• Observations on Oversupply

    Delegates from 44 countries (and 14 official observers) who attended The 25th Session of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Intergovernmental Group on Tea (IGG Tea) on Jan. 31 expanded the organization’s mandate beyond trade aspects, ratifying initiatives addressing all three dimensions of sustainability – economic, social, and environmental. Joining us today is Peter Goggi, the IGG TEA delegate representing the US in his role as President of the Tea Association of the USA. Peter discusses #TeaPower, a new health and wellness campaign, FAO’s ongoing support of smallholders, and the economics of oversupply.

    FAO IGG TEA delegate Peter Goggi represents the US as President of the Tea Association of the USA
    Ian Gibbs, International Tea Committee with Peter Goggi at UN FAO IGG Tea
    Ian Gibbs, Chair International Tea Committee with Peter Goggi at UN FAO IGG Tea

    There is Too Much Tea in the World

    By Dan Bolton

    Peter Goggi began his career at Unilever, where he was the first American in the history of TJ Lipton to work as a tea taster. He retired after 32 years with Royal Estates Tea Co., where, as president, he was responsible for tea sourcing, blending, and quality assurance. His last assignment was as head of tea procurement, leading a team of supply managers and analysts who spent a billion dollars a year buying tea. His encore as president of the Tea Association of the USA, the Tea Council of the USA, and the Specialty Tea Institute marks a fourth decade of service to the industry. Peter is a champion of the health benefits of tea, a public speaker much in demand, and a spokesperson respected globally for his broad expertise. His annual State of the Tea Industry report is meticulously researched and rich with insights gleaned from a lifetime in tea. He attended the BATIC 2024 Bicentenary in Assam and then three days of IGG Tea beginning Jan. 31. For the past decade, Peter has been the US delegate to IGG, an influential body of cabinet ministers, tea board chairs, academics, tea association executives, and policymakers representing every tea-growing and major tea-consuming region globally.

    Dan Bolton: The much-delayed IGG Tea gathering in the world’s largest tea-producing region showcased India. Delegates also adopted several important policy decisions to help ease a challenging time in tea. Will you tell us about the event?

    Peter: The IGG is a fabulous opportunity for all interested parties on a governmental level to talk about the tea industry. It’s very important to express their views. They all have issues that they’re facing. The issues facing countries of origin are very, very different from those facing consuming countries. But ultimately, solutions that satisfy both need to be met.

    The overriding concern of everyone in this business is the lack of profit throughout the entire supply chain. Unless the growers make money, you’re not going to have tea.

    The challenge extends the entire length of the value chain. And it’s worse than it’s ever been. If you look at the price of tea over time, it hasn’t moved as fast as inflation. We’re paying the same amount for tea as in the 50s but without the margins essential to business.

    What many people don’t realize, particularly here in the US or the West in general, is that millions of people are vested in producing the tea. They’re growing the leaf. They’re plucking the leaf. They’re manufacturing the leaf, preparing it for shipment, and getting it out of their countries of origin that benefit from foreign exchange.

    We talk a lot about sustainability in the tea business. I look at it as a stool with three legs: environmental sustainability, social sustainability, which is the cultural weaving of importance to the local governments, local producers, local towns, and, importantly, there’s economic sustainability. Unless we have that, we are going to lose everything.

    Many of the discussions focused on the smallholder not only at IGG Tea this year but also during BATIC 2024, which was the Bicentennial Assam convention celebrating 200 years of tea growing in Assam. Smallholders produce about 60% of the tea in the world today — the green leaf anyway and they are vitally important to the whole supply chain.

    Everyone agrees that unless these smallholders get appropriate monies for the work that they do, then 10-15 years down the road, we’re all going to be struggling.

    FAO IGG Via Tea Board Of India
    Delegates attending the 25th Session of FAO IGG ON TEA in Guwahati, India

    Dan: Yet the crisis among smallholders is not universal. Smallholders in China have demonstrated resilience over centuries. They enjoy good margins, provide for their families, and are rewarded for investing in growing their businesses over time. Smallholders operating as rural entrepreneurs maintain diverse farmscapes, which would provide a solid foundation for sustainable production.

    Peter: China has done an absolutely fabulous job with its tea industry. If you’re in the tea business in China, you are wealthy. That model exists nowhere else in the world, unfortunately.

    China is, in and of itself, a producer and a consumer. The percentage of exports is extremely small in comparison to what they produce. And what they do produce is really enjoyed by the population. In China, they drink tea; they know tea. Tea is interwoven into every aspect of their culture. Whether it’s health, wellness, or social. It’s a great model. I wish everybody would copy that one — but that’s just not the case.

    What you’re seeing now is that smallholders are producing as best they can. But the world, quite frankly, is inundated with tea. The amount of tea produced over the last several years is greater than what’s been consumed. Tea doesn’t go away. It sits in a warehouse somewhere. So, we have too much tea. And this is what’s really dragging the price of tea down — except for the specialty segment.

