Traditional tea is a lifestyle in India
Tea has been a beloved part of our daily beverage consumption, across the geographical locations of India. Whether Masala Tea, Lemon Tea, Paal Chaaya (Kerala) or Darjeeling Tea, Indians across the country consume this hot brew in sickness and in health. Sonam Kasera, the 2nd generation entrepreneur of Kamrup Tea Company, spoke with IBT on the growing demand of tea within India and in the Middle Eastern countries and a surge in preference of fusion drinks amongst Gen Z.
Photo Source: Sonam Kasera, Kamrup Tea
IBT: You are the first female entrepreneur of your family. What drew you to tea plantation business?
Sonam Kasera: My family was into tea plantations in Assam and thereafter my father came down to Kolkata and he wanted to start exports. Initially it was more on the domestic level. Originally the company was concentrated on plantation side. He setup the base of the family business in 1977 and then I joined the company in 2005. So, I’m the 2nd generation entrepreneur into exports.
I was interested in the tea business as it is very systematic industry. There is so much to learn. It is dependent on nature. So, when I joined the business 17 years ago, our tea exports volume was limited. And my primary tasks were to expand the export size and introduce different kinds of blends. And I was trained by some of the world’s finest Sri Lankan tea tasters.
We have expanded our market share and diversified into other agro-products. Presently, what we are doing is catering to the tea demand in the B2B segment globally. Very recently, in a small way we have started B2C also. In the southern region, we have partnered with Milk Basket, and some of the specialty stores in Hyderabad, we have started selling our brand.
IBT: What is the demand for orthodox tea within the country?
Sonam Kasera: Unlike other countries, in India we are habituated to consuming tea with milk. Whereas everywhere else it is consumed in the form of black tea, only with water. We launched orthodox teas and Darjeeling tea for the Indian market and our R&D is happening for our ecommerce platform which will be launched in the coming months. We will be foraying into herbal blends which will be launched via our ecommerce route.
We do not want to be just another tea brand. Even when we are exporting, my focus is that Kamrup Tea cannot be volume centric driven. We cater to good quality Indian tea product. And based on this we have been able to build a sustainable customer base.
IBT: What are your plans of company’s business expansion in terms of exports?
Sonam Kasera: Earlier the market was just confined to Russian Federation and Kazakhstan for Indian tea because they were the original tea drinking market. After I joined, we forayed into Bangladesh, and now we are working with Türkiye. We’ve added Iran in our list of exports. We did some consignments to Oman and we are planning to enter into Jordan and Morocco in the coming years.
IBT: Traditional or orthodox tea has been a part of Indian culture for centuries. Has the consumer preference changed towards this beloved beverage?
Sonam Kasera: When we first introduced our products in Milk Basket, which was available in Delhi NCR and down south in Bengaluru and Chennai, the response from southern destinations was good. There is more acceptance towards traditional, orthodox tea and Darjeeling tea.
In Delhi NCR, I was surprised by the response we received for the same range of products. Here we noticed that the demand for orthodox tea was not through retail chains, but via ecommerce portal. Here, tea with milk is a lifestyle choice. It’s a habit. But in the Indian context, our per capita consumption is still far less in comparison to the UK or US. In European countries the per capita consumption is between 2-2.5 kg whereas in India, an average household consumes approximately 800 grams of tea. There is a lot more we can do to engage consumers by offering a wide range of products.
Given the fact that we are more health oriented, we are seeing that there is a surge in preference for hot beverages post Covid. There is this belief that hot beverages sort of protect you from diseases, throat infection. Our R&D is still going on for herbal tea beverages.
Another thing that I’ve noticed is the growing preference of fusion tea beverages amongst Gen Z population. Gen Z, unlike the older generation, doesn’t have the patience to brew traditional tea. But if you add on flavours which they can relate with, make it easy to prepare, then it becomes more appealing. These changing preferences have also led to rise in tea bags instead of loose tea.
IBT: Keeping different tastes and preferences in mind, what strategy have you adopted to sell the products?
Sonam Kasera: When I talk about the (tea) product, whether I am catering to the B2B or the B2C segment, our whole emphasis has been on quality, commitment and sustainability. We want to deliver products of such quality where the customer keeps coming back to us. We see the consumer preference changing, but my focus is not just catering to the Gen Z, but to all other age groups who love tea.
At Kamrup, what we did to appeal Gen X was to sell tea in packaged boxes whereas for Gen Z, the packaging is rather more colourful, vibrant, with catchy phrases. The offerings to Gen Z would be completely opposite to what we are offering to other age groups.