• India Orders Testing of Every Batch of Imported Nepal Tea | Tata Reports Greater Shift to Premiumization | India Halts Exports to West Asia

    By Aravinda Anantharaman | Managing Editor

    India Tea News for the week ending April 26, 2024
    India Tea News | Aravinda Anantharaman
    Nepal Truck enroute to India
    Nepal truck en route to India

    Tea from Nepal Stopped for Testing

    After repeated urging from Darjeeling’s tea planters, the Centre has issued a circular stating that every batch of tea entering India from Nepal must be tested for pesticide residues. Until now, Customs has tested a small percentage of the samples randomly. With the new amendment, every batch comes under scrutiny. The testing is done at the National Food Laboratory, Kolkata, and takes 15 days. This means the trucks carrying the tea will remain at the roadside awaiting results. Nepal depends on India as over 90% of its tea is exported here. However, Darjeeling’s tea planters have insisted that the Centre stop Nepal tea imports as it has affected both the quality of tea sold as Darjeeling tea (blended with Nepal tea) and prices. Further, India pays a 40% import duty on Nepal tea, while Nepal is not obliged to pay any for imports from India following a trade agreement. Non-compliance to food safety standards is a pressing concern in the Indian tea industry. – Kathmandu Post

    Tata Reports Revenue from Premium and Sub-Premium Brands

    Money Control has reported that premium and sub-premium brands brought over two-thirds of Tata Consumer Products’ revenue for the financial year that just ended. Tata Tea Gold, Tata Tea Premium, and Tetley Green Tea performed well, with e-commerce driving sales. It is a sign that consumers seek better quality tea via recognized brands. Informist Media has reported that in the financial year ending March 2023, TCPL bought 20.7 mn kilos of tea from North Indian auction centers, averaging Rs 170 per kilo. The market leader, Hindustan Unilever, bought 51.3 mn kilos at an average price of Rs 179.6 per kilo. Lower prices at auctions indicate that both companies stand to earn higher margins.

    India Halts Tea Exports to West Asia

    As tensions increase between Iran and Israel, Indian tea sellers have halted exports to Iran and the Middle East. Shipping companies are also expected to stay away from these ports. This will be a setback for Indian tea as Iran—once a major buyer—is also a gateway to West Asian countries.

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  • Amalgamated Plantations (APPL) Head Resigns | First Flush in North India Sees Low Crop But High Quality

    By Aravinda Anantharaman | Managing Editor

    India Tea News for the week ending April 19, 2024
    Amalgamated Plantations operates gardens in Assam and Dooars

    Amalgamated Plantations (APPL) Head Resigns

    Vikram Singh Gulia, MD and CEO of the Amalgamated Plantations Pvt. Ltd. will leave on 30th June 2024. He is the second head of one of the top five tea corporations to resign this year after Atul Asthana’s exit from the Goodricke Group. The APPL Board has appointed Sukhjeet Singh Malhotra, Vice-President – PSO, Tata Consumer Products, as Wholetime Director and CEO Designate, effective April 9th, 2024. The Amalgamated Plantations include 25 estates in Assam and the Dooars, producing 40 million kilos of tea annually, making them India’s second largest tea producer.

    Vikram Singh Gulia

    High Grown First Flush Sees Lower Yield but Better Quality

    The prolonged drought from October to March in north India has impacted tea crops in north India. The first flush picking began in late March; although rains have started, the crop is still in low quantity. This is seen in Darjeeling and Kangra. Vivek Lochan of Doke Tea says quality has been good and better than in recent years, thanks to the drought-induced slow growth. In Kangra, volume has also been impacted, although tea quality is up. The first flush verdict is low crop but good quality, sweet teas, better than in recent years. How the market responds is to be seen.

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  • Assam BLF Association Factories Refuse to Process Non-Compliant Tea | UPASI Golden Leaf Competition Underway | Elections Present Darjeeling Planters an Opportunity to Seek Intervention

    By Aravinda Anantharaman | Managing Editor

    India Tea News for the week ending 5th April 2024
    India Tea News | Aravinda Anantharaman
    Tea Tasting at The Tea Studio, Nilgiris

    Assam BLF Association Factories Refuse to Process Non-Compliant Tea

    The Assam Bought Leaf Tea Manufacturers Association (ABLTMA) asked its member factories not to accept non-certificated green leaf from smallholders. The association’s 110 bought-leaf manufacturers oppose mandatory auctions and emphasize compliance with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) norms but insist that sellers present a NABL-Lab MRL certificate attesting to the tea’s safe use. The association claims a higher price realization when selling directly to buyers and has questioned the tea board’s decision.

    FSSAI discovered high non-compliance rates after its laboratories were ordered to test samples from a much larger pool of factories. The government mandate to sell 100% of dust-grade teas at auction followed.

    In direct and auction sales, buyers assume responsibility for determining the tea’s safe consumption. Testing for compliance with FSSAI thresholds for 33 chemicals is more rigorous at auction than in direct transactions.

    Assam’s BLFs are the state’s primary producer. A single BLF may source from upwards of 400 small tea growers via an agent. The problem lies in two parts: there is no single list of chemicals allowed and disallowed. The FSSAI and the Plant Protection Code each have a set of permissible chemicals. Second, small tea growers are not fully aware of the problem of chemical usage and the need for compliance with prescribed chemicals, which necessitates a lot of education at the grassroots.

    One bought leaf owner called for a ban on the disallowed chemicals in the state, which would address the issue to some extent. However, what’s banned for tea may be allowed for other crops. This raises the question of why tea is under the spotlight now. They also say chemical testing is impossible at the factory. If tests were done and the chemicals exceeded FSSAI thresholds, it would be difficult or impossible to trace the contaminated tea to its source. No infrastructure is available for checks at this stage, which is first needed. Following the call to stop production, the Assam state government has intervened, and stakeholders expect a resolution.
    The factory managers say they are committed to processing compliant tea, but that needs to be enforced by the tea board at the grower level. Concerns with compliance are not limited to BLF, as many estates also procure green leaf from small tea growers.