    Artisanal teas have great leaf, great flavor, great stories behind them, and well-thought-out manufacturing processes. They’re making money, but the quantities are relatively small – we’re talking on a volume basis of 8% to 12% of the world’s tea, but it’s responsible for probably 25% to 30% of the profit.

    Dan: During the past 20 years, the volume of specialty tea has more than doubled. It is encouraging that demand is growing and that people prefer to drink healthful, better-tasting tea with its artisan story and third-party certifications. Drinking good tea is a reasonably priced personal choice with untold benefits. Teabags sell for pennies, and you get what you pay for, but spending a small sum of money, perhaps $3 per ounce, about 43 cents per serving, as a floor on which higher-quality tea, priced at $8 per ounce, is the tide to lift all boats.

    Peter: That’s the hope. We saw some very good indications of a positive future coming out of COVID because, qualitatively, Gen Z was really turning to tea during COVID. They were buying specialty tea — to take your point about stories and tea’s artisanal aspects — they love that stuff. And they’re very keen on knowing that the dollar that they spend for a product is going back to help the person who actually produces the product.

    So this is where knowledge of the value and supply chains are very important to this particular class demographic, and as they age, they will continue to drink tea.

    It’s a known fact that as the population ages, the incidence of tea consumption increases. So I’m hoping that the habits they’ve grown to embrace as university students will carry through for the rest of their lives, and they’ll pass that on to the next generation.

    That’s the good news. The bad news is that that habit was very true at home, not very true out-of-home, so they drank all their tea in their houses with their personal tea ceremonies, whether it’s a particular mug or whether it’s a particular teapot or how they did it or with their friends are watching their videos, loved it, consume more, and it was hot, which in the United States is important because we’re a tea drinking nation of iced tea, and they’re drinking more hot tea.

    That’s a potential change as we go forward. But regrettably, as they go out-of-home, their incidence of tea drink drinking does not match up with what they do at home. So, this will be the challenge: How do we get that tea experience out of home?

    Tea Power
    UN Tea & Health Working Group proposes #TeaPower marketing campaign.

    Dan: During the 25th FAO Session, delegates formally adopted a coordinated global marketing campaign to promote the power of tea. The hashtag #TeaPower targets youth, portraying tea as a healthy, plant-based, beneficially bio-active beverage with scientifically demonstrated advantages over rival drinks.

    Peter: We blazed the path of tea and health here in the United States. We made a conscious decision back in the 90s that anything we would say about tea and health had to be rooted in science. Beginning with the urging of Marty Kushner, we embarked on the Tea & Health path. Pollock Communications has been a tremendous partner in coordinating our symposiums and serving as a leader in our Social Media communications. As I said, all of our messaging is rooted in science, and we’ve been lucky to have two key individuals working with us: at the beginning was Dr. John Weisburger, and for the last several years, there has been Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg.

    We’ve held six international symposiums on the science of tea and health, and they’ve all generated interest. They’ve all generated tremendous knowledge about tea and have shown different areas in which tea positively impacts human health.

    So #TeaPower is a marketing effort born out of FAO that sits on a lot of the work we’ve done, not only here in the US but also picked up internationally. I believe everybody at the FAO IGG agrees that tea and health is one of the big levers to press to help drive consumption to help people pick up and take notice that “Oh!” tea is good for you.

    • #TeaPower #UnlockYourPotential #TeaTime
    • #Flavan3ols #SportAndFitnessBenefitsofTea
    • #YoungerGenerationsHealthAndPerformance
    FAO IGG Collaboration
    FAO IGG Collaboration

    And as you mentioned, there are a lot of bio-actives in tea. It’s plant-based, it’s natural, calorie-free. You have black, green, oolong, white, and dark teas that all come from the same bush; it is just a matter of how it’s processed. And when we use the word process, people need to understand that tea is very lightly processed. It’s not that we’re adding anything. It’s just we’re changing how we manipulate the leaf for the amount of time that we let it sit in a room to oxidize. The whole process is natural.

    This provides another great platform to discuss why it is healthy and how consuming as little as two or three cups of tea throughout the day can positively impact human health.

    So yeah, I’m excited.

    The FDA is very clear on what you can say about the health aspects of any food. The Holy Grail of tea continues to be what is known as a structure-function claim, which says: “If you drink tea, it’ll stop cancer, or if you drink tea, you’ll stop a heart attack. And that’s what we continue to seek. And more and more of the research indicates that we’re on the right path.

    That’s what we hope for in the tea business. That’s why we continue to encourage scientists to study tea, and we’ve seen progress in quite a few areas of human health.

    We just need some more studies to get us to the endpoint.

