Launch aggressive marketing, Jairam tells tea industry

By Syed Zarir Hussain, IANS

Guwahati : India Thursday urged the beleaguered tea industry to launch an aggressive marketing campaign if it were to regain its status in the global market in the wake of stiff competition from new tea producing countries.

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“The need of the hour is a professional approach to marketing by changing the mindset of the Indian tea industry. Even our traditional tea markets like Russia and the United Kingdom, are now under threat,” India’s Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh said.

The minister was speaking at the three-day India International Tea Convention that opened in Assam’s main city of Guwahati.

“The Indian tea market has now been overtaken by countries like Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Vietnam and unless we respond proactively, we would lose both the domestic and the international markets,” Ramesh said.

More than 400 delegates, including 49 foreign representatives from 17 countries like Germany, Egypt, Iran, Britain, Pakistan, Kenya, and Sri Lanka, are participating at the convention, officially described as the “great Indian tea party”.

Government representatives of several tea-producing countries are also attending the meet.

“The idea of this convention is to showcase a wide variety of Indian teas. The presence of such a large number of delegates will help increase export volume as well as raise domestic consumption of the popular beverage,” said Basudeb Banerjee, chairman of the Tea Board of India.

The Tea Board of India, the Indian Tea Association, and the Indian Trade Promotion Organization have organized the convention.

India’s $1.5 billion tea industry was facing a crisis with prices dropping in the weekly auctions since 1998 and exports plummeting as well. The slump in prices and exports was largely attributed to cheap and inferior quality teas produced by many new tea-growing countries, thereby pushing premium quality Indian teas to facing stiffer competition in the global market.

In the late 1990s, a kilogram of good quality tea from gardens in Assam and South India fetched around Rs.95 to 100, by far the highest average price Indian tea got in the weekly auctions.

Today the average price of tea in the auctions is about Rs.72 a kg.

India’s traditional tea market in Russia and Britain has been severely hit in recent years with the both the countries lifting cheap teas from Kenya and Sri Lanka.

Pakistan, Iraq, Egypt, and Iran, are some of the new markets that are developing for India.

India is currently the world’s largest tea producer after China with a record crop of 955 million kilograms last year. India exported 200 million kilograms of tea in 2006.

“We need to increase productivity and at the same time look for new markets by providing them with the tea they want,” the minister said.

Participants would get to taste some of the premier varieties of tea at the convention Saturday, besides interacting with local planters and tea makers from the Singpho tribe in Assam who are believed to have first discovered tea bushes.

Assam produces more than half of India’s total tea production.

In the late 1830s, long before the commercial production of tea started in India, the tea plant was growing wild in the jungles of Assam.

Singpho tribes-people ate the leaves as a vegetable with garlic, besides drinking the brew after dipping the leaves in boiled water.

Assam tea is known for its strong and rich flavour, besides a deep amber colour with a malty character.