Need to Know | Tea Sales Accelerate in Canada | Retailers Cope with COVID

Tea Industry News for the week of September 28, 2020

  • Tea Sales Accelerate in Canada
  • Tea Retailers Cope with COVID
  • Delivery and Takeaway Boost Market Share

Tea Sales Accelerate in Canada

Retailers of Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) are still playing catch-up after six months of record sales while foodservice operators struggle following a 27% decline in visits during the past six months. Canada’s economic recovery has begun, but it will be slow, advises Vince Sgabellone, Foodservice Industry Analyst at The NPD Group.

One of the best performers in FMCG is tea, according to Carman Allison, Vice President of Consumer Insights for Nielsen Canada. “Tea has reported an even higher bump in sales in 2020, than FMCG as a category,” he told 60 online attendees.

Year-to-date (Aug. 15) sales are up 19.6% compared to 2019, a full seven points greater than FMCG overall. Tea sales peaked earlier than total FMCG and have been consistently growing faster, he explained. This pace is an unprecedented 5.4 times greater than fiscal 2019, reaching $28.8 million. COVID contributed 80% of the year-to-date increase adding $25.5 million for an 89% increase in growth above expected, according to Allison.

Both Sgabellone and Allison shared valuable insights with tea industry leaders this week during the “The Present: Reimagined”, a two-day virtual gathering hosted by the Tea & Herbal Association of Canada (THAC).

Sgabellone observed that the Canadian restaurant industry was “growing slowly” in late 2019, with restaurant traffic up 1% for the year and restaurant dollars up 3%, citing NPD Group/CREST statistics through August. Within weeks restaurant traffic decline by 27% and revenue dropped 31%. The restaurant industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 crisis,” he said.

Coffee is flat, carbonated drinks are down as well as beverage alcohol but “hot tea is the category-leading growth on the year” with a 9% growth in spend through August compared to the previous year. Coffee and soft drinks account for a greater share of beverage servings but tea now accounts for a 7% share, according to Sgabellone.

Tea in the Time of COVID

By Jessica Natale Woollard

The Tea Hause, London Ontario, Canada
The Tea Haus, London Ontario, Canada

The reason tea sales should not decline during COVID is that tea is a food product found in virtually every Canadian home, and “food companies should be okay,” says Sameer Pruthee, CEO of wholesale distributor Tea Affair based in Alberta, Canada.

And yet, his business, which distributes around 60 metric tons of tea and blends every year to more than 600 wholesale clients in Canada, the United States, and Asia, has declined approximately 30% every month since the March shutdown. The decline, he noted, is most significant among his retail clients in Canada, where the lockdown was widespread and uniformly enforced from mid-March until the end of May.

Pruthee’s theory for why tea sales are down is that tea is not an “online thing. Tea is social,” he explains.

Customers buy tea after the experience of visiting a tea shop, talking to staff, smelling the varieties, and learning about the leaves and their origins. “If nobody can smell the tea, nobody will buy tea,” he says.

Beginning in March tea retailers supplying local restaurants and cafes watched helplessly as re-orders vanished. Local tea shops with online stores initially reported strong sales, largely to existing customers during lockdowns, but without face-to-face opportunities to introduce new teas, tea retailers must innovate to attract new customers.

DAVIDsTEA provides a vivid example. The Montreal-based firm, the largest tea retail chain in North America, was forced to restructure, closing all but 18 of its 226 stores in the US and Canada due to COVID-19. To survive, the company adopted a “digital first” strategy, investing in its online customer experience by bringing its tea guides online to provide human and personalized interaction. The company also upgraded the capabilities of DAVI, a virtual assistant that helps customers shop, discover new collections, stay in the loop with the latest tea accessories, and more.

“The simplicity and clarity of our brand is resonating online as we successfully bring our tea expertise online, by providing a clear and interactive experience for our customers to continue to explore, discover and taste teas they love,” said Sarah Segal, Chief Brand Officer at DAVIDsTEA. The physical stores that remain open are concentrated in the Ontario and Quebec markets. Following a disastrous first quarter, DAVIDsTEA reported a 190% second-quarter increase in e-commerce and wholesale sales to $23 million with a profit of $8.3 million largely due to a $24.2 million decrease in operating costs. Still, sales overall are down by 41% for the three months ending Aug. 1. Still, when compared to the previous year, profits decreased by 62% with gross profit as a percentage of sales declining to 36% from 56% in 2019. Delivery and distribution costs increased by $3 million, according to the company.

“We expect that the increased cost to deliver online purchases will be less than the selling expenses incurred in a retail environment that have been historically included as part of selling, general and administration expenses,” according to the company.

COVID has changed consumer habits, Pruthee says. COVID first cut off in-person shopping, and then transform the shopping experience due to social distancing. For the tea industry to bounce back, tea companies need to find ways to be part of new customer habits.

Below, Tea Biz looks at how three Canadian tea businesses have adjusted to the new normal of COVID-19.

Enhanced customer service

Free home delivery was Suzanne Tsai’s first response to COVID.

Co-owner of the Tea Centre in Courtenay, B.C., along with her husband, Marny, Tsai sensed at the start of the lockdown in March that it would be important to keep connected with their loyal and local customers. The shop started offering free delivery around the region, even driving to nearby towns to bring people their “creature comforts.”

Delivery was worth the investment in gas and wear and tear on their vehicle, Tsai says. “We were able to maintain our business and our customer base.”

Since March, business has been down approximately 10% to 15%, Tsai says, noting, that their expenses have also been less — the shop had to layoff staff after closing the physical store in March. Since then Tsai and her husband have been working extra hours to fill orders.

Tsai attributes the decreased sales with customers’ inability to visit the store, chat with staff, and smell the teas. “Those days are over,” she says.

The shop reopened with reduced hours on June 1, but the size of their store and social distancing requirements has meant customers can’t go inside the shop; instead, service is offered outside the front door.

People are lined up every day, Tsai says, but they can’t experience the loveliness of the shop and that affects sales, particularly of teawares. “People want to see them, touch them, hold them,” she explains. “And they don’t like the pressure of trying to buy a teapot when there is someone behind them waiting in line to pick up an order.”

But delivery orders and online sales have kept the business afloat. “We did get some new customers because many other tea stores were closed down,” she says, adding that the company nearly reached Christmas-level orders between mid- March and May, when Canada was shut down.

“For a small tea business, we feel like we’ve really held our own.”

Tea Centre retail shop in Courtenay, B.C., Canada

Wellness tea promotions

The tourist town of Banff, Alberta, in the Canadian Rocky Mountains faced 85% unemployment during the lockdown. Banff National Park, Canada’s oldest national park, attracted 4 million visitors last year and has received more than three million visitors annually since 2010/11. The Banff Tea Company, typically attracts tens of thousands of visitors from around the world, shop owner Siona Gatshore says, and those visitors frequently turn into online customers.

When the shop shut its doors in March, Gartshore laid off staff and moved the business fully online. But, online sales soared, so she rehired two employees within a few days. Though the Banff Tea Company doesn’t ship many tea wares — shipping costs are prohibitive when mailing breakables, Gartshore explains — tea sales, like at the Tea Centre in Courtenay, reached Christmas levels.

“It didn’t make up for not having the store open, but it was enough to pull us through and pay the bills and keep us moving,” Gartshore says.

Banff Tea Company also increased its customer engagement activity on social media, posting more regularly, sharing information, and doing prize draws for products, something Gartshore had not done before.

She invited people to vote to name a new tea blend, choosing between Uncertain Tea and San-i-tea, a new herbal wellness tea with anti-viral and immune boosting ingredients.

“We highlighted our wellness teas (in our online marketing) straight off the bat,” Gartshore explains, noting sales of wellness teas increased when COVID hit. For the first time, Banff Tea Company also sold dried elderberries, a natural antiviral, which sold well.

“Everyone’s feeling uncertain and stressed. Our Knock Yourself Out! sleepy tea has been our best-selling tea for nine years, and our second is Anx-i-e-Tea. People were buying them to comfort them through lockdown,” she explains.

Ironically, the vote between Uncertain Tea and San-i-tea came out even. “We ended up going with Uncertain Tea since no one could decide,” Gartshore laughs.

With fall concerts, festivals, events and conferences cancelled, Banff Tea Company is anticipating a quiet fall. Gartshore will be focused on planning holiday promotions to boost online sales.

“Our customers will get us through,” she says. “I’m so grateful for our customers. We wouldn’t be here without people thinking, buy local.”

Banff Tea Company, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Opportunity for innovation

COVID provided the right timing for Tea Haus owners Stefanie Stolzel and her husband to implement new business development strategies.

The London, Ontario, tea shop, has been located in the downtown Covent Garden Market since 2000. Normally the market is busy with office workers, tourists and shoppers, and Stolzel has an established online shop that has been operating since 2003.

Like the Banff Tea Company, Stolzel laid off staff at the start of the lockdown, only to call them back two days later to help with a surge in online sales.

“Without any additional advertising, our customers seemed to go online and order,” says Stolzel, noting that staff include a handwritten thank you note with each order.

In early 2020, Tea Haus won a $2,500 grant from Digital Main Street, a program of the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada that helps small businesses boost their digital presence.

“The timing was perfect,” Stolzel says. “The funding had to be spent by May 31, so we invested that funding and our own capital (during COVID) to expand our (digital marketing) efforts.”

Primarily, Tea Haus invested funds into social media ads.

In addition, Stolzel participated in a program in early 2020 through Riipen, a company that matches post-secondary students with companies to help them solve problems. Three marketing classes tackled business challenges for Tea Haus, offering solutions and providing ideas to implement, for example, a social media strategy.

“COVID allowed me to focus on these ideas and read them properly,” Stolzel explains, adding she hopes to implement more of the students’ recommendations this fall.

Like Tea Centre in Courtenay, Tea Centre is operating a booth in front of their store, setting up displays so people can see products up close rather than just online.

Says Stolzel, “People still have money to spend, and they want something nice to treat themselves.”

A time to learn

Despite differences in approaches to selling tea during COVID, the company owners interviewed agree that the COVID experience is a time of learning and trying new things.

“There’s no clear direction right now,” Tea Affair’s Sameer Pruthee says. “We try to see what’s happening and what direction we have to take our companies in. Nobody has an answer right now.”

As Canada adjusts to the new normal, now is a good time to sit back, relax, and have a cuppa. Perhaps the answer will be revealed in the tea leaves.

Tea in Foodservice

Research and Markets projects a 4% increase in tea sales in foodservice during the next four years, a revision accounting for the impact of COVID-19 on sales.

“The growth of food delivery and the takeaway market is one of the prime reasons driving the foodservice tea market in US growth during the next few years,” according to the report Foodservice Tea Market in the US 2020-24. “The market is driven by rising demand for mobile foodservice and the functional benefits of tea as well,” according to the newly released report.

Research and Markets estimates the market will increase by $2.66 billion during the forecast period.