    International Tea Day 2024

    The Working Group on Tea & Health has the opportunity to use the established science to develop language around the topic of sport and fitness, targeting a younger generation as well as the importance of flavan-3-ols in healthy living. The language would include hashtags all organizations could use to amplify the messaging on various media platforms. International Tea Day, 21 May, would provide the perfect platform for the campaign, with all interested parties agreeing to harmonized messaging and campaign timings running up to and culminating on the day of observance.

    Dan: Is there a future for green tea in the US? Is that a style of tea that can expand?

    Peter: It’s a mixed story. Pre 1998, I worked for Unilever / Lipton in the US, and we were probably the largest green tea bag manufacturer and seller, but the total imports into the US were somewhere in the neighborhood of 3% of total tea.

    Then a study about tea drinkers in Japan was published in Reader’s Digest in 1998. That study talked about lowering the incidence of liver cancers, and the only thing they could attribute it to was a particular area in Japan. Shizuoka is the largest green tea growing area in Japan. People there consume much more green tea than the rest of Japan. They had a much lower incidence of that particular cancer, and when it came out in Reader’s Digest well, green tea sales exploded. I mean, you couldn’t find enough green tea to meet consumer demand. During the next few years, you saw a very steep curve. Green tea increased to about 20% of imports over the next four or five years and has been coming down ever since.

    So right now, green tea represents about 14% of tea imported into the US. I really think that, like anything else, you can tell someone that it is good for you until you’re blue in the face, but if it doesn’t taste good, they’re not going to consume it. And green tea just doesn’t fit the Western palate.

    Now a lot of caveats go along with that. Number one is that most people probably make their green tea incorrectly. They probably use the same amount of tea as black tea — you shouldn’t use as much. It would be best if you use about half. They’re probably steeping it in boiling water, which you shouldn’t do. Instead, you should bring the water to a boil and let it cool down to about 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Let it cool before steeping.

    Those two components alone make green tea much more consumable, much less astringent, and far sweeter than you would normally get if you produce it the other way.

    The other thing that people don’t understand about green tea is that there are two ways of fixing green tea or actually stopping the process of oxidation. The Chinese use pan firing on a very hot surface that the tea leaf passes over, destroying the Polyphenol oxidase, which is the ingredient that turns tea from green to black and oxidizes all the other constituent parts of the leaf. The Japanese use steam, and those two processes develop completely different flavor profiles. Japanese tea tends to be far more astringent with a bit more fishy taste, whereas Chinese tea tends to be sweeter and smoother.

    Those two processing elements alone drive a big flavor differential. But to your point, what can help make green tea more accepted? Clearly, we’re seeing the addition of botanicals mellowing out the tea. It’s important to keep enough of the “good stuff” (True Tea) to deliver human health aspects. That is really the way to go. Green tea blends have been well-received for years, but I think there is more interest in tea being blended with mint, or citrus fruits, or rose hips, etc. You’re getting a much more layered offering in terms of taste than you will with just green tea alone.

    It’s very interesting to see the innovation that’s going on right now in green tea and the use of botanicals and other components that help reach the consumer and create a better-tasting, more acceptable product.

    “The overriding concern of everyone in this business is the lack of profit throughout the entire supply chain.”

    – Peter Goggi

    Peter Goggi with Arun Singh, Founder Trustee at Tea Vision Trust
    Peter Goggi with Arun Singh, Founder Trustee at Tea Vision Trust

    Dan: Innovation isn’t an option when facing a diverse, aggressively promoted, competitive marketplace. You must innovate constantly because everybody with a beverage on the shelf is innovating, right?

    Peter: Yeah, I mean, this whole aspect of innovation, bringing new ways of thinking to produce a product, will help drive any industry, not just the tea industry.

    What you’ve been talking about, though, is generally limited to the country in which they’re doing it. I haven’t seen too much of that being exported simply because they haven’t had an opportunity to make as much.

    Peter: Yeah. I mean, this is what I was talking about before this particular project that you’re talking about. What do you have? You have economic sustainability; you have social sustainability. And you have ecological, which follows anyway because they’re probably diversifying their portfolio of crops that they’re growing because now they’re making more money from tea, they can maybe grow maize or something else that will help feed their family.

    You know, I mean, this is exactly what it is, and really, part of that model is copied from the KTDA (Kenya Tea Development Authority), which probably has the strictest plucking standards of any small holder that I can see and guess what, they always get the best prices, you know because they’re two leaves in a bud. And so, this, in my view, addresses several things. Number one is you get better quality. If you produce better quality, you get better prices, and everybody makes more money. But even more importantly, and that’s looking at the larger universe of tea, is that if you’re doing fine plucking, your yields go down, and if your yields go down, that means the balance between supply and demand will come more into play. And then the whole boat gets lifted, to use your metaphor, because a high tide lifts all boats, and that’s what we want.

    If we were in a much closer balance of supply and demand, it would be better, best for everyone. Everyone wins when you have a balance.

