There is an old saying: necessity is the mother of invention. That was the case for Tracy and Rory Bell, founders of Saint John-based Millennia TEA. Three years ago, the Bells had a brain cancer scare in their family. When they learned about the benefits of antioxidants the pair began researching teas, specifically the best teas for combatting free radicals.

“Antioxidants are highest in the tea leaves right after they’re picked, and start to drop off with prolonged exposure to heat, light, and air,” says Tracy. “We went looking for fresh leaves and when we couldn’t find them we spent the better part of the next 18 months developing a way to keep leaves in their most natural and nutrient-rich form. That became our process — wash and freeze the leaves within hours of harvesting.”

The Bells now sell their innovative fresh-leaf teas online and at retailers across Atlantic Canada, as well as in Quebec, Alberta, and Ontario.

Fresh off an ONB-led New Exporter Mission to Boston in November, Millennia TEA is now focused on scale up.

We spoke to Tracy Bell to learn more.

ONB: First, tell us about your experience in Boston.

New Brunswick Millennia TEA Export DevelopmentBell: It was terrific. We were fortunate enough to be part of the first cohort of Grow Export, supported by ONB and ACOA. Through it, we came to understand the dynamics of preparing to export. I left that program with a checklist of everything we need to be export-ready. The Program culminated with an educational trade mission to Boston.

I had never met our Global Affairs Trade Commissioner or met Consul General David Alward in his new position, so to visit Boston and spend a couple days at the consulate and fully understand their roles was great.

I met with Colette Lekborg, Trade Commissioner for the Food & Beverage sector. Leaving Boston knowing she’s there to help facilitate business between us and New England was fantastic. I guess I knew that on some level already, but to meet her face-to-face and hear her say, “You want a meeting with this person? I can set that up” or “You’re interested in this market? I have relationships with those retailers and industry leads” was amazing. We don’t have to go it alone cold calling companies with no context and that’s huge. It helps us ease into the market and increases our credibility.

Can you comment on Millennia TEA’s relationship with ONB?

I had a meeting with a potential client, an award-winning health food store. {ONB’s} Irenia {Roussel} came with me. Sometimes in business, you don’t know what you don’t know. It was great to have our ONB rep in the room to ask some of the questions I may not have thought about. To have that presence there made the process more valuable and enjoyable.

The experience of ONB bringing a cohort of companies on missions like Boston is so meaningful for small businesses and early-stage ventures such as ours. To form those relationships, create those leads, and share experiences with other local companies running alongside us is all extremely valuable.

We have felt supported from day one, and ONB believed in us from our infancy. We’re excited to begin exporting outside the country and show your team that they were right about us.

What’s next?

Millennia TEA Boaz Katah KenyaWe’re in an interesting situation where the product we offer isn’t available anywhere else. If you want fresh-leaf tea we’re the only ones globally that offer it. So, we’re feeling the pressure to grow and scale up quickly.

We have a great partner in Kenya, Boaz Katah. We work closely with him and his wife Jamila. They care about enhancing that country’s reputation for producing quality specialty teas. Tea is the number one source of revenue for Kenya. Boaz loves what we’re doing because it’s a global first and a premium product that is delivering meaningful and measurable health benefits.

Now it’s about scaling up and fine-tuning that supply chain with Boaz, and having fun and doing good in the process. We feel lucky to have the opportunity to pursue this new passion.

Learn more at

Find out where the ONB team is headed next by visiting our Events page.

Written by Jason Boies

Images via Millennia TEA