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  • Writer's picturejohn snell

Is there room for new tea origins in a world awash with tea?

Updated: Mar 26

It is a difficult question to ask and one that, I, would never answer "No!" to. However, the question is incomplete as it requires "tea hopefuls" to be delivered context regarding issues bigger than this industry and some home truths not only regarding agronomy and production potential but access to market and all that that encompasses.

In short. do not enter the market unless you can answer the following questions

1.Have you identified a market/consumer need that you can fill, uniquely?

2.If not uniquely then have you assessed the Global demand for such a product and the availability of this?

3. Is the value, due to this Supply/Demand balance - 20% going to pay for your investment and deliver expected returns?(Allow for a decline in price. When you enter this market there will be additional supply and, maybe, there has been changes in Consumer demand and/or Producer capacity, to meet this).

I know, sounds as if I am hedging too much but how many Farmers are currently not making ends meet or have no access to consumption data that could indicate the best application for their raw material?

How many Farmers are making a decision based purely on their current domestic conditions?

Something new?

No, this has been going on for decades but the extreme investment of planting out a tea field demands that you "stick with it" and sweat that asset, irrespective of the returns for your product, and with a 40 year productive lifespan that is a long time to stick with it!

In reality, a new planting enterprise is not for anyone, in fact I would go as far as to say it is not for nearly everyone. The two geographical regions that seem to make sense are

  1. In developed consumption markets where homegrown tea can find a high value if not limited market, such as North America and Europe

  2. Mmmmm, can't think

That's right, it is extremely difficult to conjour up a reason to plant tea when there is plenty of tea leaf capacity already planted out, supplying the majority of tea needs and , where tea is planted out, replanting with new higher yielding clones delivers increased harvests from the same land mass so, NO need for more areas to plant out tea!

Need is of course different from a well thought out strategic business plan that includes the consumption of the planted raw material in a value added form, that is differentiated from others in the market or more desirable than competitive and on trend products.

Replanting = Opportunity for diversified land use

In traditional tea producing regions, I would go as far to say that there is a case for land use legislation to prevent any landowner from planting out or replanting all of their land with tea. If high yielding clones, planted out in optimal planting densities (bushes/Ha) can deliver a 50% increase in yield per Ha (a fact in east Africa) then replanting 67% of every Ha like this would deliver the same output and enable farmers to diversify, crop rotate and de-risk their business. In countries where the imbalance of rising production is outstripping demand, this seems to make sense, doesn't it?

Quality, quality, quality

For farmers, yield is not the panacea to all your woes, in fact, without commensurate investment in factory capacity, yield improvements harm your bottom line. Irrespective of how fine you pluck, accommodating more leaf than factory capacities inevitably leads to poorer quality and lower sale prices.

Back to the question!

Yes, new origins are interesting and enticing for Consumers but only if the product quality and format is relevant to the category and channel demand.

This requires reverse engineering, not starting with an ambition to plant out tea but with a plan to enter a specific market with a relevant product. Defining this will help inform everything from, literally, the ground up. What to plant, whether organic or not, climate conscious assets and others that are easier to plan for than to retrofit.

Don't ever let desperation, hope, belief or free bushes make you plant tea. Plant tea because you have an identified consumer whom you can reach and a supply chain in which your product is valued not lost.

Core competencies

I love listening to tea farmers talk, their profound knowledge of their environment and crop is awesome BUT that does not make them experts at the downstream stuff and vice versa, I wouldn't dream of planting tea (I would screw it up) but I know a few things about Category channels so, embrace others knowledge, be humble and thorough and maybe we can all enjoy a cup, topical application or other form of your vital product sometime soon.

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