    Dan: At the heart of that balance is quality. Cultivate only lands that produce great tea. Then, limit what the factory will accept and process. Buds and a few leaves bring a better price at lower volumes. Leave the coarse leaves to reduce plant stress and minimize sorting costs. Harvest frequently to increase the concentration of tender fresh leaves. Hand pluck in steep terrain at altitude but use more selective optical “smart shears” elsewhere. Mechanization in the field and ahead of the sorting table lowers cost. Cultivate fewer hectares to deliver less to the withering trough. Invest in fermentation cabinets to achieve greater control and more distinctive tasting tea.

    Peter: All great ideas.

    This goes back to how they made tea in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and early 70s. It’s not rocket science, folks. Quality leaf means quality, which means you’re giving the highest potential to the factory to make good tea coming out. And if they treat that leaf well during their manufacturing process, you will have the best possible product. It’s just common sense.

    Dan: Why do you think so much effort, time, and money is being spent on producing a surplus?

    Peter: This is, you know, is one of the things that make you want to shoot yourself in the head. As a consumer nation, we’re saying listen, there’s only so much we can do to drive share of throat. You know, let’s face it, people can only consume X number of liters of liquid a day. That’s it.

    If, at origin, you decide to do just what we said to increase the quality of the pluck, make sure that you don’t chase markets when prices do go up and produce more tea to take advantage of that. Then everything falls into place as we can see in some of these demonstrated models. The challenge is that tea has been in a boom-bust cycle since I’ve been in business, and I got into the business in 1979.

    You can go back and look at historical records, and everything else to find that everybody freaks out whenever the price of tea starts going up. Producers turn on the tap and make more tea. One of the big problems with tea is that overnight, you can produce 20% more leaf just by picking more leaves further down the bush, or you forego pruning. Usually, 20% of your tea bushes are leafless and not producing. Growers stop pruning when prices go up that’s 20% more volume right there. Or you tell the pluckers to go a little bit further down the bush, and suddenly, you have all this lower-quality tea flowing into the market and depressing prices.

    Dan: A factory focused on quality over quantity will say, look, that’s a cheap way to increase volume, but the advantage is lost at auction when tea sells for so much less. A disciplined specialty grower will insist: Unless you give me the top three leaves, volume doesn’t matter.

    Peter: The factory can say that, but the dollar incentive too often overrides logic because there’s an opportunity to make a lot of money quickly.

    They have been under economic pressure for so long that an opportunity has come for them to make money to help fill the voids they’ve been accruing over the last several years. I’d take that opportunity. I mean, that’s just the laws of economics, and whether you like it or not, you feel for them.

    These are things that could be prevented. You mentioned Tanzania, their minister of agriculture came out a few months ago and said they are going to triple production to 90 million kilos by 2030. So, they’re planting new tea. Why? Why are they doing this? I mean, there’s no export demand and no domestic market that can consume all that tea in an effective, profitable way. We’re going to be in trouble for many, many years.

    Peter: Now, each country has its problems, and I don’t want to make snap judgments and say they’re wrong. They’re doing what they think is best for their people. And that’s what counts, but one can’t deny the laws of supply and demand, which is the most overarching issue we’re facing.

    There’s just too much tea in the world; if we can fix that, everything else will fall into place.

    FAO IGG Via Tea Board Of India
    Organizers of the 25th Session | UN FAO IGG TEA

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    Episode 154 | Peter Goggi, the UN FAO IGG TEA delegate representing the US in his role as President of the Tea Association of the USA, discusses #TeaPower, a new health and wellness campaign, FAO’s ongoing support of smallholders, and the economics of oversupply. | Episode 154 | | 9 Feb 2024

  • Frugal Innovation

    There are few entry barriers to tea. It does not demand heavy infrastructure. But the complaint from smallholders selling raw leaf to large-scale tea producers operating multiple factories is that for the past decade, farmgate prices are not commensurate with costs. Now the economics of the tea trade is gradually shifting from oversupply to scarcity. At the same time, some quiet work underway in India is yielding encouraging results that lower the cost of tea production, improve quality, and ease a shortage of labor. The most powerful driver for change is revenue. Prices globally, on average, increased by $0.21 cents per kilo during 2021, according to Trading Economics. Abhijeet Hazarika, IT analyst @TeaSigma and former head of process innovation at Tata Global Beverages, observed that “Tea is not a very high profit yielding commodity and will not be so in the foreseeable future until some tech breakthrough happens.” The frugal innovations described in this series, combined with higher prices may herald that breakthrough.

    • Caption: A quality assessment station. Improving quality is critical to the success of growers.
    Hear the interview (part 1)
    Abhijeet Hazarika on promising new Frugal Innovations

    Scanning tea fields at different wavelengths to assess plant conditions. Using cameras to monitor crop conditions, in
    order to identify threats from disease and pests at an early stage, enables a more targeted (and effective) use of pesticides, lifting productivity and profits. Photo courtesy of Shekib Ahmed.

