Spotlight On Kenyan Tea Tycoon, Entrepreneur Flora Mutahi

By Keren Mikva AFKI Original Published: August 29, 2016, 9:40 am
Flora Mutahi, CEO of Melvin Marsh International.

Flora Mutahi is one of the most determined female entrepreneurs in Africa. She entered the entrepreneurial world in the mid-1990s, and hasn’t stopped improving her business strategies and inspiring others to do the same. The founder and CEO of Kenya’s first flavored tea brand, Melvin Marsh International, she’s now a recognized name in the tea business and the business world. We’re shining a spotlight on Kenyan tea tycoon, entrepreneur Flora Mutahi.


This and updated version of an AFKInsider article first published on March 24, 2015.

Mutahi’s interest in the food industry was piqued in the ’90s

Before she became an entrepreneur, Mutahi worked for an auditing firm with clients in the food processing industry, which first piqued her interest in the sector. She frequently visited manufacturing plants and became intrigued by the creation process of the food industry, before quitting her job to strike out on her own.

A fan of ginger tea, she was inspired to create flavored teas

Mutahi’s go-to after-work drink was ginger tea, but there were no ready-made options available. She had to boil the ginger herself and make the mix at home, a time-consuming process not available to everyone. She realized there was a gap in the market, and her company was born.

She introduced flavored tea to Kenya

Kenyan tea was mostly one variety until Mutahi’s Melvin Marsh International got started. She introduced teas blended with a natural mixture of spices. The company prides itself on using freshly ground spices and no additives. The first brand was Tangawizi chai, the first flavored tea brand in Kenya.

Mutahi was undaunted by competition from massive global brands

When she first began her company, Mutahi was up against giant competitors such as Unilever, which had also entered the tea market. She refused to acknowledge the difficulties, however, saying, “I was naïve. I did not think of them as competition. I have this ability to just black out everything else and go forward.”


Melvin Marsh offers a diverse array of products

At its inception, Melvin Marsh began by selling free flowing salt, but Mutahi’s connection to tea took the company in a new direction. Melvin’s now sells customized products for its consumers as well as Melvin’s Pure Kenya Tea, in both loose-leaf and teabag forms.

She never attempted to break into the plain tea market

Though Melvin’s does offer one brand of plain tea, it has carved out its own niche in flavored and herbal teas, rather than trying to compete with the bigger players in the global market. As Mutahi said, “Younger people are requesting even more flavors so it has become very competitive. This is the 21st century; people don’t want mainstream, they want variety.”

Mutahi has rebranded frequently to keep Melvin’s “refreshingly different”

Staying true to her company’s motto of being “refreshingly different,” Mutahi hasn’t shied away from rebranding from time to time, changing the face of Melvin’s products and marketing materials. She does so in an effort to maintain the company’s connection to customers, who, by all industry accounts, must always remain “king.”


Mutahi was made vice chairwoman of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers

In 2014, Mutahi was appointed vice chairwoman of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers’ Board of Directors. She was tapped for the position due to her extensive experience, both locally and internationally, in strategic leadership, business development, market penetration, and marketing.

She is involved in the community through Sister Veronica Thiga

Mutahi stays involved with her local community through an organization known as Sister Veronica Thiga. With the help of other volunteers, Mutahi helps empower rural women with income-generating projects in the Kenyan up country.

Mutahi is a board member of Seed of Hope

She is also involved as a board member for Seed of Hope, an organization that supports young girls in the Kibera slums. Seed of Hope focuses on providing girls with life skills and career development initiatives to help them prepare for their futures.

She used to intentionally bounce checks for her business

As with any new business, Melvin’s faced some financial struggles at the beginning. Mutahi admitted that she would sometimes bounce checks to keep the business going, and make good on her debts later on. “Fortunately the banks were charging just $1.60 as a penalty for bouncing checks. I remember one day I bounced five. I knew they would (find out) but I needed to pick up my product from the packaging company to then go and sell it, and they wouldn’t otherwise give it to me. It got me time to move, then I would go back later and make good.”


Kenya Association of Manufacturers CEO Phyllis Wakiaga with Melvins Tea CEO Flora Mutahi. Photo/Patrick Vidija/

Kenya Association of Manufacturers CEO Phyllis Wakiaga with Melvins Tea CEO Flora Mutahi. Photo/Patrick Vidija/

She’s blazing other trails in female empowerment

Mutahi has been named chairwoman of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers. It’s the first time a woman will head the industry lobby group in 57 years when the outgoing chairman ends his two-year tenure.

Source: The Star.

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