” says Ido. “It is wonderful to travel, but every time I leave Thailand I miss it. It is now my home.
“The happy Thai Buddhist philosophy is irresistible. I try to respect the culture and the people and I am grateful that Thailand allows foreigners the opportunity to come here and keep our own habits and traditions and at the same time adopt Thai ways as much as we desire.
“The Thai way is a wonderful recipe for combining business and social life. Thailand may not be a world leader in stability or employee motivation, but this is part of the charm and attraction. The Thai way lets me do business with fairness and kindness and at the same time have fun.”
One reason why Ido came to Thailand was to get involved in community and environmental projects. He says that doing business is not only about taking, but about giving too.
“Tea and Fruits is a company based on a healthy product and over time I want us to become more involved in win-win community projects,” he says. “This is also the objective of my very active membership in the Rotary Club of Bangkok.
“I am also involved in events such as PechaKucha Nights, which brings designers and artists from many creative fields together in cities around the world, including Bangkok.
“I want to resume a certain academic involvement and I may lecture again. These separate activities could converge into a wider project in the future. One initiative I am nurturing already is an eco-friendly resort that is involved in healthcare as well as art and culture, and strongly connected to the local community. The initiative will be aimed at creating jobs and supporting healthcare and sustainability in the community.”
For more info about Tea & Fruits visit www.teaandfruits.com