Favorite US Drinks

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Need to Know | CDC: Restaurant Risk | Retail Stirrings

Need to Know | CDC: Restaurant Risk | Retail Stirrings

Tea Industry News for the week of September 9, 2020

  • COVID Study Implicates Restaurants
  • Retail Stirrings Billy Corgan Resurrects Madame ZuZu’s Tea Emporium
  • Unilever Divestiture Worries Plantation Workers
Patients with COVID-19 symptoms in 10 states were twice as likely to have visited restaurants during the 14 days prior to testing positive, according to a new CDC study.

COVID Study Implicates Restaurants

CDC: Dining-in Poses Risk

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that adults with COVID-19 are about “twice as likely” to say they have dined at a restaurant during the 14 days before testing positive for the disease.

The study, which was limited to those experiencing symptoms, examined 314 adults at 11 different health care facilities in 10 states. Half (154) tested positive, and 160 tested negative for COVID-19.

Those who tested positive “were approximately twice as likely to have reported dining at a restaurant than were those with negative SARS-CoV-2 test results,” according to the study. As a result, researchers recommend that “efforts to reduce possible exposures where mask use and social distancing are difficult to maintain, such as when eating and drinking, should be considered to protect customers, employees, and communities.”

“Adults with confirmed COVID-19 (case-patients) were approximately twice as likely as were control-participants to have reported dining at a restaurant in the 14 days before becoming ill,” according to the CDC. “In addition to dining at a restaurant, case-patients were more likely to report going to a bar/coffee shop,” according to the report released Sept. 11.

“Reports of exposures in restaurants have been linked to air circulation. Direction, ventilation, and intensity of airflow might affect virus transmission, even if social distancing measures and mask use are implemented according to current guidance. Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use,” according to the study.

Researchers report that 71% of the COVID-19 positive patients said they work masks in public; 74% of those who tested negative said they always wore face coverings in public.

“In this investigation, participants with and without COVID-19 reported generally similar community exposures, with the exception of going to locations with on-site eating and drinking options,” writes CDC.

Forty-two percent of those who tested positive reported having close contact with at least one person known to have COVID-19, most often family members.

The study mentions five limitations, including small sample size and the fact that participants were aware of their test results. “Of note, the question assessing dining at a restaurant did not distinguish between indoor and outdoor options,” according to researchers, who say additional research is warranted but caution that “eating and drinking on-site at locations might be important risk factors associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

CDC: Community and Close Contact Exposures Associated with COVID-19 Among Symptomatic Adults ≥18 Years in 11 Outpatient Health Care Facilities — United States, July 2020

Billy Corgan Resurrects Madame ZuZu’s Tea Emporium

Madame ZuZu's Tea Emporium
Madame ZuZu’s Tea Emporium

Two years after closing, and in the middle of serious viral spread in Chicago, Billy Corgan is bringing back Madame ZuZu’s Tea Emporium on First Street in Highland Park.

Singer and song writer Corgan, who founded the Grammy-Award winning Smashing Pumpkins, promises “to carry on ZuZu’s tradition of a whimsical atmosphere but in a larger, Art Deco space reminiscent of a 1930’s tea salon.”

Partner Chloe Mendel told Eater Chicago that she and Corgan are sourcing from the Rare Tea Cellar, a local gourmet tea supplier with a global reputation. In addition to superior teas, the cellar offers $195 olive oil and bottled mixes like Umami Shrubbery and Forbidden Forest Lapsang Souchong Syrup.

The avante-garde vegan menu expands on the original, featuring $10.25 salads such as kale power salad, Chinoise crunch and Salad Niçoise. Chloe’s tomato soup is $4.95 a cup and sandwiches sell for $8 to $12. Specialties include grilled vegan cheese and vegan Gado Gado tofu bowl and a miso bowl with pickled veggies and coconut rice.

Madame ZuZu's Grilled Cheese

“I quickly learned that the delicious world of plants is so overlooked,”says Mendel, who crafted several plant-based dishes.s here

Iced tea sells for $3 a glass and a Korean Blue Elektra Matcha is priced at $4.50. There is a Reishi cappuccino and a Lionsmane Mushroom Coffee ($5) on the drink menu. The rare teas are about double these prices.

“Our business model is simple: healthy living combined with an open source venue for the arts, where everyone in our community can gather and share,” writes Corgan, who opened the first location in 2012.

At the time he told Crave Magazine, “I’m a tea guy and living in Highland Park since 2003. I’ve always wanted to open a salon like this for everyone to enjoy,” Corgan told Crave Online. “This is a place with no age boundaries. We hope to attract everyone from young students to seniors. With a blend of music, photo galleries, art displays and speakers, I think Madame ZuZu’s offers something for everyone.”

There will be no impromptu concerts for now. The shop operates under COVID-19 restraints limiting dining-in, so take-out is a good option. Staff are tested for COVID-19 daily, writes Corgan.

Amid hundreds of store closings, a steady trickle of new tea shops and cafes are re-opening. Eater Chicago lists Sawada Coffee, the Living Water Tea House and El (evated) Ideas, a Michelin-starred restaurant. Keep in mind that while tea shops sell a tiny fraction of the total volume on offer, places like Madame ZuZus influence conventional tea drinkers to give specialty teas a try.

Kenyan tea workers concerned about Unilever’s decision to divest its African holdings.

Unilever Divestiture Worries Plantation Workers

The announced divestiture of tea holdings by the world’s largest tea supplier makes uncertain the fate of the company’s wholly owned tea gardens and hundreds of smaller gardens under contract.

In July, following a strategic review begun in January, London-based Unilever said it will break up its tea business, retaining only bottling partnerships while continuing operations in India and Indonesia. The rest of the company’s tea assets, including several tea estates, will be sold at auction.

Click to see and interactive map of Unilever’s suppliers. Download link to suppliers.

Unilever purchases 10% of the world’s tea, employing more than one million workers in 21 countries. Brands currently marketed by the company include Lipton, PG Tips, Brooke Bond, Pure Leaf, TAZO, Bushells, T2 (retail shops), and 21 smaller brands sold in more than 150 countries. Lipton Yellow Label, the world’s best-selling tea brand, accounts for 7% of black tea sales globally. Sales of green tea are insignificant when compared to Asia brands. The tea division is valued at $4-$5 billion, according to financial analysts at Barclays.

Unilever will retain the core brand in high-growth markets and divest in slow-growth regions such as Australia and Europe where the popularity of black tea is in decline, according to Allied Market Research.

In Kenya, 60,000 workers employed by Unilever Tea Kenya Ltd. anticipate a gradual scaling back of operations at the 8,700-hectare Kericho Tea Estate. Staff are uneasy, according to The Nation which reports Unilever “has not yet revealed its plans with its Kenya operations to shareholders, who have endured five years without receiving dividends owing to losses.”

In August Sylvia-ten Den, managing director at Unilever Kenya Tea Ltd. advised the Kenya Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union (KPAWU) “that the company is changing its operation model.”

“She writes that Unilever will form a new company to manage its global tea business, and that the form and shape of the new entity will be decided at the end of next year. She assures that until then operations will proceed as normal,” according to The Nation.

Unilever contracts with 30 Kenya tea estates and the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) which represents another 69 estates producing black and green tea.

In addition to Kenya, Unilever contracts with tea gardens in Malawi (21), Uganda (13), Tanzania (12), and Zimbabwe (6). It is likely that Unilever will continue to purchase tea grown in Africa but marketed under its India brands. Brooke Bond, which was acquired by Unilever, has a century-old tradition of growing tea in Africa.

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing companies to reassess their core divisions and shift focus to higher-growth areas, say bankers and mergers and acquisitions lawyers, according to MarketWatch.

“So far this year, companies globally have sold 8,895 non-core assets worth a total of $391 billion, according to financial data provider Refinitiv. That compares to 11,294 asset sales worth almost $415 billion for the same period in 2019,” writes MarketWatch.


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Need to Know | Rising Prices | Drenched

Need to Know | Rising Prices | Drenched

Tea Industry News for the week of August 17

  • Rising Prices
  • Heavy Rainfall Wreaks Havoc
  • AVPA Entry Deadline Nears
Tea prices on the rise due to domestic demand and pandemic-related shortfalls. In India the combination is impacting the availability of tea for export.

A shortfall in domestic production amid rising demand is boosting tea prices to record highs in India.

The Tea Board of India is reporting record prices at tea auctions. In Kolkata and Guwahati (Assam) prices are up INRs100 ($1.33/kg compared to last year. The price for CTC (crush, tear, curl), which is mainly used in making tea bags, recently averaged INRs 313.58 ($4.19/kg), up INRs129.99 per kilo.

Prabhat Bezboruah, the chairman of India’s Tea Board, said that a 12% price increase might compensate for the 10% crop loss. Green leaf prices in Tamil Nadu also rose from INRs14-17 to INRs22 ($0.29) in August.

Last week marked the fourth week of price gains in Mombasa, Kenya where the East African Tea Traders Association (EATTA) reports an average Ksh208 ($1.93) compared to Ksh194 ($1.80/kg) the previous week. Unlike India, where production has declined significantly, tea production is up 41% in Kenya due to good weather but is likely to plateau for the remainder of the year. Exports to primary trading partner Pakistan are up 14% and the UK purchased 66% more Kenyan tea than usual as a result of shortages elsewhere.

In Japan, the newspaper Chunichi Shimbun reported record low prices for Kagoshima Nibancha. Sales by global tea firm Ito En, the largest tea company in Japan, decreased by 8.5% from February through April due to the coronavirus.

“Tea auctions both in Shizuoka and Kagoshima declared that the price for second harvest tea was lower compared to last year. In Shizuoka, it is estimated that the price per kilogram for summer tea went down by 10-15% from JPY609/kg in 2019. In Kagoshima, the decrease is even steeper by 26% to JPY452/kg this year,” according to the Global Japanese Tea Association.

Over the past decade, tea prices have ranged from a low of $2.19/kg in January 2009 to a high of $3.29/kg in September 2017, but the long-run average price has stood at $2.85/kg, according to the Economist Economic Unit (EIU).

“Last year tea prices fell to $2.57/kg globally, due to ample supply, marking the weakest result since 2008. Although production prospects in most major tea producers are disappointing in 2020, weaker demand growth is likely to depress prices further,” according to EIU. Prices fell to $2.33/kg in the first quarter of 2020, which marked the weakest quarterly result in 11 years. “Although they rebounded to $2.57/kg in the second quarter, they remain 3% below year-earlier levels. We expect tea prices to average $2.50/kg in 2020. Even assuming that underlying conditions improve in 2021, we expect only a moderate rise in average prices, to $2.81/kg,” writes EIU.

Sri Lanka also reports increased prices at auction with some record-setting buys, defying on first appearance the rules of supply and demand.

Controversial Import Proposal

As domestic prices surge, India is weighing the possibility of importing tea from Kenya and Vietnam. The government currently imposes a 100% tariff on tea imports which discourages imports.

If the initiative advances, The Federation of All India Tea Traders Association (FAITTA) said that importing teas will be a one-time affair and that it will not push for imports in the coming years, according to a report in the Economic Times. FAITTA wants a one-year relaxation of tea tariffs.

