When a cold winter snap hits Canada, people turn to tea to soothe their sore throats and warm their bones. And Trans-Herbe Inc. staff get super busy.
The country is in a deep chill when I reach out to Karine Pomerleau, president and general manager of Trans-Herbe, Canada’s lead importer of organic, fair-trade herbs for tea. She cancelled our interview four times before she found time to talk. “Demand for herbal tea spikes in the cold. We’ve been incredibly busy,” she says.
The company, based in the Montreal suburb of Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, scours the planet for top-quality herbs and spices in Mexico, South Africa, China, Sri Lanka, Japan, Chile and beyond. It uses them to manufacture two million bags of tea a day, all allergen- and sugar-free and made without any artificial flavour or colour additives.
Founded in 1992, Trans-Herbe was the brainchild of Pomerleau’s mother, Johanne Dion. “My mom started creating her own herbal tea mixes on our kitchen table,” says Pomerleau, adding that her mom was inspired by seeing Parisians sip cups of vervain tea in cafés in the 1990s.
“Canadians thought herbal tea was strictly therapeutic back then,” says Pomerleau, who joined the business in 1996 after working as a notary. In 2000, Trans-Herbe built an 82,000-sq.-foot transformation facility. “We’ve had steady growth around 5%.”
In the past three years, Trans-Herbe has doubled its sales teams to 10 to develop the business of making custom teas for grocery and food chains in the U.S. Those house brands now account for 65% of sales. Trans-Herbe also exports its own lines of tea to the United States, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and more and is working to expand sales in Canada.
The company’s Four O’Clock Herbalist brand has teas with laxative properties and others that soothe throats, detox or relax. A gourmet line targets discerning customers with sophisticated tastes with flavours like Chocolate Cake Black Tea and Apricot Passion Fruit Rooibos.
“We’ve gained a reputation for creating audacious aromas and for our expertise in developing and packaging herbal teas,” says Pomerleau. Trans-Herbe’s mainstream brand, La Courtisane, offers conventional flavours like Wild Blackberries and Ginger Pear at a more affordable price. The Trans-Herbe factory has closed rooms for each ingredient to avoid contamination.
“The ultimate mark of respect comes from our Japanese customers,” say Pomerleau. “We use Japanese equipment to make our tea bags. We buy ingredients in Japan. We produce the tea bags in Canada and, believe it or not, sell them back to Japanese customers.”