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Bad Dad: good tea

Canadian brews up business.


Puns on the packaging make great ice-breaking activities at the office.

When Stephen Mandel decided to start his company, “Bad Dad Tea, Inc.,” he knew it had to have a hook. As a lover of bad puns and good tea, “dad jokes” make the company’s brand.

Canadian Vending met with the entrepreneur at the Canadian Coffee, Tea and Water Show in 2019. We discussed the company’s punny “Tea-shirts,” the leap into entrepreneurial waters (or in this case, tea) and how Canadians can compete in the international tea trade.

Bad Dad Teas won the 2019 Most Innovative Packaging Award for a new product, recognized by the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers. Mandel credits his designer for the packaging, but the puns were an inspiration borne of his mother-in-law’s favourite teapot. “They had a teapot that had these tea puns on it… ‘creativi-tea,’ ‘originali-tea’ or
‘personali-tea…’ it was interesting and was good fun.

“We looked at that and said ‘you know, we’ve got to be able to do something with that…we could make t-shirts or something that’s a good play on words, but also something that’s an everyday product. More than half the world drinks tea on a regular basis.’”

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The inspiration struck in 2000, and the tea-loving punsters began brewing ideas for their company. However, Mandel and his wife took a hiatus for a number of years. Bad Dad Teas started picking up steam again in 2016.

“We moved to Toronto and had this opportunity where were both between contracts,” said Mandel, recalling how he used his down-time from selling risk-management software. “We said, ‘hey, let’s see about starting this up again.’ That’s when we really had a good look at [Bad Dad Teas] and asked, well, what can we do that’s different that allows us to use those puns?”

Mandel reflected on how the tea market in North America has changed in the last ten years. “You no longer have just your two or three varieties when you go to Loblaws, for example. You go to any grocery store, and have an aisle full of different types of tea. Especially in the range of loose leaf tea, you have a whole bunch of options and but about 80 per cent or so of the market is still drinking tea from tea bags.” Mandel states that people that who still swear by loose leaf tea continue to use tea bags for convenience, particularly office coffee services or micro-markets. “A lot of the markets prefer using it just because, there’s a little bit of muss and fuss around loose leaf tea.”

Change was a focus for both Mandel and his family. “My wife was in the non-profit sector, so she worked with a number of different charities and non-government organizations. She was giving back to the community. So, when we moved back to Toronto, it was the time for us to look at it, to say we want to do things a little bit differently.”

Mandel and his wife decided to choose ethical brands of tea for their brand. The allure of entrepreneurship for the Mandel family lay in being able to make their own decisions. “I won’t call it a work-life-balance integration. But we’ve always made a commitment to say we always want to be home. We want to be home in time, we want to be home for dinner with the kids. Even if that meant we have to go back [to the office] and do some work after family time.”

The family-run business runs on Mandel’s sales savvy paired with his wife’s experience in ethical work. “We want to make sure that it’s able to give back to the community; I mean, we’ve been very fortunate. We want to make money from it, obviously, but it’s about making sure that we can involve a greater community,” explained Mandel.

Bad Dad Teas made a commitment to select strictly organic Ceylon tea, as it would be a choice that’s healthier for the plantation’s tea leaf pickers and consumers alike. The company made the choice to source their tea leaves ethically and from a certified Fair Trade plantation. This earth-friendly attitude has also extended to its choice of artists who will be designing the punny boxes and packaging.

Stephen Mandel recognizes the importance of marketing ancillary products like his “tea-shirts” and aprons along with the teas.

“What we want to do is to be able to expand it so that we can actually look to feature different artists over time. We want to give local artists a chance to get on there, so that we can do artists’ profiles.”

Mandel observed that the tea’s chuckle-inducing packaging makes it an excellent ice breaker. The company is currently targeting hotels and office coffee services. “Imagine you’re really tired at the end of the day and you just open the tea and make up a cup. If we can put a smile on your face at the end of the day or beginning of your day, we’ve helped you. That’s everything we want to do.”

The Toronto-based company knows that ancilliary products sell as well as their main product, and often are used as a subtle form of advertising or product placement.

Among the popular products are their “Tea-shirts” printed with a topless woman captioned “NaughTea” and a thunderbolt-striken teacup proclaiming, “ElectriciTea.”

Bad Dad recently launched some kitchen aprons: A snooty-looking man holds a teacup with a smug little smile. The snob is labelled “HaughTea.” The titular ‘Dad’ may be bad with puns, but at least he’ll keep spills from staining his clothes underneath that punny apron.

“We want to make people smile, we want to make people laugh.” Mandel cites a study on how laughing releases endorphins, the ‘feel good’ brain chemical. He feels that even a glance at the packaging can start one’s day a little better.

“It makes you more positive. There’s scientific and psychological research about how it makes you more confident and well liked by your peers… there’s a lot of research behind smiling being good for you, so we can make people smile even once or twice during a day when they go and grab their cup of tea.”

Tea is a growing market in Canada. Even with the expansion of coffee shops, hot and cold tea beverages are very popular with Millenials. Part of it may be the purported health benefits that some tea drinkers feel that it might possess. Ipsos’s research on Canadians’ tea drinking habits indicated that people between the ages of 50 to 70 are responsible for 42 per cent of all hot tea consumed both at home and through food services.

That same Ipsos survey revealed that Millenials are a growing market for speciality and novelty tea subsegments, and this market group is more likely to respond to sassy or humorous advertising. Considering that Millenials are a growing (if not already the largest) working age range at the moment, having tea and humorously packed tea, would make Bad Dad a good choice for an office coffee service selection. Having a Canadian company provide an authentic tea experience is great for anyone looking for a local tea option that offers a great ice breaker, or “ice-tea” breaker for those looking for an excuse to chat in the breakroom.