FAITTA chairman Viren Shah said, “Prices have gone up significantly this year due to a shortage of supply. But we are not being able to pass on the price to our customers because the economic situation in the country is not conducive to increasing prices. The pandemic has created economic uncertainty everywhere.” 

The debate is heated. Tea landed in India to this point is for re-export, which is not available in domestic markets where it competes with locally grown tea. Re-exports total only 9-10 million kilos annually. Planters, represented by the India Tea Association (ITA), strongly oppose lowering tariffs even for a limited time.

“We will move the commerce ministry with a request to stop the import of cheap teas if the traders try to do so,” said Vivek Goenka, chairman, ITA.

The price of CTC tea has increased by 48% year-on-year making imports less expensive than domestic teas. Even with a 100% duty, imported Kenyan tea at $1.84 per kilo or Vietnamese tea at $1.50 per kilo would be less expensive than the average INRs305 ($4.07) per kilo paid for CTC at the Kolkata Tea Auction.

India consumers purchase 1,100 million kilos annually. Much of this tea is from Assam and West Bengal where production is down 30% during the period January-July. Ultimately imports may be unavoidable as teas from overseas would stabilize domestic prices.

Drenched

Annual mean anomaly predictions for 2020 relative to 1981-2010. Ensemble mean (left column) and the probability of above-average (right column). As this is a two-category forecast, the probability for below-average is one minus the probability shown in the right column. Grpahics: World Meteorological Organization.

Monsoons annually claim the lives of many tea workers and cause hundreds of millions in property damage. Ten days ago, 43 died in a mudslide that swept tea workers away in their sleep at the Kannan Devan Hills Plantations (KDHP) in Munnar, South India. Rescuers dug for two days but found no additional survivors amid the 20 homes that were lost. The garden employs 12,500 workers.

In Kerala, lowland floods claimed additional lives. This spring India’s tea production fell 26.4% compared to last year due to a combination of flooding and coronavirus lockdowns. Assam gardens reported serious flooding in May, June, and July which is the top tea producing month.

Indian Tea Association Secretary Sujit Patra, told Reuters that a recovery in crop totals was unlikely in the second half of the year. The shortfall has caused auction prices to rise up to a record average of IRNs232.60 ($3.12) per kilo last week, up 57% compared to the same period in 2019.

This week in Yunnan China, 14 died and 20 are still missing following flash floods caused by Typhoon Higos. Landslides killed five. The storm forced the relocation of 34,900 residents and affected 1.1 million people, causing at least $450 million in damage, according to China.Org. After an extended drought, rainfall averages are up 12.5% year-on-year. Across China 200 have died in weather-related incidents this year which have caused $25 billion in losses.

In July the Japanese island of Kyushu suffered severe flooding that damaged several tea farms. Production is down overall, in Shizuoka the normal harvest decreased by 20-30% from 7,616 metric tons in 2019, and likely will be the lowest since 1953, when the first of such data became available.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) predicts “high latitude regions and the Sahel* are likely to be wetter than the recent past whereas northern and eastern parts of South America are likely to be dryer” during the period 2020-2024.

“Most of Eurasia, eastern USA and central Africa have been wetter than average, with southern Africa, eastern Australia, Indonesia, north-east Brazil, and western Europe drier than average,” according to WMO’s five-year forecast.

“The annual global temperature is likely to be at least 1°C warmer than pre-industrial levels (defined as the 1850-1900 average) in each of the coming 5 years and is very likely to be within the range 0.91 – 1.59°C,” according to WMO.

“The smallest temperature change is expected in the tropics and in the mid-latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere,” according to WMO, but “it is likely (~70% chance) that one or more months during the next 5 years will be at least 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial levels.

Click here to download WMO’s 16-page global weather update.

*The Sahel is the 1000-mile wide ecoclimatic and biogeographic zone of transition in Africa between the Sahara to the north and the Sudanian savanna to the south. Having a semi-arid climate, it stretches across the south-central latitudes of Northern Africa between the Atlantic Ocean and the Red Sea.

AVPA Teas of the World Competition

The deadline to enter the third annual Teas of the World competition, conducted by the Agency for the Valuation of Agricultural Products (AVPA) is Sept. 15, 2020. Prizes will be awarded Nov. 16 in Paris, France

The competition is open to producers who benefit from recognition of their exceptional quality, helps producers stand out from others growing and processing tea, and encourages producers to explore new tea markets.

The competition consists of “Monovarietal teas.” a category limited to Camellia Sinensis and “Infusions” which include beverages made with plants other than Camellia Sinensis including blends and favored teas.

Download the AVPA Monovarietal registration form.

Download the AVPA Infusions registration form.

Judges evaluate gastronomic rather than standardized refereeing, seeking a striking rather than consensual sensory profile. “This is the first time that an independent body in a consumer country promotes the good practices of production and trade actors,” writes AVPA.

Fees are €110 for individual producers, €550 for other tea professionals and €1,500 for collective organizations.

Click here to review contest rules.
Click here to see who won the 2019 competition.

AVPA is a non-governmental, non-profit organization of producers and enthusiasts. The organization annually conducts four international contests in addition to evaluating tea. These include “Coffees roasted at Origin”, “Chocolates pressed at Origin” and “World Edible Oils.”


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Need to Know | Over the Cliff | Elemental Exam

Need to Know | Over the Cliff | Elemental Exam

Tea Industry News for the week of July 27

  • Over the Cliff
  • World Tea Expo Goes Virtual
  • Made in America
  • DMCC Expansion Plans
  • Measuring Elements in Tea
Historic contraction follows 23 quarters of economic growth as high unemployment and rising infections make a long recovery likely.

Over the Cliff

Few tea ventures deployed parachutes capable of breaking the fall as the world’s economies catapulted over the second quarter cliff.

The result is the permanent closure of hundreds of high-profile tea locations in malls and tourist destinations as well as beloved Mainstreet independents like the 10-year-old Wenham Tea House in Massachusetts and 27-year-old Lucy’s Coffee & Tea in Birmingham, Ala.

The Samovar Tea Lounge’s three San Francisco locations are “hibernating” for an unspecified time and the Floating Mountain Tea House will relocate from New York’s upper west side to Croton-on-Hudson upstate. Restaurants that featured fine tea, including Augustine in New York’s Beekman hotel, Vaucluse on Park Avenue and “even the glitzy McDonald’s flagship store off Times Square closed,” according to a list maintained by Eater New York. In July DAVIDsTEA permanently shuttered 213 locations including 42 in the U.S. leaving only 18 in Canada.

The U.S. experienced a record 9.5% drop in economic output, that if left unchecked before the year ends could lead to an unprecedented 32.9% annualized decline in GDP. Europe experienced a 12.1% decline, its worst contraction on record. Canada, which has suffered many fewer infections and COVID-19 deaths than the EU and US, estimates its economic activity will decline 12%, according to Statistics Canada. Retail sales in all the Western countries signal a deep recession with several segments, including food service, plummeting from the end of March and continuing their decline through April. Retail rallies began in May except in the U.S. where a new surge of infections led to a loss of steam by July.

The descent was especially rapid and painful in the U.S. It is difficult to get precise numbers on sales of tea in retail channels. Grocery sales figures are generally good as millions of customers that purchased tea at restaurants and cafes now brew at home. Online sales spiked last spring but are flattening. The tea shop category mirrors the fate that has befallen small independently owned cafes and bars with some segments such as Sunday afternoon tea in tony hotels and at cozy Victorian tearooms located in southern tourist towns virtually annihilated.

“Afternoon tea was devastated in the U.S. in particular—most of those businesses didn’t have a way to pivot online or offer tea-to-go,” writes Abraham Rowe, founder of Sinensis Research in Washington, D.C. Rowe observes that online sales proved to be a lifesaver, “people were loyal to some local shops, and are now shopping online from them.”

“Store closures are down a bit—I don’t have final figures, but hope to run another survey sometime to finalize it,” said Rowe.

As brick and mortar sales at tea merchants slipped over the precipice, online sales increased but not uniformly. An updraft enabled Amazon to glide to the bottom with a year-over-year increase of 34% in tea sales, totaling $29 million for the 52 weeks ending in May, according to Hinge Global. Walmart generated an unexpected $4 billion during the first quarter, up 4% over the same period compared to the previous year. The company announced it intends to become a “omnichannel” business. During the past year Walmart consolidated its online and physical store operations and is focused on expanding e-commerce rather than building new stores.

Amazon and Walmart are the exceptions amid a pandemic that devastated the retail sector. While customers ordered groceries online and had food delivered, very few tea ventures had time to deploy a Plan B. DAVIDsTEA, headquartered in Montreal, Canada, in March closed 231 locations eliminating $12.1 million in second quarter sales. Sales for the three months ended May 2 declined 27.3% to $32.2 million. Wholesale and online revenue climbed $9.3 million to $17.0 million. Online sales reflect the trend identified by Rowe at Sinensis Research: specialty tea buyers online remain loyal to their local tea shop whether in a mall or downtown.

“Sales in grocery stores and pharmacies across Canada continues solid growth,” according to Frank Zitella, who is both CFO and COO at DAVIDsTEA. He wrote in a July 31 earnings report that “with first quarter sales growth of over 120% year-over-year, we are extremely pleased that our loyal tea-loving customers have shifted to buying our teas online, and in supermarkets and drugstores. The strong performance of these sales channels provided us with the confidence that we are on the right path for the future.”

See: DAVIDsTEA Reorganizes for additional detail.

Calls to wholesalers confirm that while online sales have eased the painful loss of tea house closures, declining monthly orders from restaurants and hotels resulted in orders that are no where near pre-pandemic norms. The collapse of restaurant dining, which accounts for 20% of tea sales globally, is the biggest cause. Some 2.2 million restaurants worldwide are not expected to survive through 2020. Closings have a greater impact on coffee sales in the U.S. but in tea drinking nations like the UK and Russia the shift from away-from-home to at-home preparation has been significant.

McKinsey Small Business Forecast

“In a muted recovery, it could take more than five years for the most affected sectors to get back to 2019-level contributions to GDP,” according to McKinsey & Company. Small businesses, which are hard hit due to lower margins and limited reserves, constitute 68% of the food services and accommodations sector and are not expected to recover before the first quarter 2024 stretching into 2025. Arts, entertainment and recreation sectors will take even longer, according to U.S. Small Business Recovery After the COVID-19 Crisis.

“After the 2008 recession, larger companies recovered to their pre-crisis contribution to GDP in an average of four years, while smaller ones took an average of six,” writes McKinsey Global Institute.

“Improving operations and adapting business models can help small businesses in many industries recover,” observes McKinsey, but muted demand, operational challenges due to health and safety restrictions and new customer expectations all take time: “Finding the cash to do so may be a stretch.”

Working capital is often tied up in inventory and small businesses have added cost servicing their debt. A McKinsey survey of 1000 small firms finds the cost of servicing debt averages 30% of revenue. The shift to off-premise delivery and carryout “is likely to erode profitability and increase packaging costs and hinder their ability to sell high-margin items.” McKinsey found that nearly 40% of small businesses in the restaurant sector operate at a loss or break-even.

Solutions suggested in the report involve technology and marketing.