    Bringing Technology into the Tea Value Chain

    By Aravinda Anantharaman

    Abhijeet Hazarika talks about technology in terms of “frugal innovation”.

    What is frugal innovation? His checklist includes:

    • 1.    Low capital expenditure because the industry cannot bear additional high expense
    • 2.    Low complexity, taking into the view that skill levels on the tea estate, with people who are not very conversant with technology
    • 3.    Low upkeep cost, because tea estates have limited infrastructure. Innovations that required high maintenance have a short shelf life and soon land in the junk pile
    • 4.    Clean and safe because this is non-negotiable, and buyers ask for it, especially export buyers
    • 5.    Highly reliable, because the whole idea of innovation is to improve efficiencies
    • 6.    Impact, because the scale of impact must justify adoption of innovation

    The ideas he shares are not limited to large estates but have taken cognizance of the small growers. Frugal innovation also correlates with low risk which makes it an attractive proposition. And yet, there have been few takers for it.

    In Part 1, we look at how implementing frugal innovations can impact the purchase of leaf and the sale of tea.

    Innovation in the procurement of leaf

    Saurav Berlia is the third generation in his family’s tea business. The LR Group (Berlia Foods) has been involved in all aspects of tea, from gardens and factories to broking, packing and exports. His company produces more than 20 million kilos annually, supplying to buyers including the top three in India. Berlia decided to pilot some of Hazarika’s projects in frugal innovation.

    The group procures about 500 kilos of tea every day from small growers. This process involves calling every small grower each morning for an estimate of the tea they expect to pluck. The small growers sell their leaves, but they won’t know the price they will be paid for it until the next day. They will also not receive feedback on the quality of their leaves.

    Berlia is piloting an app that his growers could connect to. With this, the call every morning is made redundant. The grower’s login to the app to understand the market requirements in the morning and offer the estimated quantity of leaves right there. What’s more, because they have an insight into the market requirements, they can set their own prices. Berlia’s staff can accept the price or negotiate before they buy the leaf. Once the transaction is confirmed, the grower gets a message with the weight of the green leaf to be supplied and the price they will be paid for it.

    A three-month pilot has shown a positive response and a few of the growers are very happy. However, Berlia admits that he met with resistance at both ends — growers were resistant to the new-fangled app that demanded their inputs and attention. At his factory, Berlia’s staff were convinced it wouldn’t work. They preferred the status quo. He says patience accompanied by training addressed some of this resistance. With each unit having about 50-100 growers as partners, the app can potentially transform how transactions are conducted, to everyone’s benefit.

    “Technology has become much more affordable today than what it was 5-10 years ago because processing power has made it affordable. Devices are more affordable. Technology has become simpler.”

    – Shekib Ahmed

    Using data effectively

    Another early adopter of tech is Shekib Ahmed who runs the Koliabur Tea Estate near Silghat in Assam. The 1,600-acre estate next to the Kaziranga National Park with 900 acres under tea. Low hill ranges form part of the terrain here. The garden produces exceptional single-origin CTC tea.

    Ahmed chose to partner with Hazarika because of a shared desire to integrate technology in tea farming. Listen to as Ahmed talks about the two key points that attracted him to this.

    “Technology has become much more affordable today than what it was 5-10 years ago because processing power has made it affordable,” says Ahmed. “Devices are more affordable. Technology has become simpler. He (Abhijeet) was reminiscing how, when he was working with data, the cost of data analytics was astronomical. But now with cloud computing and everything, it’s become a lot more affordable for companies of our size to give it a shot. That was the first part.”

    “The second part was how he focused so much on frugal innovation, things that are affordable for companies of our size to try to tweak and to learn. And one of the biggest benefits of working with Abhijeet is that when we’re doing three to four projects, two or three may not give the results that we want today. They may give it later or they may not work out. However, the side benefits of all the ideas and discussions, just the access to these bright minds like Abhijeet, like the scientists really opens up a lot of little innovations, which are very groundbreaking in the sense that it’s really helped me improve quality in the last one and a half years,” said Ahmed.

    He adopted a simple system of data analytics for tea from the tea auction system. There’s a lot of data that comes from the tea board of India, but this is raw data. Ahmed talks about the resistance to change even here when he says the Indian tea industry is where the steel industry was 30-40 years ago. Innovation was very, very slow and the industry was loathed to move past its way of working.

    Ahmed’s tea is sent to the auction every week. Data analytics helped him understand how his tea was performing but also what quality the market was seeking. Just to jump the gun a bit, in using data analytics to offer tea that the market wants, Koliabur and Dubba, both of Ahmed’s estates saw a jump of 15-25% in auction prices this year. From being in the Top 20 in the ranks, they are now in the Top 10, which, given that there are 800 gardens in Assam, is no small feat. But he is quick to add that it’s not data alone that has contributed to this.

