As tea producers grapple with erratic rains that have knocked tea production in the first quarter, the local tea market has moved into sharp take-off, according to the half year report from the Tea Board of Kenya.
In the year to June 2011, local tea consumption jumped by a full 16 per cent, rising to over 10m kgs up from 8.6m kgs in the previous 12 months, in a surge that is being attributed to sustained promotional campaigns by the tea board and intensive brand promotions by tea packers.
“Factory gate sales have also provided an awareness platform and encouraged repeat sales at the grass root level,” said Tea Board of Kenya Managing Director, Mrs. Sicily Kariuki while releasing the report.
However, most profoundly, the rise represents a shift in strategy and marketing by the Kenyan tea industry as a whole. following from increased competition from leading tea exporters like Sri Lanka and India, coupled with price fluctuations due to global oversupply of tea.
Until now, Kenya's tea industry has been vulnerable to even the smallest wrinkles in the tea export market. Historically, some 95 per cent of Kenyan has been exported, with domestic consumption standing at just 5 per cent and individual tea-drinking standing at just 0.48 kgs a year, compared with countries like the UK, one of the export destinations for Kenya’s tea, where annual individual tea consumption stands at 2 kgs.
The challenge of converting local consumers to the joy of tea and attracting them to value-added and higher quality teas has been driven by the KTDA with the launch of T-Spot, an up-market tea house set on the ground floors of Chai House along Koinange Street in Nairobi. Run by a restaurant consultant management, Blanco's Holdings, the café specializes in serving quality tea, which includes all the teas grown in the country; and presented in every form from cookies made from tea to tea mochas.
The model has quickly gained momentum. On Loita Street, a lane away from T-Spot, is Sasini House, which not only houses the headquarters of a tea and coffee company, but now a new tea and coffee restaurant. Both tea cafes have played a role in delivering a new, more fashionable note to tea drinking, and new local tea lovers.
“These interesting and very well brewed local teas like teappuccino, chai latte and chai mocha make me pass here everyday after my job. I crave for these types of wonderful teas,” said Millicent Wairimu a 25 year old accountant working in Nairobi and customer of the T-Spot café.
As part of its diversification programme Sasini has also established another tea outlet at the newly refurbished National Museums of Kenya headquarters in Nairobi's Museum.
Alongside the new tea café model, KTDA four years ago introduced a Local Generic Promotion Campaign promoting tea as a drink in country-wide road-shows, in-store and door-to-door promotions, and aggressive media campaigns targeting the youth, middle-aged consumers, and women in both rural and urban areas who form the largest population of tea drinkers, but tend to drink tea only once per day.
The drive has also been combined with programmes by tea packers like KETEPA to encourage Kenyans to take more tea by outlining the health benefits derived from tea compared with soft drinks “The objective is to drive home the message that tea is not just a “breakfast” beverage, but one to be taken any time of the day with increased frequency for better health,” said Ms Sicily Kariuki when launching the plan.
The take-off of value addition in Kenyan tea, by adding spices like cinnamon, garlic, lemon grass, ginger, cloves and even fresh parsley and vanilla to cater for customer’s varied tastes has also endeared teas to local consumers.
Mrs Flora Mutahi, who pioneered value addition with her company Melvin Mash, insists that the most beautiful thing that ever happened to her is filling the vacuum in Kenyan stale tea by adding excitement in the local tea market. With the powerful aroma of spices wafting into the corridors of her office in Nairobi's Industrial Area, she says: “I am glad that my efforts have really spiced Kenyans life and more Kenyans now are falling in love with their Kenyan tea.”
The Tea Board of Kenya has also been pushing the government to remove Value Added Tax (VAT) on local tea to increase consumption in the country, in line with countries like Tanzania, which have long exempted their local tea from VAT, even leading to greater competition with Kenyan tea.
It’s an array of marketing that now seems to be delivering some first insulation for the country’s tea industry from the shocks of international competition, which its most vigorous competitors have always been more protected from.
India for example, one of Kenya’s biggest rivals, produces most of its tea for local consumption. In 2010, India produced 30 per cent of the world’s tea, but consumed 85 per cent of that on the local market.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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