“Independent restaurants might digitize their businesses by using aggregators to increase their visibility, reach potential diners, and outsource their delivery,” write McKinsey authors Andre Dua, Deepa Mahajan, Lucienne Oyer and Sree Ramaswamy.

“Aggregators might help by offering additional on-boarding support or spotlighting small, independent restaurants on their platforms. Some combination of public and private aid may also be necessary for small restaurants, especially offering technical and financial support they’ll need to compete with larger ones that can build contact-less solutions at scale,” according to the report.

“The crisis has exposed financial frailties that have built over time, and the next normal could impose additional burdens,” according to the authors, who add, “The survival of US small businesses across the economy will require new business models and technology solutions that few have the resources to finance.”

World Tea Hosts Virtual Summit

Organizers of the World Tea Expo this week announced a virtual summit scheduled for the second week of October.

The World Tea Conference + Expo was postponed from June 14-16 to October. It was later canceled due to restrictions on events drawing large crowds to the Colorado Convention Center, in Denver Colo.

The World Tea Virtual Summit + Resources is scheduled for October 12-14.

“The virtual summit will introduce online networking and lead generation,” according to Questex, organizers of the event. Guests include Sebastian Michaelis, head of tea at Tata Global Beverages; Peter Goggi, president of the Tea Association of the USA, and Tony Tellin, co-founder of A. Tellin Co.

The agenda of three half days offers an opportunity to “learn from peers, share ideas, network virtually and safely, and support one another as we continue the shared journey through COVID.”

The next live, in-person event is scheduled for July 14-16, 2021.

Learn more: World Tea Conference + Expo

Made in America

Great quantities of tea are blended in America but according to the Made in America Act, a product manufactured in the US that claims to be American made, must contain at least 50% US ingredients.

A Lexology post this week discusses a class action suit “that calls out Bigelow Tea for pushing unpatriotic tea.”

The post summarizes a report by Linda Goldstein and Amy Ralph Mudge with the Washington D.C. based law firm Baker & Hostetler.

The complaint, filed in California’s Central District Court, by Kimberly Banks and Carol Cantwell, alleges that by promoting their tea as “Manufactured in the USA 100% American family owned” and “America’s classic” Bigelow violates provisions of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, False Advertising Law, Unfair Competition Law, and Breach of Express and Implied Warranty.

Plaintiffs allege themselves and other consumers, “purchased the Bigelow Tea products because they reasonably believed, based on the packaging and advertising, that these products are American-made. However, the products are comprised solely of foreign-sourced and processed tea.”

Had plaintiffs known the truth “they would have paid less for them or they would not have purchased them at all,” reads the complaint.

Bigelow Tea responded Friday with the following statement: “Bigelow unequivocally disputes the allegations in this California based lawsuit.”

“Every box with our statement of being “Manufactured in the USA” refers to the fact these teas are produced and distributed by one of our three Bigelow owned and operated manufacturing facilities, located in Connecticut, Kentucky, and Idaho.  In addition, our packaging clearly states that our teas are “Blended and Packaged in the USA”.  Bigelow continues to be open and transparent about our global sourcing of ingredients (many of which come from the United States) on both our website and the packaging of select varieties of our teas.”

“Frivolous lawsuits such as these are designed to purposefully damage the reputation and finances of the companies they target. Bigelow Tea is proud to be a 100% American family owned and operated manufacturing company and we are prepared to vigorously defend ourselves against this meritless lawsuit,” writes Bigelow.

While Bigelow owns the largest US tea farm, The Charleston Tea Garden, located in Charleston, South Carolina, the tea garden markets its tea under its own brand. The plantation website makes it clear that “Bigelow Teas are not made from any of the tea leaves grown or harvested here at the Charleston Tea Garden. Charleston Tea Garden teas are the only teas made from the tea leaves produced by the Camellia Sinensis plants grown in the fields of the Charleston Tea Garden.”

DMCC Expansion Plans

UAE Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed tours DMCC’s tea and coffee centers. Photo courtesy DMCC.

Fifteen years ago, Ahmed Bin Sulayem, executive chairman and chief executive officer of Dubai’s Multi Commodity Centre (DMCC) envisioned a tea trading hub that would service the world’s largest growing regions.

Today DMCC processes 48,000 metric tons of tea annually, accounting for 60% of global re-exports. The facility has processed 320 million kilos since its inception. The modern port facilities and airfreight capability attracted 800 new companies during the first half of 2020, said Bin Sulayem, adding that the months of May and June saw a “noticeable uptick despite an overall softer business climate.”

The tea center and atmospheric-controlled warehouse, which stores 5,000 metric tons, has a turnover of $184 million annually.

Commodity teas from 13 origins are blended for consistency and these blends, are often mixed to make herbal, floral inclusions sold as some of the world’s most popular teas. Examples include Earl Grey and the many breakfast blends distinct to markets in Ireland, Scotland, and England. Classic brands processed include Lipton and Red Rose as well as local blenders such as Tea Trading International DMCC, a Dubai-based British SME that markets brands Vertea and The Leaf to food-service catering, hotel, and resort customers.

DMCC’s tea and its new coffee center drew the attention recently of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, during a visit reported by Gulf Today.

“Under the guidance of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, DMCC is fast becoming the global hub for the tea and coffee industry. Our ambitious plans to triple our capacity in the near future are strategically anchored in Dubai’s drive and ability to facilitate world trade,” said Bin Sulayem.

In a release by Arjun Katyal, of McLeod Russel Middle East DMCC, said, “The DMCC’s expansion plans are incredibly exciting, and represent a huge boost to Dubai’s status as a leading global trade hub. We have been a DMCC Tea Centre member since 2011, and have seen, first-hand, the expertise, experience and vision that has shaped the success of this facility. McLeod Russel Middle East DMCC has its sights set on continued growth, and we will continue to engage new markets and reach a wider customer base than ever before. The DMCC Tea Centre has an important role to play in our success story, and we congratulate them on their latest announcement.”

Since 2005 DMCC has become one of the fastest growing free zones in the world with more than 17,000 companies conducting business in a number of sectors including precious metals, tea and coffee, and food commodities. Establishments and individuals operating in DMCC are exempt from all taxes including income tax, for a period of 50 years.

Testing tea for trace elements

Measuring Elements in Tea

Minerals are essential to the heath of tea plants and for tea drinkers to experience the full range of tea flavor, but too much of even the best of things in life can create problems.

Researchers Dr. Ying Guo, Dr. Seungjin Lee, and Dr. Tae Lee at Georgia Gwinnett College are currently engaged in testing five commonly available tea brands using a handheld Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) unit manufactured by SciAps. The Z-300 analyzer detects very low concentrations of mineral and potentially harmful heavy elements.

The team, whose lab work is temporarily suspended during the pandemic, detected all of the following minerals and alkali metals (Cs, K, Li, Na) in five popular tea brands. The three most common minerals were carbon, calcium, and magnesium in all five samples. Several heavy metals were also present in all five samples including Cd and Cr which are toxic in very low concentrations.

“(Before the shutdown), we obtained the spectra of tea samples and were able to qualitatively determine the elements present,” Guo says. The next step will be to calibrate and complete the quantitative analysis, she says.

ElementDaily Intake Thresholds
Al (Aluminum)0.10–0.12 mg Al/kg/day for adult
C (Carbon)None
Ca (Calcium)1300 mg/day [harmful > 1500 mg/day]
Cd (Cadmium)FAO/WHO rules limit Cd to 0.2 mg/kg
Cr (Chromium)120 µg/day [harmful > 200 µg/dan
K (Potassium)4700 mg/day [harm depends on weight]*
Li (Lithium)Lithium toxicity level is 1.5 mEq/L
Mg (Magnesium)320-420 mg/day (varies with age)
Na (Sodium)Less than 2300 mg/day
P (Phosphorus)1000 mg/day [harmful > 250 mg]
Si (Silicon)Elemental silicon is an inert material
Source: US FDA and National Institute of Health

Researchers pelletized tea grains from each brand and measured the intensities of emission spectra at different wavelengths to determine the presence of elements of interest in the samples. Results were validated by inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy.

Analyzer manufacturer SciAps notes that “minerals play an important role in maintaining the human body. For example, Ca helps with the functions of muscle contraction, enzyme activity, healthy bones and teeth, blood clotting, transmission of nerve impulses, and regulating heartbeat. K can help reduce risks for certain diseases such as stroke, kidney stones, and hypertension. Even though those are beneficial elements to the human body, there is still a suggested daily intake limit.”

Dr. Ying Guo

The article states that “additionally, tea may be contaminated by heavy metals, “either as a result of uptake from soil or from atmospheric dispersion due to vehicular or human activities,” according to Guo. This is what led them to investigate the levels of both the beneficial minerals

(e.g., potassium and calcium) and unwanted contaminant elements (e.g., cadmium and chromium) present in different tea brands. Heavy metals can be highly toxic even at a very low concentration. LIBS was able to detect the presence of these metals in all five samples.

The following table lists the quantities of each element by relative abundance for each tea brand.

Table courtesy Dr. Ying Guo, Georgia Gwinnett College

The research has not been published, but once reviewed, “By comparing with recommended daily intake limits and reference dose, we’ll be able to provide insights on daily consumption limits of tea in order to avoid too much intake of toxic elements,” says Guo.

[Editor’s Note: Tea Biz will follow up once the research is published]

Reversal Forces New Lockdowns

After flattening the COVID curve in April and May it began sloping upward in June in the U.S. while Europe continued to suppress spread of the coronavirus. July has since become the worst month on record for COVID spread with 1.9 million new infections and 1,000 deaths per day, bringing the U.S. total to 4.5 million who have tested positive. The virus is now present in populations young and old in every state with infections rising in more than half the U.S. states. Globally there are more than 18 million cases with deaths approaching 700,000. About 6% of those who have tested positive perished. On a hopeful note, 94% (11 million) have recovered. The U.S. continues to lead country totals but Brazil (2.7 million) and India (1.8 million) are hot spots. The UK, Spain, Peru and Chile experienced death rates greater than 500 per 1 million population. More than 250,000 have died with a high of 6,900 per day in April that dipped for about a month before moving seven-day average of 5,600 globally in July.


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Need to Know | Drink Plants | Enshi Floods

Need to Know | Drink Plants | Enshi Floods

Tea Industry News for the week of July 20

  • Drink Plants
  • Tea Outlook Promising
  • New Teatulia Tea CEO
  • Enshi Floods
  • Bigelow Wellness
An all-plant tea assortment of green and black tea, floral, fruit, and berry botanicals.

Drink Plants

“Consumers across all generations are re-shaping the landscape for beverage product development,” according to a Cargill Insights Report titled Blending, Brewing, and Blurring the Lines… Creating a New Breed of Beverages.

“Traditional beverage categorizations are losing relevance, which is blurring the lines of classic categories and creating opportunities—especially for coffee and tea manufacturers—to meet these demands at the expense of soft drinks,” Cargill writes.

Tea is the go-to beverage in the nonalcoholic market which is estimated at $854 billion globally. Euromonitor estimates the value of RTD (ready-to-drink) tea at $67 billion globally.

