Monday, October 25

Young entrepreneurs brew a cup of cheer

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A handful of budding entrepreneurs are hoping to offer a truly energising morning cuppa by breaking free from the tea industry’s age-old practices and by leaving behind a debilitating slump in business.
In the absence of a home-grown global brand, domestic tea planters were not just realising lower value on their produce, but also losing profit to foreign brands that were blending Indian brew with tea from other countries. Tea-focused startups in India, mostly owned by third- or fourth-generation tea traders, have spotted the lacunae and plan to reverse the trend.
Startups have come to realise that the need of the hour is to remove middlemen and deliver estate-fresh brew directly to tea aficionados across the globe, along with a range of value-added products.

Vahdam India founder and CEO Bala Sarda feels the country should emerge as one of the top global exporters to retain value. “This is also one of the long-term sustainable ways. Some startups are influencing this welcome change,” Sarda said.

From omni-channel sales platforms, swanky carts and cafes to tech-aided logistics support and exports, these newbie tea outfits are taking baby steps in every possible domain in the agro-based industry. Young entrepreneurs, more than their senior counterparts, are catching up with the idea of reaching out to their target audience through branding.“Countries in the West and the US consume ready-to-drink tea more than others. The Indian tea market is yet to follow the trend, but experiments have already started, courtesy startups,” said ITA secretary Sujit Patra.

Tea Research Association (TRA) secretary Joydeep Phukan believes the arrival of entrepreneurs has led to positive social media buzz. TRA facilitates new technology for startups like Agnext and Fasal. “Traditional players have reoriented themselves and are aggressively selling tea directly by telling their stories. The more tea producers sell directly, the better it is for the industry,” he said.

Tea consumption in India before the Covid-19 pandemic was broadly driven by traditional means of marketing through distributors, wholesalers and retailers.

“The considerable growth in online tea orders has also helped create awareness of Indian specialty teas across the world,” said Kaushal Dugar, founder of Siliguri-based Teabox, one of the pioneers among Indian tea startups.

According to Dugar, by leveraging technology, startups have sparked new hope in an industry that has been hit by Covid-induced crop losses, logistics bottlenecks and lockdowns in destination markets. Adoption of unique sales plans too has given hope to the industry that has suffered price pressures for decades.

Dorje Teas in Darjeeling has been offering a subscription plan to home-deliver each of the four flushes of loose-leaf teas as seasons change. Udyan Tea, which originated in Siliguri, is not only supplying tea to clients but also doing end-to-end business collaborations.

“Convenience of ordering online helps consumers try new brands and varieties from non-traditional players,” said Sarda.

Thanks to the startup culture, people, particularly millennials, have started sipping specialty Darjeeling teas, which were mainly exported to EU/US, and other newer tea varieties such as wellness and herbals. “The challenge now is to sustain the momentum, create newer experiences for customers, particularly with respect to taste, flavours and customer engagement,” said Dugar.

Source: Times of India

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