    UPASI and Tea Board announce the 19th edition of the Golden Leaf Competition

    This year’s theme at The Golden Leaf Awards India is TGLIA Teas for Markets. 124 teas have been received from 38 factories across south India, covering the Nilgiris, Wayanad, Anamalais, High Ranges, and Travancore. The first tasting took place on March 30th at Coonoor. Details of the final round have not yet been announced. The competition’s teas will be auctioned on April 22nd.

    Elections Present Darjeeling Planters an Opportunity to Seek Intervention

    With 2024 being an election year, Darjeeling planters are asking the Centre to intervene and rescue the tea industry from its current crisis. The region has a significant bank of voters from the tea growers’ community, and they expect to be heard.

    Weeks before the polls, Darjeeling’s north Bengal hill constituency is grappling with fast-changing political equations. According to reports in the Indian Express, leaders are switching their allegiances, and parties are receiving support from unexpected quarters.

    The political landscape in the constituency has always been tumultuous, with regional forces playing a deciding role in sealing the fate of national party candidates amid the overriding sentiment of separate statehood demand (Gorkhaland).

    The BJP has won the constituency since 2009. Unlike previous winners (Jaswant Singh and SS Ahluwalia), Raju Bista has been given a party ticket to retain the seat he won in 2019 by a landslide margin of over 4 lakh votes, writes Indian Express.

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  • Bought Leaf Factories Oppose 100% Dust in Auctions | Assam Expects a Big Drop in First Flush Production | HUL Focuses on Assam to Support Tea Industry

    By Aravinda Anantharaman | Managing Editor

    India Tea News for the week ending 29 March 2024
    India Tea News | Aravinda Anantharaman
    Bought Leaf Factory, Nilgiris, India
    Bought Leaf Factory, Nilgiris, India

    Bought Leaf Factories Reject 100% Dust Auction

    The Telegraph reported that the Assam Bought Leaf Tea Manufacturer’s Association unanimously opposed the tea board’s order for 100% of dust-grade tea to be sold via the auctions. Their view is that their existing sales mechanisms bring higher price realization when compared with auctions. The members also opposed the demand on the Bought Leaf Factories to test all the green leaf sourced and tea produced at their factories for food safety compliance, stating that the use of chemicals and pesticides was by the grower and not at the factory. They have also said they will cease manufacturing operations starting 1st April 2024 to protest against the non-compliance of green tea leaves.

    Assam to See a Significant Drop in First Flush Production

    North India has been seeing a dry start to the year, which has impacted tea production. The first flush plucking expected to begin in early March has been delayed due to lack of rain. Media reports quote planters as saying the crop will be about 40% lower than average production for the season. Assam production in March 2023 stood at about 34 mn kilos. All eyes are on April to see if the first flush will meet expectations. Darjeeling, Sikkim, and Kangra have also had a late start to the season because of prolonged dry weather.

    HUL Offers Interventions to Support Indian Tea

    Hindustan Unilever, which owns tea brands Brooke Bond, Taj Mahal, and Taaza, partnered with the Tea Research Association of India to promote regenerative agriculture. HUL and TRA plan to undertake a “Life Cycle Analysis” to develop strategies to reduce carbon impact. This will cover 19 tea estates/factories and 19 small tea growers across 15,000 hectares in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka. HUL is also expected to invest in Assam to enhance value addition in tea. Economic Times

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  • NETA Opposes 100% Dust Auction | Spotlight on Safe Tea in 2024 | India to Send Trade Delegation to Iran

    By Aravinda Anantharaman | Managing Editor

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    India Mandates All Tea Dust to be Sold at Auction
    India mandates that all tea dust must be sold at auction

    NETA Opposes 100% Dust Auction

    Kamal Jalan, Chairman of The North Eastern Tea Association (NETA), spoke on the challenges facing the Assam tea industry and the way forward. The Association, which held its biennial general meeting in Golaghat, Assam, on March 13, has spoken against the latest government order for 100% of Tea Dust to be sold via the auction system, calling it detrimental to the industry’s survival. They also raised the issue of food safety compliance, calling for greater awareness among small tea growers, increased testing and facilities needed to conduct tests at factories, and a roadmap towards achieving 100% compliance with food safety standards. They also raised the issue of stopping tea production in winter, which is now practiced in north India. The Association has said they do not favor reducing production but instead focus on the generic promotion of tea in the domestic market, aiming for per capita consumption of 1 kilo.

    Safe Tea Comes into Focus

    Indian tea is seeing a renewed and determined march towards food safety. After coming under constant flak, 2024 opened with the Food Safety Standards Association of India, calling for more compliance and partnering with the tea board to see how this can be effected. It’s good to see it in action. Last week, the FSSAI led a training session in the Nilgiris on safe and hygienic tea production practices for small tea growers. In North Bengal, the domestic certification body Trustea partnered with the association of small tea growers for training on pest control, soil health management, and pesticide use.

    India Sends Delegates to Iran

    Iran, once a big buyer of Indian tea, has ceased to import the same volumes as before. The Mint reported that tea shipments to Iran have dropped from 54.5 mn kilos in 2019 to 5.2 mn between January and November 2023. Iran is still considered an important export market; a trade delegation is planned to dialogue with Iranian authorities. Shipping disruptions and payment challenges aside, Iran had an internal crisis in November 2023 when tea importer Debsh Tea Company was embroiled in a $3.4 billion embezzlement scandal. India’s tea exports to the UAE dropped 25% from 2022 to 2023.

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