“Beverages that are inherently functional have seen growing momentum, which has paved the way for new beverage products touting specific health benefits, according to The Hartman Group’s report, “Modern Beverage Culture.” Consumers are increasingly conscious of beverage calories, and they now want a drink to do more—such as provide energy, added protein, or provide other nutritional benefits,” according to the Insights Report.

“Millennials are the poster children of this new beverage era. Their demands and aspirations are driving much of this emerging beverage culture,” according to The Hartman Group. A consumer survey by Hartman reveals “nearly three in four millennials (73%) always have a beverage on hand, compared to Gen Xers (63%) and Boomer (58%).”

Cargill Report: Note the desire for more tea (22%)

“Millennials say that beverages play an important role in their health and wellness and that they like beverages to do something such as provide energy or nutrients,” according to Cargill. “The win-win may be to address consumers’ changing and variable aspirations for beverage consumption with new drinks that mix both function and fun (think tea-beer combos or hard kombucha). These products will likely see a growing appeal, especially among younger consumers,” according to Cargill.

“More than half of consumers are now using products made with plant-based ingredients, and this trend is only going to increase,” according to Cargill. “Powerhouse beverage categories like coffee and tea are leading the way by working to provide new consumption options while addressing health and wellness trends. Coffee and tea have existing health halos; they have been able to capitalize on this to support the creation of healthier energy drinks, while also serving as a better-for-you flavoring or mixer in high-end cocktails.”

Tea on Trend

Non-alcoholic beverages will generate $10 billion more in sales this year, reaching $160 billion, according to market research contained in The U.S. Beverage Market Outlook 2020.

Proprietory surveys by Packaged Facts show significant changes in retail channel trends and consumer motivations across eight retail channels.

“Despite the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, large segments of the U.S. food and beverage industry have managed to balance losses in the foodservice sector with gains on the retail side as consumers even now continue to shift their food and beverage spending from restaurants to stocking groceries at home,” according to Packaged Facts.

“We predict sales will spike in 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus but will likely decline in 2021 as demand reverts back to more normal levels before returning to typical growth patterns from 2022 to 2024,” says Jennifer Mapes-Christ, food industry publisher for Packaged Facts. The study predicts US nonalcoholic beverage sales of $170 billion in 2024.

Plant-Based Beverages are Trending

Plant-based beverages are a hot trend in the market as consumers increasingly integrate plant-based foods and drinks into their diets, according to Packaged Facts.

What’s driving new interest in the segment:

― consumer demand for healthier, natural products

― consumer demand for more and better protein sources

― the consumer perception that plant-based food is more environmentally sustainable

― the increasing number of people who identify as flexitarians, consuming more vegetarian or vegan meals but not exclusively eating that way

The report also cites the popularity of functional and wellness beverages, specifically tea.

“As with all food categories, consumers are demanding more from beverages. Beyond reduced sugar and cleaner labels, people want drinks to make them feel better, stay healthier, and perform at higher levels. The coronavirus pandemic has further elevated people’s desire for products that help keep them healthy. Immunity-boosting products and ingredients had been trending over the last several years already and have been jumping off the shelves as people look to stay healthy amidst the coronavirus pandemic,” according to the report.

“Turmeric has been perhaps the hottest ingredient to boost immunity and is a cornerstone of many new products, along with ingredients such as ginger and Echinacea. Beyond these, marketers continue to enhance drink functionality with ingredients such as antioxidants, adaptogens, vitamins, probiotics, Coenzyme Q10, and BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids),” according to the report.

Click here to obtain a copy.

Teatulia Names New CEO

Co-founder Linda Appel Lipsius is stepping down as CEO of Teatulia Organic Teas. COO Tim Bradley will take her place.

Denver-based Teatulia, founded in 2006, partners with growers in Bangladesh to supply organic teas and herbs used in making a range of hot teas, iced teas, and canned teas, including a newly introduced sparkling soda sold in foodservice and grocery.

The company also operates the Teatulia Tea & Coffee Bar next to its Denver, Colo., headquarters.

“Lipsius has built a universally-respected brand known for doing things better: From the 3,000-acre regenerative garden itself to Teatulia’s stunningly sustainable packaging to the long list of awards Teatulia has received for quality and using business as a force for good,” according to the company.

Bradley previously worked 10 years as COO at Open Road Snacks in Centennial, Colo. He joined Teatulia in July 2017. A former consultant, he is endorsed for his work in sales and marketing and brand management.

“We are grateful beyond words for her contributions over her many years at the helm, and excited to foster the mission and continue the growth Linda nurtured as founder and CEO,” writes Bradley.

“Linda and I have worked together for the last three years to create a team that is truly positioned to take this company to new heights,” he said.

Lipsius credited “a mighty team of the most passionate, creative, tenacious and intelligent individuals I have ever known” for the company’s success during her tenture, as well as “my most extraordinary partners throughout the journey – Kazi Anis Ahmed, Kazi Inam Ahmed, and Kazi Nabil Ahmed MP.”

Submerged street buses in Enshi, China. Massive flooding eases Chinese drought.

Too Much Rain Relief

The tea-growing region drained by the Lancang (Mekong) River is humid, with annual rainfall greater than 800 millimeters annually, yet a 10-year drought persists. Last year the region received 888.4 millimeters of rainfall according to meteorologists, but 180 reservoirs remain bone dry and 100 rivers ceased flowing as of April 15, according to the Yunnan Water Resource Department.

Near constant rainfall since the beginning of the month promises relief but at a high cost. On July 3 Kunming was drenched, leading to several deaths, and the displacement of thousands as well as significant crop loss along the Baishui river (which rose 27-feet overnight).

Enshi, the center of tea production in Hubei Province, has seen the worst flooding in decades with 10,000 along the Yangtze River trapped in their homes. Damage is estimated at $11.5 billion with 28,000 homes lost. The water level at the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric facility, is 50 feet above its flood-limit level with inflows of 61 million liters a second, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

Yunnan, which is home to 46 million people, sits on a rugged mountainous plateau sloping from the northern highlands south. During the period 1950 to 2012, the Province, experienced 59 drought years, half considered severe.

Droughts have occurred more frequently in recent years, a condition attributed to global climate change. More than 80% of Yunnan’s rainfall now occurs during the period of May through October. Winters are dry and getting warmer. There is insufficient capacity in reservoirs to supply agricultural needs during periods of unusually high temperatures. The drought, which began in June 2019 resulted in shortages of drinking water in Menghai County and lowered yields of Pu’er by a third according to some growers.

In past years the north and eastern sections of the province were more susceptible to dry weather. Now the tea-rich hills in the southwest are hardest hit. Annual precipitation in the Lancang River basin in 2019 was 680.4 mm, according to the China Meteorological Agency. The total is about 25% less than its long-term average, according to a report by CGTN.

A studio published in the journal Ambio reveals that during the period 1978-1996, cultivated land increased 6.1% (167,400 hectares) in Yunnan. A report describing the impact of droughts on reservoirs and streamflow found the frequency of severe and exceptional droughts in the Lancang-Mekong River Basin has increased over the past 119 years, and all countries in the upstream and downstream of the basin have been severely affected. 

As the downpour continues, Song Lianchun, director of China’s National Climate Center, told reporters that the number of days of heavy rain in China has risen by roughly 4% each decade over the past six decades.

New line of cold water infused botanicals from the Bigelow Tea Company

Bigelow Botanicals

Bigelow Tea® has introduced a new line of cold water infused botanicals. Bigelow Botanicals Cold Water Infusions use real fruit and herbal combinations to inspire everyone to stay healthy and hydrated throughout the day, according to the company. The infusions are a “healthy alternative to sugary drinks, are zero-calorie, caffeine-free, and contain no artificial anything.”

Easily infused by the glass or on-the-go, tea drinkers simply place a tea bag in cold water for a few minutes, squeeze the bag and stir, or leave in for more flavor.

Bigelow Tea uses only high-quality ingredients and has specially curated the following botanical infusions that slowly come alive once cold water is added. Flavors include:

  • Watermelon Cucumber Mint
  • Blackberry Raspberry Hibiscus
  • Cranberry Lime Honeysuckle
  • Blueberry Citrus Basil
  • Strawberry Lemon Orange Blossom

To ensure each cold-water infusion makes a positive impact on the environment Bigelow uses minimal packaging and no plastic bottles (waste reduction is a top priority at this certified B Corporation). The overwrap used to hold each bag works to keep each flavor fresh until sipped by the glass or used with reusable water bottles for the on-the-go consumer.

Cindi Bigelow, third-generation president & CEO writes that “With today’s growing awareness and need to live a healthy lifestyle, we created these beautiful cold water infusion blends to support your wellness choices.”

“It’s truly unlike anything else and really does help you to drink more water throughout the day,” writes Bigelow. The range is gluten-free and non-GMO. The botanicals are sold in boxes of 18 individually-wrapped bags at a suggested retail price of $3.99, about 22-cents per serving.

Learn more at www.bigelowtea.com.

Need to Know | Ominous Fiscal Impact

Tea Industry News for the Week of May 4.

  • Ominous Fiscal Impact
  • Online Grocery Orders Up 37%
  • Tea Supply Not a Grave Concern
  • Post Offices on the Front Line
  • Seattle Caps Delivery Commissions
Which are you more concerned about: The Economic or Public Health Crisis?

The pandemic is advancing the role and reputation of specialty tea in protecting the health and enhancing human immunity. At the same time, the economic impact threatens every link of the tea supply chain.

Marketers are wise to address health over wealth.

Consumer marketing surveys in several countries, as well as professional opinion research, indicates a “high level of concern” about becoming infected.

Last May, “health care emerged as the top policy issue for American voters at 36%,” according to Real Clear Opinion Research. Concern about the economy was the top issue for 26% of respondents. Health concerns are now top-of-mind for 66% of respondents in the U.S., according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Edelman surveyed a representative sample of adults in 11 countries. In Canada, the United Kingdom, and France 70% or more of respondents favor prioritizing health concerns. In Japan, 76% of those surveyed by Edelman cited health concerns.

“A substantial majority of people around the world want their governments to prioritize saving lives over moves to restart economies being hammered by measures aimed at halting the spread of the new coronavirus,” according to the Financial Post,

Overall, 67% of the 13,200-plus people interviewed between April 15 and April 23 agreed with the statement: “The government’s highest priority should be saving as many lives as possible even if it means the economy will recover more slowly.” One third said it is more important that governments save jobs and restart the economy.

Only 29% of those surveyed agreed that CEOs and business leaders were doing an “outstanding job” meeting the demands of the moment.

“It’s complicated because you have two crises simultaneously – a health crisis and an economic crisis,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman.

“Business will be looked at very closely in the months ahead,” Edelman said, citing how companies perform in areas such as retaining and reskilling workers or using small businesses in their supply chains.

Between February and March 2020, total retail sales in the United States fell by 8.7%. During this period, retail sales of food and beverage stores grew by 25.6%.

Dramatic Drop in Economic Activity

Economic activity dramatically declined in late March, and consumer confidence plummeted in April as jobless totals soared.