    For innovation to fully work, it must be leveraged across the value chain.

    Listen next week to Part 2 when we take a look at frugal innovation in the fields and in the factory.

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  • Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 46

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    Hear the Headlines

    | Ekaterra Tea CEO John Davison Gets Underway
    | India Steps up Efforts to Halt Illegal Tea Imports
    | Chinese Archaeologists Discover Oldest Tea Yet

    Seven-minute Tea News Recap


    This week Tea Biz travels to Singapore for a conversation with John Davison, CEO of ekaterra tea, soon to be the largest tea company in the world. Ekaterra is currently a division of Unilever that houses 34 tea brands including Lipton, PG Tips, TAZO, Brooke Bond, Lyons, and Red Rose. In November CVC Capital Partners, a multi-billion private equity firm headquartered in Luxembourg, paid $5.1 billion for Ekaterra tea, outbidding several competitors and establishing a valuation based on 14x earnings before taxes and depreciation.

    Ekaterra Tea CEO John Davison discusses his plans for re-energizing the Unilever tea portfolio.

    Ekaterra tea CEO Re-energizes World’s Largest Tea Company

    By Dan Bolton

    John Davison joined Unilever in March 2021 to carve out the company’s underperforming tea portfolio. Davison was formerly CEO at Zuellig Pharma, a $13 billion pharmaceutical distribution company employing 13,000 workers in 12 Asian countries. Davison, who is British, is a graduate of Cambridge University and Harvard Business School. He began his career with UK retailer Marks & Spencer before joining McKenzie & Co. in 1991. He was global head of strategy at Diageo in 1995 during the Guinness merger and a regional president at Danone for 11 years beginning in 2003. Davison, who lives in Singapore, will relocate to Europe after Christmas. Davison discusses the urgency of improving tea quality and adopting sustainable initiatives along the entire supply chain. Listen to his plans for re-energizing the world’s largest tea company.  Read more…

    Listen to the interview
    John Davison on re-energizing the world’s largest tea company


    Sparsh Agarwal, Selim Hill Tea Estate

    India Steps up Efforts to Halt Illegal Tea Imports

    By Dan Bolton

    India’s food safety and customs officials have stepped up inspections of tea imports targeting Nepal and citing complaints that large quantities of Himalayan grown tea are being illegally passed off as origin protected Darjeeling tea.

    It is not clear how great a quantity is involved but CBIC is asking for proof of export license and sanitary and phytosanitary certificates after customs authorities discovered that only 23.4 million kilos of the 60.4 million kilos imported into India during the past three years for re-export had been re-exported. The Darjeeling Tea Association asserts most of this tea arrived from Nepal and was sold as if India produced it.

     Growers describe a porous border that makes it possible for raw tea leaves to cross from Nepal. Unscrupulous factory owners can confidently process the leaf and pass it off as Darjeeling in the domestic market, reaping a significant difference in price. Tea vendors are in on the game, offering as little as 600 rupees [about US$8] per kilo to producers and then doubling the price for unsuspecting customers.

     Larger quantities of bulk processed tea can also cross the border as a bilateral trade agreement waives tariffs and prevents arbitrary inspections that could be viewed as harassment.

     India is the largest market for Darjeeling with 5 to 6 million consumers. As India’s premier growing region, Darjeeling has focused mainly on controlling overseas exports to protect its name and reputation for purity and taste. Joining us today is Sparsh Agarwal a fourth-generation Darjeeling grower at Selim Hill Tea Estate who articulates a domestic threat, which is the import of teas blended to dilute the Darjeeling brand.

    Listen to the interview
    Sparsh Agarwal explains how a porous border with Nepal dilutes the Darjeeling brand

    Agarwal reports “The crux of the problem is that if you have spent any time in Darjeeling, you know that the border between Nepal and Darjeeling is super porous, right? So there’s a large problem of green leaves being smuggled in and then being produced in Darjeeling tea factories. The second-degree problem is that tea shops are buying Nepal teas at a fraction of the price of Darjeeling teas. This is not the problem of the growers, to be honest, it’s not the grower’s fault that this is happening. Ultimately we will all have to go towards better, more established sourcing of teas using technology. We are looking into how technology like blockchain can be used to be able to improve these things. We are right now in advanced conversations with one particular company to be able to do better sourcing for our customers so that they know that this tea is not only coming from Salem Hill, it’s coming from these sections within Selim Hill.” 

    Biz Insight – India is also aggressively challenging importers to monitor Kenyan tea, threatening to cancel their operating license for violating new rules that require labeling by origin. Kenya had hoped that India would establish a minimum import price, a solution endorsed by the Indian Tea Association. Instead, India stepped up inspections taking a closer look at quality and quantities to slow a recent surge of low-value teas.  Kenya shipped to India 2.8 million kilos of tea from January through June, up from 1.5 million kilos in the same period last year.

