Citing how foreign brands are making the most of the opportunity from selling tea grown in India, VAHDAM CEO Bala Sarda on the occasion of International Tea Day said it is about time India moves beyond supplying and starts selling its world-class tea under more homegrown labels.
Sarda, whose homegrown tea company is making waves internationally with the who’s who of Hollywood — including the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Degeneres and Mariah Carey–endorsing the brand’s exotic tea blends, said it is sad that there are more “European brands selling Darjeeling tea and American brands selling Chai” to the world than Indian brands.
“I think we as consumers have always trusted origin products. For example, wine from France and whiskey from Scotland. But for some reason, European brands are selling more Darjeeling tea, and American brands are selling more Chai than any Indian brand was even doing remotely.
“For India to be recognised as a country, which is trusted, which is a superpower we need global brands to come out of India… I think it is just about taking Indian teas through an Indian brand and you know, convincing consumers to have that,” Sarda told PTI.
For the unversed, India is the world’s second largest producer and consumer of tea–accounting for nearly 25-28% of world tea production. It accounts for around 10-12% of world tea exports as well.
According to Sarda, India, which ideally should lead the multi-billion dollar global tea market, due to the lack of homegrown brands for the longest time has been exporting tea as a “commodity” at “single digit margins” to the advantage of foreign importers–who later package it well and sell the same at “multiple X margins”.
However, with VAHDAM and more such brands coming into play, the same value that was previously going to a foreign land is now retained in India only, he added.
“You know the average tea export price is nothing more than four and a half dollars per kg. We at VAHDAM sell to consumers at multiple times higher price points per kg. And it’s not that consumers were anyways not paying for that. Just the only difference because of a brand like us is that value is retained in India, versus that value which was being spread out in a foreign land,” he explained.
The fourth-generation entrepreneur, whose family has been associated with retailing and exporting tea for around 90 years, wants India to take a leaf out of Sri Lanka’s book to improve its tea story.
Sri Lanka, among the five top producers of tea across the world, according to Sarda, has faced a similar situation in the 80s before local brands such as Dilmah and the likes took charge of the situation and started selling their homegrown tea globally.
“I think Sri Lanka is a great example. In the 1980s, they were also exporting their tea as a commodity and all the value was being retained by foreign brands who would take Sri Lankan tea. Later, a plethora of brands came up and took charge and promoted Sri Lankan tea packed in Sri Lanka from Sri Lanka. This helped the industry massively and now the Srilankan tea industry is one of the highest contributors to their GDP.
VAHDAM, whose 90% of business comes from the US, Canada and a couple of European countries, is currently shipping to over four million consumers in 130 plus countries.