In April business activity at service companies fell to the lowest level recorded. The near-collapse in the service side of the economy has dragged the U.S. into what’s all but certain to be a deep recession. The government has rushed to aid hundreds of thousands of desperate companies with loans and other help, but it’s unclear if it will be enough, according to the Institute for Supply Management.

In tea retail, suppliers that rely on foodservice sales are the segment most impacted. Blenders in the grocery segment are still playing catchup to the stocking-up rush that is now decreasing.

Sales of tea in grocery and convenience will plateau until pantries empty. A fundamental shift away from traditional trips to the grocery store is underway, led by those who order online. Online market research specialists Brick Meets Click found that April sales of groceries sold online grew by 37% to $5.3 billion. Forty million Americans ordered groceries online in April, increasing both frequency and spend, according to the results of a natural consumer survey. Orders increased from 1.2 to 1.6 per month and spend rose to an average $85 per order, up from $82 in March

The April wave of surveys looked at two additional factors to help us understand the health and economic motivators impacting shopper’s behaviors writes Brick Meets Click.

  • Health: 47% of the households surveyed indicated a “high level” of concern related to catching/contracting the Coronavirus.
  • Economic: 39% of the households surveyed indicated that their average monthly household income since the COVID-19 crisis started had dropped dramatically – 25% or more – compared to Jan/Feb 2020. 

Reopen Now or Not?

In the U.S., where the contagion has killed more than 70,000 people, about half of the states are easing restrictions on business.

Retailers considering reopening should bear in mind that most Americans are not ready to risk infection by going out. While 56% say they are comfortable making trips to the grocery store, 78% indicate they would be uncomfortable eating at a sit-down restaurant. “People in states with looser restrictions report similar levels of discomfort as this in states with stricter rules,” according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll conducted last week.

In announcing plans to ease the restrictions on businesses, governors have emphasized that their actions represent a gradual and cautious reopening of their economies. Nonetheless, when asked about eight different types of businesses, majorities of Americans say they oppose ending the restrictions on each of the eight.

“Fear of infection, the poll finds, has not abated at all in recent weeks,” according to the Washington Post.

Datassential polls 1000 consumers weekly, beginning in March. The chart below suggests consumer fears have plateaued with 94% either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned.” Only 6% say they are not concerned.

Note to Brands

Consumer sentiment is clear: Businesses have a responsibility to ensure their employees are protected from the virus in the workplace and do not spread the virus into the community (78%). They want businesses to focus on solutions, not selling. In a survey of 12 countries, many consumers indicated businesses should shift to producing products that help people meet the challenges (89%). One in three (33%) say they have convinced other people to stop using a brand “that I felt was not acting appropriately in response to the pandemic.”

Brands must do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and their suppliers, even if it means suffering big financial losses until the pandemic ends. – Edelman Trust Barometer 2020

Tea Supply is not a Grave Concern

Lockdowns in tea producing countries are gradually easing, permitting the harvest to resume, but logistical hurdles are mounting as the cost of airfreight, the preferred method of transport early in the season, tripled. The availability of cargo space on aircraft is greatly limited due to the virtual absence of commercial flights. Overburdened carriers are increasingly tasked with flying far more precious or urgently required goods. In India, the national rail service is shut down and trucking fleets are idle.

Containers are piling up at ports, and ships lie at anchor awaiting medical clearances.

Available airfreight on passenger planes in March was down 44% globally compared to the same period in 2019. Dedicated air freighters added more flights, but overall capacity was down by 25% in March, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The cost of air freight from China to the U.S. increased from $3 per kilo in March to $11 per kilo in April and continues to climb.

Paul Golland, owner of P.G. Logistics, a freight-forwarding business in Australia, told the Wall Street Journey that. “You used to get a quote valid for 30 days. Now you’re getting it valid for 24 hours, because tomorrow the situation may change again.”

“International postal services have been among the hardest hit. Many have reduced or suspended international mail in recent weeks due to a lack of flights,” according to the article. The U.S. Postal Service last week said it would start shipping mail by sea to 10 European countries.

In India, Amazon and Walmart are restricted from making deliveries except for food and medicine, which greatly increased the workload for that nation’s 400,000 postal workers in 150,000 branch offices. About the only service tea vendors can count on is mail delivery. India operates the largest postal service in the world and is rising to the challenge. As the Wall Street Journal reports, “courier competitors can’t deliver. They depend on commercial flights and trains, which aren’t running, their truck fleets aren’t allowed on their roads, and their employees can not get to work.”

U.S. Postal Service employs 633,000 in 32,000 post offices, annually delivering 142 billion pieces of mail. But in April, due to the Coronavirus, Postmaster General Megan Brennan told Congress that volume declined by a third and is expected to fall by half by the end of June. E-commerce is surging, but bulk and business mail account for far more business. Postmaster Brennan estimates the shortfall at $25 billion.

The Human Condition

Datassential reports that only 15% of Americans are still going to school or working as usual. There are now 17% stuck at home due to layoffs and furloughs. An additional 37% of those taking part in a weekly survey are working or attending school remotely, with 31% not working overall.

“While most Americans are apprehensive about the reopening of non-essential businesses, they favor people visiting open-air locations like parks and beaches, where they can keep social distance. As you might expect, people who are currently more concerned about the economic crisis are much more accepting of visits to all types of venues than those more concerned about public-health implications. Having guidelines in place for reopening and familiarity with grocery store precautions have likely also paved the way for other retailers. One-third of Americans are OK with visits to places like shopping malls, hair salons, and restaurant dining rooms,” according to Datassential.

Jack Li at Datassential is optimistic that restaurants will remain a vital part of social life after the crisis eases:People miss dining in restaurants, not just for the food, but also for the psychological benefits. When dining rooms reopen, there will be a heightened appreciation for them and the sense of normalcy they evoke. Americans associate dining in with better pre-COVID times and happy “milestone” celebrations. Restaurants will also provide an opportunity for people to do their part and reconnect with their communities.

How soon will this end? Simon Baptist, Chief Economist at EIU, writes that “even in countries where containment measures are being eased, economic activity will be slow to pick up. For instance, even though India partially eased restrictions on April 20, high-frequency data on electricity consumption shows no change in demand from the week before.

Delivery Fee Caps

Last week Seattle instituted a local ordinance capping third-party delivery service commissions at 15%. The intent is to address price gouging during lockdowns temporarily. Violators are subject to prosecution by the Seattle City Attorney’s Office and face steep fines. San Francisco is enforcing a similar ordinance capping service commission at 15%. Chicago and New York City are also considering enacting commission caps. In New York, the proposed cap is 10%. The Seattle ordinance mandates delivery drivers get the full amount of tips and makes it a crime for third-party delivery companies to cut drivers’ pay. The ordinance remains in effect until restaurants are allowed to resume unrestricted dine-in services.

Best Retail Practices

  • Daily wellness checks for all employees (back of store and front line)
  • Provide ample (non-medical) masks, single-use gloves and additional PPE as required (plexiglass cashier shields etc.)
  • Clean high-touch surfaces every two hours.
  • Encourage hand washing every half hour for food handlers.
  • Seal orders in packaging and do not let cashiers handle food.
  • Apply social distancing floor decals and display distancing reminders.
  • Make sanitizer available at checkout and in stand-alone dispensers at entry.
  • Avoid cash transactions and sanitize credit-card terminals after each use.
  • Disinfect entire store at the end of each day and schedule periodic deep-cleaning

Encourage customers to order online and at digital kiosks. Avoid face-to-face interaction by offering carry-out, curbside pickup, drive-thru, and contactless delivery. Customers should insert their own credit card into payment terminals (and stores should opt for “tap to pay” where available). Rely on video and remote methods of communication to minimize consumer contact with store personnel.

Need to Know | Pandemic

Tea Industry News for the week of April 27

  • The Pandemic’s Impact on Specialty Tea
  • Starbucks Reports 60-70% Decline in US Sales
  • McKinsey & Co.: Consumers Are Readily Abandoning Brands
  • Sri Lanka: March Tea Exports Drop by Half
  • Retail Innovations: Samovar Tea Lounge Offers Free Meal Monday.
Sri Lanka tea gardens are practicing safe harvesting techniques making up for lost weeks following government-ordered closures. Photo courtesy Lumbini Tea Estate/Gayan Samaraweera.

It is too early to predict the impact of a looming economic downturn with accuracy. Still, a mid-April survey of U.S. tea retailers by Sinensis Research found that 81.8% of the specialty tea business has laid off staff, with 31.7% of American tea shops temporarily closed.

Abraham Rowe, who conducted the survey, reports 2.3% of tea businesses are permanently closed two months into the crisis. “I expect this number to increase if the lockdowns last through the end of May,” he said.

“Many of the businesses still operating report that they expect to close if sales do not pick up, or if they are unable to secure assistance in the form of loans or grants to continue operations,” according to Rowe.

“Specialty tea business revenue is expected to decline to 65% of 2019 sales, suggesting an overall loss of about $133 million to $154 million in tea sales by specialty tea vendors, and likely much greater losses from coffee shops and cafes that sell specialty tea,” writes Rowe.

“The coronavirus pandemic has devastated people and businesses across the world,” says Rowe, but “it’s too early to get a complete picture of the pandemic’s damage to the industry.”

  • Around 9,200 of the jobs held by tea professionals are gone. The average number of staff laid off at closed business is approximately 10, and at open businesses around 5. Layoffs and store closures represent a “devastating loss of talent and expertise” since the crisis first curtailed business activities in March, according to Rowe.
  • Most tea business owners remain optimistic. Rowe found that 93.3% of shop owners expect to reopen after the pandemic has ended and restrictions are lifted.
  • The number of businesses selling online has increased by 7%, and many companies have noted a significant increase in online sales and curbside pickup.
  • Shops that weather the initial lockdowns “can expect sales to decline between 20% and 80% this year, depending on their region and the extent to which the shop had to close or change their business model.”
  • Supply is becoming a challenge: 31% of open businesses report supply chain interruptions.

Revenue Forecast

Assuming that restrictions limiting normal operations last six months, “I predict 2020 revenue to decline to about 65% of the estimated $340 million to $400 million in 2019 sales,” said Rowe, adding that 96% of businesses that remain open expect revenue to decline for the year. “Very few of these businesses expect to grow in 2020,” he said.

A massive portion of specialty tea is sold by cafes and coffee shops, many of which are currently closed. “The number of businesses doing in-store bulk tea retail has declined by almost 50%, and the number of businesses serving prepared specialty tea has declined by more than 50% — afternoon tea service has ended almost entirely in the United States,” he said.

Rowe cautions, “these data only represent the impact on the retail market, and not the wholesale market, though a few comments on the impact on the wholesale market are included in his report.”

“I suspect that the wholesale tea market has seen even more damage than the retail market because of this, with revenue declining perhaps as much as 75% or more,” he said. Tea shops have reported that tea wholesale to foodservice clients has declined to zero, and it seems possible that larger wholesalers are feeling this same impact.

Rowe, who founded Sinensis Research in 2019, said his firm is providing research on the pandemic and its impact on the tea industry at no cost.

