Tea consumption growth slowed in 2018 on quality concerns, fewer choices

In 2017, consumption of tea in the country had grown 9.74 per cent over the previous year to 1059 million kg, according to Tea Board data.
Growth of tea consumption fell 2.4 per cent last year to 1,084 million kg (mkg), primarily due to fewer choices and stagnation of quality. In 2017, consumption was 1,059 mkg — 9.7 per cent higher than in 2016 — shows Tea Board data.

“Unless quality tea is offered, why would consumers spend to buy more? They’d prefer other beverages, which assure certain quality standards,” said a Union government trade official.

Average consumption was the highest in Gujarat at 1,385 gram (g) a year per person, followed by Haryana at 1,231g. The major producing states of Assam and West Bengal had only 799g and 705g, respectively. “It is because of the availability of quality tea. Assam’s produce is sold and sent to different states; cheaper quality tea is left in the state,” the official said.

The board has been insisting on mandatory garden closure during the winter, to maintain the health of tea bushes. Advisories on closure dates have been issued, with the warning of prosecution for not heeding it.

People in the know said the slower growth in consumption was also on account of the industry’s inability to fathom changes in taste and preference of tea drinkers. Vivek Goenka, chairman of the Indian Tea Association (ITA), admits there is a lack of choice. “The consumer is willing to pay more for quality tea but this is a challenge. Even for CTC (cut, tear, curl) tea, a wide variety can be made available but has not been, yet,” he said. The board and ITA said the quality of tea and availability are important. Quality and luxury teas are mostly exported. 

Like the orthodox variant exported primarily to quality consuming countries like Iran, Germany, and Japan, CTC is also graded according to seasonality and harvest time. However, in India, CTC is sold primarily in the blended form and not categorised based on harvest.

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