ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 9, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 15
Financial Times  

Enhancing Ceylon Tea in world markets

By Sunil Karunanayake

Sri Lanka’s tea fraternity last week celebrated 140 years of Ceylon Tea when the Colombo Tea Traders Association (CTTA) with Sri Lanka Tea Board hosted a three day International Convention “Sustanabilitea” in Colombo.

The convention was well represented by key stakeholders from leading consumers UK, USA, Canada, Japan, etc and the major producers from India and Africa giving the world’s largest exporter a major boost. Sri Lanka exports, nearly 40% in value added form ie; Tea Bags, Packets, Instant Tea and Green Tea while bulk tea exports too contribute to global blends thus maintaining Ceylon tea presence in leading brands.

A foreign guest looks at some exhibits.

The tea trade sought to share the experience of the young apparel sector that has withstood many challenges to convert mere tailors to a total solution specialist providing world class facilities and commitment to social and environmental accountability. Presenter Ravi Fernando of the MAS Group analyzing the key elements of sustainability - Economic, Environmental and Social - explained how a small team from the sector visited their key buyers in USA to establish the “Garments Without Guilt” concept to emphasize high ethical standards of the industry. He complimented Mabroc Teas for gaining recognition as ethical producers.

Unilever, owners of the prestigious Lipton & Brooke Bond Brands accounting for nearly 12% of the world Black Tea consumption were represented by David Smyth, Operations Director Global Tea Supply Unilever Supply Chain Company AG and Ian Nethercoat, Supply Chain Compliance Controller Unilever Europe. Their presentation was based as lead change agent in the industry improving the lives of up to two million people whilst reinforcing the bond between consumers and their brands. Business is dependent on society and dependent on the environment. Unilever believes that long term survival depends on sustainable business and hence sustainable agriculture is given high priority.

Leading tea broker Anil Cooke elaborated the crucial role played by the brokers in providing logistical support to maintain freshness of tea. He said that during the last decade infrastructure has been upgraded and the broking companies have invested nearly US$10 million providing modern warehousing facilities. Former chairman of the CTTA Dickey Juriansz explained the initiatives to automate the tea auction for speed and efficiency, a huge challenge given the human factor and the perceived belief of its price impact.

Dilmah’s Dilhan Fernando speaking with pride and emotion on this family owned brand was emphatic on their commitment to sustainability and elaborated the work done by the MJF charitable trust thus maintaining high ethical standards. He paid a glowing tribute to his father for his inspiring role in building an international brand.

USA tea imports have increased by 7.5% in 2006. Presenting “Developing Trends in the North American Market”, Joseph P Simrany, President of the Tea Association USA citing Sri Lanka as one of the most beautiful places on earth said that USA is learning to appreciate specialty tea and Sri Lanka needs more consumer awareness. Simrany, commenting on Sri Lanka’s tremendous tea potential and USA Tea Association’s willingness to assist, called for increased trade media coverage, to capitalize on the rich heritage and suggested to hire dedicated professionals.

Anslem Perera of “Milesna” fame presented a vivid description of the revolution of the country’s tea industry linking the old tea boutique to the modern Tea House. Milesna which has earned a niche as a “Specialty” tea now run tea houses in almost all leading cities in the world and in Sri Lanka. Different cultures consume tea in different styles where tea is drunk with milk & sugar (British), jasmine (Chinese), jam (Russians), spices (India), ginger (Sri Lanka), mint (Moroccans) and cinnamon (Mexicans). Perera made a strong but passionate plea to the government to consider using the levies made on tea for the further improvement of the industry.

The convention consensus indicated Sri Lanka should make use of the trade name “Ceylon Tea” for market expansion. Strong legislative protection prioritized the ethical aspects of tea production and the Plantation Human Development Trust, a government initiative, has done much to improve the life styles of plantation employees. Consumers globally demand ethical sourcing.

Specialization has opened niche markets. Government must plough back the producer levies to the Industry as investments for the future as tea has immense potential to become a US$1 billion industry.


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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.