“Please support this research by exploring our products, such as the State of the Industry Report ($29.95). If you’d like to work with us to get up and running as an online store and get sales moving again, get in touch,” he said.

See related: Tea Shop Closings.

Starbucks Comps Decline
While Starbucks reported a decline of only 3% in comparable U.S. store sales for the quarter ending March 29, same-store sales plummeted 65-70% as the new quarter began, according to executives. Half of the company’s U.S. stores are now closed, leading to a 46% decline in earnings. Most workers will return to cafés in May, and the chain expects to reopen most closed locations in June, according to Good Housekeeping Magazine. Full-year revenue is expected to decline by almost 10%. In 2019 same-store fourth-quarter growth was a positive 6% for the U.S. division.

Consumer Behavior Insights

McKinsey & Co. is closely tracking changing consumer behavior in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Consumer behavior has changed across several dimensions: consumption by category, channel selection, shopper trip frequency, brand preference, and media consumption. These shifts, combined with forecasts for virus containment and economic recovery, are critical for commercial strategies,” according to McKinsey. Beverage sales in the grocery channel were up 36% during the period March 1-21, a situation that has led to restocking issues as consumers stocked up. Consumers are making 15% fewer shopping trips and buying enough for two or more weeks.

“Our research found that 30 to 40% of consumers have been trying new brands and products. Almost half of these consumer switches are because the desired product is unavailable, while an additional 19% decided to purchase cheaper available options. Of the consumers who switched brands, 12% expect to continue to purchase the new brands after the pandemic,” writes McKinsey.

Sri Lankan Tea Exports Decline

The bottom fell out of Sri Lanka’s generally robust tea export market in March following dismal yields in February. Tea export volume and value each declined by half compared to March 2019. Tea in packets dipped to 6.3mn kgs from 12.7mn kgs in 2019. Production of teabags dropped more than 1 million kilos from 2.4mn kgs in 2019 to 1.3mn kgs in March 2020. Revenue for all categories of tea was SLRs11.6 billion ($60.1 million) in March 2020 compared to SLRs22.5 billion ($116.7 million) in March 2019, as reported by the Daily News. Anil Cooke, managing director at Asia Siyaka brokers, explained that export activity virtually came to a halt before the government agreed that growing and processing tea is an essential industry.

Retail Innovations

Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco introduced Free Meal Monday in April and has since served 1,100 customers a free lunch of rice stew with vegetables, eggs, and tea. The give-away promotes sophisticated Samovar Life subscription meals starting at $19 for breakfast, $27 for lunch, and $37 for dinner. Meals are delivered Thursday through Sunday, and pickup service is available at all three of the 20-year-old tea room’s locations. Shipping is free from the company’s online tea store. The company is also delivering groceries.

Free Meal Monday

“We’ve never launched so many programs in such a compressed amount of time and while facing so many challenges.”

Samovar Founder Jesse Jacobs

From its inception, Samovar founder Jesse Jacobs viewed customers as a community celebrating the tea lifestyle. That is why he chose the URL: www.samovarlife.com.

Jacobs generates more than $1 million a year at his tea lounges, which feature wholesome food and superior tea. He is grateful to customers, rewards loyalty, and is genuinely concerned with their well-being. He will soon launch a virtual meditation and tea tasting. “I just keep waiting for word that the covid-19 situation has a clear solution, some clean exit plan that gets things “back to normal.” But the reality is, well, more sobering,” he writes. Check out his latest blog post: Reality As It Is: What a U.S. Admiral and Burmese Meditation Master Taught Me About Surviving the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Upcoming Events

The U.S. will report 1QTR GDP on May 1. Globally the impact on economies is “fairly catastrophic” writes market researcher firm Statista.

Singapore reported its economy contracted by 10.6% between January and March despite having initially kept the virus in check. The historic and unprecedented drop in Chinese GDP of 6.8% already made headlines. Japan’s economy contracted by an annualized 7.2% in 4QTR 2019 and is expected to decline another 5% in 1QTR 2020.

Central Banks in France and Italy have projected quarterly losses between 5% and 6%. Experts expect the U.S. economy to contract by 5-10% and the UK economy by as much as 13%.

Global 1QTR GDP

Need to Know | Changing Consumer Behavior

Tea industry news for the week of April 20

  • Monitoring Consumer Behavior
  • Record Prices at Colombo’s Digital Auction
  • Kenya May Ban Direct Tea Sales
  • Physical Distancing on 1,500 Acres in Assam
  • Private Investors Back Millennia Flash-Frozen Tea

Monitoring Consumer Behavior

Datassential surveys consumers weekly and hosts a Friday webinar Food + Coronavirus to share what they have learned about fast-changing consumer behavior. The presentations are free. Mark DiDomenico is director of consumer solutions at Datassential. He told participants during a webinar hosted by the National Coffee Association last week that American consumers at this point are more worried about their health than wealth (health concerns peaked at 67% April 1 and remained at 61% the week of April 8). Respondents (64%) consistently say they will “definitely avoid” eating out.

When asked “since the onset of social distancing, where have you cut back on spending?” eating at restaurants topped the list at 57%.

“Consumers are avoiding risk but also seeking ways to adjust,” said DiDomenico, who cited examples such as cooking from scratch (42% say they do this more often), eating comfort foods (+33%), stress eating (+24%), and drinking alcohol more often at home (+14%). Moving forward? “Consumers are likely to avoid buffets and salad bars. Half say they will order for delivery (and disinfect delivery packaging), he said. Shopping for food online (+22%) is a new behavior that is very likely to stick, he said.

Global Impact

David Parnham, Research Director at Café Culture in Australia, recently completed a report on the immediate impact of lockdowns. The impact is sobering. While Australians were not strictly confined to their homes (New Zealand is in lockdown), a survey of cafe owners found that 19% experienced a 70-90% decline in sales, with an additional 19% reporting declines of 50-70% and 29% reporting declines of 20-50% in sales. Café Culture Managing Director Sean Edwards posted several helpful suggestions from café owners for “Staying Afloat in Tough Times.”

Business News

Sri Lanka is embracing a digital future for the Colombo Tea Auction according to Sri Lanka Tea Board Chairman Jayampathy Molligoda. The country’s first three electronic auctions in April resulted in sales of 16.5 million kilos of tea. Efforts to switch from outcry to electronic bidding span 20 years, according to Jayantha Karunaratne, chairman of the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association. “Changing the mindset of some players is not an easy task, said Karunaratne, adding, “Our vision is to go online because it provides advantages such as lower cost, greater efficiency, and more transparency.”

As soon as the auction opened demand from Russia, Turkey, and the Middle East drove record prices. An Uvakellie from Vellapatna Estate, owned by Madulsima Plantations, sold for SLRs810 ($4.21) per kilo and a Uva High from Finlays Oodoowerre Estate sold for SLRs980 ($5.10) a kilo, a record for FBOPF1 grade tea at auction. Akbar Brothers purchased the lot. Dickwella Estate then broke the SLRs980 mark at SLRs1000 ($5.20) per kilo for an FBOPF1 bought by Ceylon Tea Marketing.

“The response from industry stakeholders has been fantastic. The Sri Lankan tea industry has once again proven its resilience to upheavals,” said Dhammike Wedande, senior vice president of Asia Siyaka Commodities, a leading tea broker.

Direct Trade Ban
Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture intends to ban direct tea sales. New regulations state that “henceforth, sale by private treaty (direct sales overseas) is outlawed,” forcing growers to sell exclusively through the auction process.

The new regulations raised concerns voiced by the East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA), which manages auction and direct tea sales in Mombasa.

“Exporters who have long-term contracts with international buyers might have to review those contracts, and we don’t know how this is going to affect the market,” EATTA Managing Director Edward Mudibo told Business Daily.

The Tea Auction in Mombasa, the world’s largest by volume, is experiencing difficulties associated with the spread of the coronavirus and was relocated to a hotel.

The entire auction system is “dysfunctional,” according to small growers who appealed to Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene to curb predatory behavior amid falling prices. Reformers agree and hope to automate bidding.

Kenyatta’s reforms, announced last week by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, require the Kenya Tea Development Agency to pay 50% of the price of monthly deliveries. The remainder is to be paid as an annual bonus. In the past, KTDA factories paid farmers KS14-16 per kilo. Buyers will now pay 10% down with the balance due before export. Factories must pay farmers within 30 days after receiving auction proceeds. Also, brokers representing factories will be limited in the number they represent (no more than 15 factories in the current proposal).

Physical Distancing on 1,500 Acres

India reported more than 1,500 new COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours ending Monday, April 20, bringing the national total to 17,656 confirmed cases with 559 deaths. There is no indication of a “flattening curve” with the contagion likely to peak in four to six weeks. West Bengal, which includes the fabled Darjeeling growing region, has 339 reported cases with 12 deaths. Assam reports 35 cases with one death.

Samar Jyoti Chaliha, who manages the Dikom Tea Estate near Dibrugarh in Assam, harvested only 17,000 kilos of tea in March due to government-ordered lockdowns. Usually, the garden produces 40,000 kilos of first flush tea. The early harvest typically yields 70,000 kilos, “but this year, I may be able to make a max of 45,000 to 50,000 kilos,” said Chaliha. The workforce is a concern. “I am limited to 50% of peak season’s employment (3,800 workers),” he said. Chaliha is currently paying 1,800 workers, but few are plucking tea. “Overgrown bushes take a lot of time. Right now, it is more slashing/skiffing and hand breaking overgrown leaves and branches which are tossed to the ground. We cannot make tea out of this stuff,” he said.

Restoring the bushes should be complete by April 23 or 24. It will then take another 15 days to come up with succulent leaves, which brings us to the beginning of the second flush, he explained. A typical second flush yields approximately 260,000 kilos (2.6 lakhs) during May and June.

“I don’t know how the bushes will behave after skiffing at this time of year (pruning is normally done in winter when the plants are dormant). Dikom produced an average of almost 3,000 kilos per hectare last year, a highly productive yield. “If all goes well, the second flush should be fine,” he said.

The garden currently has 1,500 acres (635 hectares) under tea. Given the vast area, instead of limiting the number of workers to one per acre, when they are most needed, consideration should have been given to simply assigning smaller numbers of workers within each block (say 100 vs. 200). Growers could assign 100 masked pluckers to each of two widely separated sections and maintain safe distancing of 10 feet between pluckers. Even with 3,800 workers in the field at the same time, in most of Assam’s licensed tea gardens, there would only be two workers per acre. “Apparently, no one took this up with the government,” he said.

Production News

India will take additional steps to spot-check tea to ensure it complies with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI ) norms. Random checks should result in higher prices a necessity given the lower volumes at auction. “Tea failing to adhere to the FSSAI parameters may not be allowed to be offered in the auctions depending on the extent of the violations by the producers,” according to the circular issued to planters. Tea Board Deputy Chairman Arun Kumar Ray told the Deccan Herald, “right now, the priority is to comply with the health safety norms and hygienic practices in tea gardens to combat the COVID-19 crisis.”

