‘No tea please, we’re British’; UK sales droop frustrates Indian growers

By Ankush Chibber

- Last updated on GMT

Tea: Brits are drinking less of it, much to the chagrin of Indian tea growers
Tea: Brits are drinking less of it, much to the chagrin of Indian tea growers

Related tags Coffee

The Indian tea industry is facing a major challenge after data revealed the UK market for tea would shrink over the next five years.

Data from the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) revealed that by 2021, the UK would be consuming at least 15% less tea than they were consuming in 2006.

The FAO data said shipments of tea to the UK had touched an all-time high of 136,000t by 2006, from where it has been steadily declining to touch 119,200t at the end of 2010.

The data has spooked the Indian tea growing industry, which has relied on the traditional British affinity for Indian tea to secure good revenues historically.

However, even export data from the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industries points to the downward trend, revealing that tea exports to the UK have gone down from 22 million kg in 2006 to 16m kg in 2011.

A spokesperson for the Tea Board of India however made light of the bleak forecast for tea exports to the UK, and said that it will promote Indian tea in all export markets in the next five years, including the UK.

Culture connect

A tea estate manager however told FoodNavigator-Asia on the condition of anonymity that the reasons behind the dwindling exports are a mixture of regulatory and economic issues.

“That age segment, of older Britons, which coveted Indian tea is shrinking day by day. I am talking of the British who were well aware of Indian tea. They liked the taste and they had the cultural connect with Indian tea,”​ he said.

Younger Britons, he estimated, were perhaps more keen on other non-alcoholic beverages such as energy drinks. “I would not be surprised if the main culprit is coffee. But I would still lean towards other drinks encroaching on this space.”

The changing taste profile could also be a resultof the recession in the UK, which may have hit wallets enough to reduce tea spending.

“That would be better news. At least we would know that exports might normalise as the economy would. That is better than finding out that other drinks have taken over the British high tea tradition,”​ he remarked.

Indian tea industry cooling

The state of the Indian tea market, propmpted a collective SOS to the central government, after a prolonged period of market losses and estate closures.

The cry for help came from the country’s top three tea associations – the Assam Tea Planters’ Association (ATPA), North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) and Bharatiya Cha Parishad - asked the government for reforms and subsidies.

The groups told the committee that the ten-year period up to 2007 was the worst for the Indian tea industry, which struggled with heavy losses and estate closures.

Though the situation has improved since then, the submission outlined that in the current fiscal year, tea makers were struggling with the input costs of fertilisers, coal, gas, and electricity.

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