    Tea remains unearthed from ancient tombs in Zoucheng, Jining City, Shandong Province, China. /CMG

    Chinese Archaeologists Discover the Oldest Tea Yet

    Archaeologists extended the age of prepared teas to the early stages of the Warring States, circa 453 to 410 BC, a period 2,400 years ago, according to a report by the Xinhua News Agency.

    The samples were discovered in tombs excavated in Shandong Province in the remains of a city built 2,800 years ago. [during the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BC)]. Stem and leaf carbonized residues were found in an inverted porcelain bowl. Researchers led by Professor Wang Qing at Shandong University said the residue is likely dregs left by ancient people after boiling tea. Tests for theanine confirmed the substance as tea. The findings advance the age of prepared teas by more than 300 years in a study published in the Chinese-language Journal of Archaeology and Cultural Relics.   Dan Bolton

    • Read more… links indicate the article continues. Learn more… links to additional information from reliable outside sources.
    Tea Price Report
    Nov 27 – Sale 47

    India Tea Price Watch | Sale 47

    Tea Biz caught up with tea exporter Pranav Bhansali of Bhansali and Company to review the Indian tea industry’s past year. He said, “Quality teas have been selling at fantastic premiums for CTC and Orthodox teas, even at this late stage of the season. This is surprising, especially for CTC teas, since it is unusual to see the major packeteers and blenders being this aggressive and active on quality produce at this time of the year.” Bhansali says, “Indian tea exports have taken a hit due to high CTC prices and weather disruptions.” The Tea Board estimates a decline of 8-10% in calendar 2021 compared to the same period last year. “Supply chain disruptions and container shortages are expected to continue into 2022. On the bright side, Iran continues to be the largest consumer of Indian Orthodox teas,” says Bhansali. Read more…

    Aravinda Anantharaman
    • Aravinda Anantharaman introduces the two-part series Frugal Innovations with Abhijeet Hazarika and Indian tea growers Saurav Berlia and Shekib Ahmad who describe cost-efficient experiments and pilots that demonstrate why tea producers should embrace simple technologies with scalable impact. Listen to Episode 47 of the Tea Biz Podcast | Friday, Dec. 10

    Upcoming Events

    December 2021

    Sips & Bites: Exploring the World of Artisanal Tea | December 15 | Virtual |
    Director Dr. Katharine Burnett will share an overview of the Global Tea Initiative. Manik Jayakumar, Founder of QTrade Teas & Herbs, and Rona Tison, Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations at ITO EN, North America, will discuss their work in the tea industry and walk attendees through a tasting of their exquisite teas. The Global Tea Initiative (GTI) for the Study of Tea Culture and Science was established in 2015 to promote evidence-based knowledge about tea. | Register FREE (Zoom) | 6-7 pm PST | Sponsored by the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, University of California, Davis.

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    Ekaterra CEO John Davison

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  • Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 45

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    Hear the Headlines

    | In the Black: Holiday Sales Surge
    | CVC Capital Pays $5.1 Billion for Unilever’s Tea Portfolio
    | Weather Stations: A Climate Change Adaptation Essential for Tea

    Seven-minute Tea News Recap


    This week Tea Biz travels to Brisbane, Australia where East Forged Tea co-founder Kym Cooper reminds us that innovation need not be at the expense of the timeless taste of tea. East Forged preserves that taste ? with no sugar, coloring, or artificial flavoring ? in a convenient, slightly fizzy, nitro-infused, cold-brewed iced tea that pours a craft-brew-like head of foam. 

    … and then to Boston, Mass. to learn how Evy Chen, facing an 82% decline in foodservice sales of her signature cold-brewed tea, reformulated, rebranded, and relaunched online as a successful direct-to-consumer brand. 

    Manufactured in a brewery and then canned, the teas get a burst of CO2 for fizz and nitrogen to add texture and a creamy head. Photo courtesy East Forged

    A Fizzy, Foamy Innovation in Tea

    By Dan Bolton

    East Forged teas, launched in Australia in 2020, are nonalcoholic sparkling adult beverages cold-brewed for 12 hours from organic whole leaf green, black, and white teas and blended with low-sugar Calamansi, Pitaya, or Yuzu juice. Manufactured in a brewery and then canned, the teas get a burst of CO2 for fizz and nitrogen to add texture and a creamy head. The black tea tastes of citrus and is dry, not sweet, the Fujian-grown white tea is flavored with calamansi, a mild, wild citrus-hybrid from the Philippines ideal for social occasions. Read more…

    Listen to the interview
    Kym Cooper describes the importance of making teas that taste like tea

    Resilient & Resourceful

    The tea industry globally demonstrated its ability to recover quickly during two years of disruption. Less is said about individuals who overcame pandemic-related obstacles and the resourcefulness of people that grow, process, and trade tea. To remedy that, Tea Biz is sharing stories of resilience, reinvention, pivots, and clever workarounds that exceeded expectations.