In Sri Lanka, February Yield Marks Decade Low

Sri Lanka harvested only 17.9 million kilos of tea in February, down 3.8 million kilos from February 2019. High grown and medium grown tea showed marginal gains, but tea from the lowest elevations declined 28.3% due to drought. Forbes and Walker Tea Brokers report the first two months of 2020 yielded only 39.8 million kilos, down 5.1 million kilos compared to the first two months of 2019.

Health News
Sri Lanka is promoting black tea as an immunity booster with the slogan: “Double Your Protection” The campaign online and in print states that “Black tea is not only delicious but packed with immune-boosting theaflavin antioxidants. Enjoy 3 to 4 cups daily, and be protected both inside and out.”

The Times of India reports that the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) will study the antiviral properties of theaflavin-3, a compound found in black tea. The United Planters’ Association of South India (UPASI) circulated a press release citing work by researchers in Taiwan and China, suggesting replication of SARS CoV-2 is inhibited by polyphenols commonly found in tea. These include Theaflavin-1, Theaflavin-2, and Theaflavin-3, all of which are abundant in black tea.

The European Journal of Preventative Cardiology reports fewer heart attacks and a lower risk of dying of heart disease among tea drinkers participating in a Chinese study of 100,000 adults over seven years. Those who consumed three or more cups of tea per week had a 20% lower risk of heart attack or related cardiac incidents and a 22% lower risk of dying of heart disease.

Retail News

Millennia Tea, a Canada-based supplier of flash-frozen tea leaves, closed its first private funding round at $500,000+. The pioneering brand, based in Saint John, processes tea much like leafy produce at origin where it is washed and frozen to preserve antioxidants destroyed during the drying process.

Tea cubes
Millennia also markets cubes of fresh tea leaves

Shelly King, CEO of Natural Products Canada, a key investor and strategic advisor, told Huddle that “today’s health-conscious consumer has embraced ‘food as medicine’ and is looking for ways to optimize the nutritional value of their everyday pleasures like a simple cup of tea.”

“Millennia TEA has a category-changing product that ticks all the boxes for today’s consumer,” said King.

Upcoming Events
The United Nations has designated May 21 as International Tea Day to raise awareness of the need for sustainable production and to honor those working to supply the world with tea. The British have a reputation for never enough when it comes to tea, so they also celebrate National Tea Day (Tuesday, April 21). The Sun once again published a chart of tea in 16 shades from red amber to milky white. The article always leads to squabbles over exactly how much is too much dairy. Historian Seren Charrington-Hollins explains why milk is added last:

One of the fiercest topics is whether to put the milk in the cup before or after the tea. In the early days of British tea-drinking, when the china we had was of such poor quality that it would crack under the heat of boiling water, milk was always put in first to cool the tea.

“But in the 18th century better china started to arrive and those who could afford it switched to putting milk in after the water, as a social signifier. Continuing to put milk in first was associated with the lower classes.

“Tea tastes better if you put the milk in after the hot water because you avoid scalding the milk. You also maintain the perfect temperature for brewing, which is 95C,” advises Charrington-Hollins.

Need to Know | E-Auctions | Pandemic Harvest

Tea industry news for the week of April 6

China’s tea harvest in full swing including Enshi, in pandemic stricken Hubei Province

Closely Monitor Tea Auctions

Tea auction houses are a choke point for black tea transactions globally. The routine flow of commercial grades of tea is in jeopardy as major tea auctions react to the pandemic. Twin threats loom, the first involves gatherings that ensure the safety of participants. The second is the logistics. India’s national lockdown was tragically timed to the onset of the first flush, which observers predict is lost.

The Colombo Tea Traders Association (CCTA) successfully conducted an all-digital auction – a first in 126 years of outcry” bidding. The pandemic shut down the auction temporarily, halted shipping, and closed factories engaged in processing, blending, and packaging tea. “The tea industry has since regained its composure and momentum, and all its operations are now gradually resuming full capacity islandwide,” according to CCTA. The e-auction runs April 4-6, with samples available for viewing online and for purchase remotely under the guidance of the Colombo Tea Brokers’ Association.

India’s Darjeeling growers earn 40% of their business during March and early April as first-flush teas are rushed to clients in Europe, Russia, Japan, and the US. Plucking had just commenced when India’s prime minister ordered a 21-day national lockdown on March 25. Tea bushes welcome spring with their best quality shoots, which amount to 25% of the crop by volume but bring an estimated $20 million (INRs150 crore), or roughly 40% of revenue. Lost sales are compounded by the fact that by April 15, when the lockdown is scheduled to end, trees will be overgrown, forcing a time-consuming and costly pruning. Darjeeling annually produces about 8 million kilos of tea. That will not be the case in 2020.

The financial losses Darjeeling faces led the Union Home Ministry on April 3 to amend its workforce order to permit gardens to operate with up to half their workers if they enforce social distancing. However, few seem willing to operate processing factories, bought-leaf factories are closed to smallholders, and workers’ unions in West Bengal and Assam strenuously oppose returning to work due to the contagion and limited healthcare. North Bengal accounts for a quarter of India’s 1.3 billion kilo harvest.

Tea Retail

India’s street corner chaiwallahs and tea stand vendors operate without inventory or cash reserves. In the past three weeks, the steady business of supplying office workers has disappeared along with crowded trains and bus stations. At 20 rupees per cup, these workers earn less than $1.50 per day after expenses.

The approximately 1600 US tea shops in all but eight states where residents are now under orders to stay at home, are experiencing dramatic declines in foot traffic. It is hard to profit from small transactions, so Emma’s Tea Spot in Baltimore promoted its curbside pickup and delivery by offering staples as incentives. These include eggs, bread, and toilet paper. Orders are mainly by phone with payment prior to pickup or delivery. No employees come into contact with customers since orders are placed in a sanitized pickup area outside the building.

China Harvest Underway

Saturday (April 4) marked the opening day of the tea harvest in China. Qingming celebrations, which involve traveling to the ancestral homes of urban Chinese, are subdued in many parts of the country this year as more than 3,000 perished amid 83,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Tea harvests in Zhejiang and Anhui Province are in full swing. Harvesting is underway but delayed in Hubei, which is the third-largest producing province and the center of the pandemic.

Yunnan continues to experience a severe drought. Chinese authorities say 1.14 million of the province’s 47 million residents are experiencing difficulties accessing drinking water, along with a quarter of a million head of livestock. Crops covering 180,000 hectares are drought damaged according to the provincial water conservancy department. “At present, 78 rivers in Yunnan have been cut off, 115 reservoirs have dried up, and 99 irrigation wells have an insufficient water supply,” according to a report published by Xinhua News Service.

UPCOMING EVENTS

The European Tea Society is hosting a free webinar on How Pandemics and Climate Change are Affecting the Tea Trade.

On Wednesday, April 8 Elyse Petersen, founder of www.tealet.com, is presetting on Covid19 and how this is impacting working directly with growers. The European Tea Society opened this webinar to anyone.  The webinar begins at 2 p.m. EST.  Here is the link:  https://www.europeanteasociety.org/events/2020/4/8/members-webinar-elyse-petersen-working-directly-with-growers-how-pandemics-and-climate-change-are-affecting-tea-trade.  

The World Health Organization was founded on April 7, 1948. This agency of the United Nations is commemorating the work of nurses and midwives on World Health Day, Tuesday.

Retail Impact of COVID-19 is Devastating for Tea and Coffee Shops in China and Italy

Survey finds 75% of Chinese tea and coffee shops closed at the height of the coronavirus epidemic.

Statistics compiled from a survey of retailers following China’s unprecedented lockdown of 700 million people reveal that while international chains like Starbucks and Costa and big national chains, including Ten Ren and Luckin, experienced severe financial setbacks, independent tea and coffee shops suffered mortal blows.

Now that the contagion has spread to Italy, shop owners are taking a hit comparable to their Chinese counterparts.

“Being in the “orange” zone we’ve seen the downtown area of Milan losing its fabric, most people (not all, fortunately) are just not going out and are avoiding close contacts with others (i.e., any crowded area) We’re currently recording a drop of 40% to 50% both in the store and the tearoom. We’ve adopted the sanitary ordinances that set a “safety perimeter” of one-meter minimum distance from others and have had to cancel all planned events and tea seminars,” writes a veteran shop owner who established his specialty tea business in 2008.

In China, a Kamen survey of 2,000 shop owners, those with ten shops or less, revealed that 75% of the stores closed during the epidemic. Closures were due to policy prohibitions (primarily in Hubei Province) and concerns about personnel safety as well as the absence of foot traffic.

Globally there were 98,000 confirmed cases and 3,347 deaths, including 148 in Italy. The death count in Hubei Province is 3,000, with 23,972 of the 67,466 confirmed cases still in the hospital.

Revenue, compared to the same period in the previous year, declined to zero at 65.9% of the shops surveyed. Business declined 50% to 80% at 19% of the shops. Asked to evaluate the loss, 65.93% of shop operators said the event was devastating, with 30.97% saying the impact is controllable. Only 3.1% reported minimal impact. The Chinese government has announced subsidies, low-interest loans, and relief from taxes for retailers in the vicinity of Wuhan.

Starbucks announced this week that 85% of its shops in China have reopened. In a letter to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Starbucks estimated losses of $430 million from the closure of half of its Chinese shops.

Morocco Hoards Chinese Tea

Fearful of the impact on shipments of green tea imports, Morocco is hoarding tea. The president of the Moroccan association of tea and coffee manufacturers (AMITC), Mohamed Astaib, announced that Morocco had imported enough tea to last six months as a preventive measure. Logistics is partly to blame as hundreds of thousands of containers stacked up at China’s 34 ports.

In an article published by the China Media Times Tea Weekly Yu Lu, vice president of the China Chamber of Commerce of Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal By-Products (CFNA) said that Morocco, China’s largest trading partner, implemented stringent standards for pesticide residue for 60 chemicals. As a result, sales decreased by 4.2%.

Moroccans consume 70,000 metric tons of tea annually, making it the 9th largest tea importer in the world.

London’s Fortnum & Mason Markets Children’s Herbals

The tea floor at Fortnum & Mason in London’s high street is stocked exclusively with tea sourced globally. In first for the company, it will now sell a non-caffeinated children’s tea in four flavors.

The Small & Wild brand, blended by two millennial-aged mothers, launched two years ago. The teas are ethically sourced, sugar-free blends of natural herbs and fruit.

The decision follows a U.K. consumer shift to tisanes, which are growing in popularity. Hardly stodgy, the fabled tea company reaped a windfall last year on sales of a bottled sparkling tea.

Teatime for Rampaging Vikings

Fans of the widely acclaimed television series Vikings gave a nod of understanding with word that researchers attribute the Viking’s barbarian behavior to a hallucinogenic herbal tea. Warriors high on a brew of stinking henbane amd alcohol experienced less pain, according to Karsten Fatur, an ethnobotanist at the University of Ljbuljana in Slovenia. Fatur speculates that ingesting this tea before battle led 9th century Norse Berserkergang “berserkers” to howl like beasts as they rushed wildly into battle wearing animal skins and little armor. Unchecked aggression, unpredictability, and dissociative effects, such as losing touch with reality, might have allowed them to kill indiscriminately without moral qualms, writes Fatur.