Sometimes it takes a memory from childhood to spark an idea for a completely new, completely unique product. Anna Skopets did just this, going back to her Ukrainian roots to create her own brand of birch water – which she had fond memories of tapping on foraging expeditions in her past, and so TreeVitalise was born. We wanted to find out more about this unusual new addition to the refreshment market…

Tell us a bit more about TreeVitalise and the products

We are a small and very enthusiastic business called Astera Natural, which I set up at the end of last year. We created TreeVitalise, a range of certified organic, all-natural, undiluted and unsweetened birch waters, harvested sustainably in the area of natural beauty in the footsteps of the Carpathian Mountains. The area is covered in lavish mixed forests where silver birch grows in harmony with other trees like spruce, fir and beech. We have three varieties in our range:

  • Original pure birch sap – a burst of spring freshness, just as it comes out of the tree in early spring.
  • Mint infusion – soothing and pleasant, the birch sap simply infused with organic dried mint.
  • Lemon infusion – invigorating and zesty, the birch sap infused with organic lemon.
  • The range is a first in the UK, packed in elegant 250 ml bottles and fully recyclable.

And where is TreeVitalise based?

We are based in Tonbridge, a historic market town in Kent. This is where I set up the business at the end of last year. Kent is known as The Garden of England, and it truly is that. It’s a beautifully green part of country with many orchards and farm lands, yet within close proximity to the hustle and bustle of central London, which lives and breathes innovation and entrepreneurship. It’s great to have a combination of both worlds right on our doorstep.

Who would you say your target market is? 

Birch water is an extremely diverse drink, which can be enjoyed by the entire family as it’s nicely palatable even for a child’s taste. Traditionally harvested for hundreds of years in Eastern and Northern Europe it was consumed in early spring as the first nutritious food available to the local people after a long and exhausting winter.

It was believed to boost the immune system and is used to date as a traditional remedy to support kidney health, aid weight loss and for healthier skin and hair. This is due to an abundance of micronutrients the sap is enriched with when it’s filtered by the silver birch tree on its way up to the branches forming buds and leaves.

We believe it’s simply an alternative low calorie, delicious and healthy soft beverage. It also is organic and Vegetarian Society certified, vegan and ticks all ‘free-from’ boxes and is therefore suitable for consumers who are on special diets including gluten intolerance and diabetes.

What makes your product unique in comparison to your competitors?

We are the only company in the UK to offer a unique range of birch water and infusions which have the same low level of calories across the entire range. We do not mix our birch water with any other juices, so it’s the sap first and foremost with the variety created by infusing the sap in a traditional way with organic mint or lemon.  Our single serve glass bottles are also unique in the UK and ideal for the food service market. We are also the only Vegetarian Society approved brand of birch water.

And how long have you been working on this idea?

I started working on the idea and branding almost a year ago.

What makes you passionate about this business? How did the idea for it originally come about?

I grew up in the part of the world where forests are vast and abundant in wild harvests. Foraging school trips and weekends away with family and friends tapping birch trees for sap in early spring or picking up mushrooms in the autumn is something I have been missing a lot having settled in the UK many years ago. TreeVitalise was born out of a childhood memory of the silky and refreshing drink, which is called a ‘living water’ locally, and the magical experience of watching the gracious birch trees and nature itself starting to come back to life after a long and harsh winter.

Having worked extremely hard on taking the brand off the ground earlier this year we are very excited to see how well TreeVitalise is being received in the UK and to have now also reached Ireland. It’s not hard to be passionate about a product when we know what an amazing nature’s beverage birch water is.

What about your personal background? 

Having worked in international distribution for many years, initially in Ukraine and later in Russia and the UK, I have moved on to become a freelance consultant, which gave me the sense of freedom an own business can provide. Being independent has also given me an opportunity to research the market of natural beverages and to see if birch water fits in. As it’s a truly ‘living’ water and is very perishable, it has to be preserved very quickly when harvested in March. This has traditionally been done with sugar, so the challenge was to create a range of birch waters that does not only contain any added sugars, but also tastes freshly delicious and carries the silky taste of sap across all varieties in the range without any compromise on the calories. So TreeVitalise birch water and infusions were born.

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What about your childhood and family background? Were there any entrepreneurs there who influenced you on this path?

I grew up in a family of engineers. My mum is someone I have always looked up to. There has always been an enormous amount of energy in her as well as the desire to improve and make things or processes better, which professionally resulted in her being numerously awarded for innovation in engineering.

Despite being busy at work and with the chores at home, as well as having to cater for two children on her own for many years of our childhood – the difficult time of the collapse of the Soviet Union – she has always been extremely supportive and believing in my and my brother’s aspirations, she has always been there for us.

It is from my mum that I have learned that even a seemingly impossible idea or project can be turned into a ‘can-do’ as long as one puts enough effort and dedication into it. This kind of thinking has helped me a lot along the way. My husband and son are my greatest support and motivation too, without them none of my dreams and aspirations would have ever come true.

Do you have a business partner?

I set up the business on my own with a massive amount of support and encouragement from my family. I now have a co-investor in the business, who I respect greatly and to whom I am very grateful for stepping in at the time when the business needed it most.

Tell us about the most inspiring moment to date – be it in running this business or life in general

Gaining a member of team who is as enthusiastic and passionate about TreeVitalise as I am was a massive boost to confidence and an all-needed support for any start-up business. People are by far the greatest assets of any business.

And the toughest moment?

There have been many. Being a start-up business is tough. If it’s a first experience of the kind, it’s even tougher, because you are plunging into a total unknown. I was not new to logistics, purchasing and accounts and operational matters, so they were the areas of more comfort. But peculiarities of consumer product manufacturing, labelling, regulatory matters,  marketing, branding and PR were all totally new worlds where making  decisions is not easy.

You end up endlessly doubting yourself about what’s right and what’s wrong, and making decisions becomes a rather stressful process. Talking to other businesses of a similar kind but which are a little ahead in their development is something that  can certainly help. Small food and beverage producers are a very friendly bunch with lots of people willing to help or share their experiences. So do not hesitate asking for advice. Trade shows are especially great for sharing and learning.

The motto here though is to draw conclusions from any difficulty and move on, staying focused and positive.

Where would you like to see your company in the next few years?

I would certainly want TreeVitalise to grow and become well-recognised as an all-natural and organic brand in the UK and beyond.

And finally, for someone just starting their own business, what one bit of advice would you give them?

Take you time to research the market and its ins and outs well. Prepare to be very patient, try to stay positive throughout and remember that turning an idea into a sustainable business always takes a massive amount of personal effort.

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