SOUTHAMPTON, Bermuda — MGVK Bhanu, chairman of the India Tea Board, on Tuesday hosted a calypso evening for 150 tea executives vested in the North American market.
The three-day North American Tea Conference, jointly sponsored by the Tea Association of the USA and the Tea Association of Canada, is focused on the future of tea. As is tradition, business sessions and presentations follow festivities, but the topic spurred serious conversation from the onset.
Global demand is steady with a pronounced shift to higher-quality tea as the growing middle class in tea lands exerts its buying power. However, producers are confronting many challenges including a temporary glut of CTC grade tea.
Bhanu led a delegation of tea producers that spanned his native land. Firms include Rossell, Kanan Devan Hills, Balaji Agro and McLeod Russel India. The East Indians are upbeat as production will top 1 billion kilos with strong exports and a welcoming North American retail market.
Delegations from Africa, Japan, China and Sri Lanka welcome the upward trajectory of specialty tea but voiced concerns mainly centered on stabilizing prices for commodity tea. Sugar, cocoa, coffee and rubber have all seen very significant price increases in the past five years, typically doubling while the price of commodity tea has risen 40 percent. Growers need additional money to invest in modernization of processing equipment and automation where practical.
Watch for coverage later this week as speakers Anne-Marie Brouder of the Forum for the Future discuss sustainability and Nigel Melican addresses mechanical harvesting. Rick Winslow with Nielsen is presenting a North American Tea Review that will offer consumer insights and Robert Nelson, who presides over the National Coffee Association will describe the remarkable impact of single serve on coffee retail.
Conference attendees represent the entire length of the supply chain including transport and storage, logistics and financing, harvesting and processing machinery and trading services.
Representatives from European-based dynamos including Martin Bauer, Ahlstrom FiberComposites, Wollenhaupt and Glatfelter mingled with executives from the multinational brands including Unilever (Lipton), Tata, Finlays, Snapple Group, Ito En and Nestle.
Specialty tea blenders and importers include QTrade Tea & Herbs, Henry P. Thomson, Sandbar Trading (BW Cooper) ; Haelssen & Lyon, Van Rees (North America) and S&D Coffee.
Retailers Harney & Sons report strong sales growth and the construction of a new bottling plant adjacent to their Connecticut headquarters. The Canadian Tea Association, meeting at breakfast session on consumer enthusiasm for tea once again found that sales of specialty teas once again outpaced commodity tea in that country where 54% of the population drinks tea at least once a week. Association members can review the entire presentation during a webcast in the next few weeks, said President Louise Roberge.