    Evy founder Evy Chen

    A Story of Reinvention

    By Dan Bolton

    In 2020 US restaurant and foodservice sales declined by $240 billion (22% for the year) placing unprecedented stress on food and beverage suppliers. In Boston, Evy’s Tea founder Evy Chen watched as standing orders for her organic, sustainable, artisan cold-brewed bottled teas cease overnight. Revenue fell 82%. She persevered, observing that COVID lockdowns led to a surge in online transactions and altered long-established consumer buying habits. Within a year she had reformulated, rebranded, and relaunched online as a successful direct-to-consumer brand known as Evy. Read more…

    Evy Chen on bouncing back after a dramatic drop in sales of her namesake cold-brewed tea.


    Unilever spent the past year consolidating its 34 tea brands into a single division launched as ekaterra Tea.

    CVC Capital Pays $5.1 Billion for Unilever Tea Portfolio

    By Dan Bolton

    CVC Capital Partners last week paid $5.1 billion to acquire legendary tea brands Lipton, PG Tips, Brooke Bond, Lyons, Bushells, and Red Rose as well as relative newcomers TAZO, T2, and Pukka Herbs culminating Unilever’s corporate carve-out. 

    The portfolio of 34 brands was christened Ekaterra Tea following a year-long restructuring with the intent to either sell or separate the division from Unilever’s core offerings. Ekaterra is now the world’s largest tea company with approximately 10% global share and the leading tea brand in 58 markets. Unilever retained its tea business in India and Indonesia along with the PepsiCo-Lipton partnership headquartered in the US.  

    Ekaterra CEO John Davison welcomed the acquisition: “ekaterra is a strong business with positive momentum and has an exciting future ahead under the new ownership of CVC Fund VIII. We look forward to the next stage of our journey as the world’s leading Tea business.” Read more…

    Biz Insight – Bold big-scale investments in tea companies are rare. Five years ago Unilever spent a combined $500 million acquiring retail chain T2 in 2013, completing the roll-up in 2017 when it bought the TAZO brand from Starbucks and Pukka Herbs. 

    But these acquisitions were tactical and defensive, designed to stimulate revenue in light of a moribund black tea category by diversifying an aging stable of legacy brands from Lipton to Lyons. The $5.1 billion deal announced by Luxembourg-based CVC Capital this week is 10x greater, signaling an intent to revitalize and elevate the portfolio. Unilever spent the past year shaping a new corporate model for the large-scale production of sustainable tea but was unwilling to finance it. Ekaterra’s vision could only be realized if the corporate carve-out attracted aggressive bidding. Fortunately, it did. Finalists CVC Capital, Carlyle, and Advent International each spent time and money evaluating the potential rewards for investors. The low bid of $4 billion demonstrates that independently they agree that Ekaterra is headed in the right direction. CVC’s winning bid was 14 times (EBITDA), a measure of the portfolio’s basic contribution to Unilever’s earnings. All three bids embraced the complexity of re-imagining tea at scale. Insiders say CVC won the day with determination and grit. 

    • Ekaterra Tea CEO John Davison and Dan Bolton met virtually for an hour-long interview last week in which Davison discusses the urgency of adopting sustainable initiatives along the entire supply chain. Listen to his plans for the company in Episode 46 of the Tea Biz Podcast | Friday, Dec. 3

    Restaurant reservations are up 4% in the US and are now 7% higher globally compared to 2019, according to OpenTable. Recovery is uneven. During the past two years, 90,000 US restaurants closed permanently and the omicron variant has heightened concerns about future lockdowns.

    In the Black: Holiday Sales Surge

    By Dan Bolton

    Shoppers are exceeding expectations for the holidays.

    Americans spent an estimated $5.1 billion on Thanksgiving Day and nearly twice that on Black Friday sales that extended through Sunday. Adobe’s Digital Economy Index estimated total sales will reach $9.2 billion. Small business Saturday will net $4.5 billion. Toy sales are up 256%. Barclaycard Payments reported a 16.7% increase in volume compared to the same period on Cyber Monday 2020 and a 4.5% increase in payments compared to pre-pandemic levels.

    US consumer spending online rose 20% in the first three weeks of November, according to the Adobe Index which predicts a record $207 billion in e-commerce sales this holiday season, up 10% compared to 2020. The US Census Bureau tallied $214.6 billion in third-quarter e-commerce sales, which now account for 13% of total US retail sales. The National Retail Federation projects holiday sales will increase 8.5% to 10.5% totaling $859 billion over the forecast period, compared to 2020. 

    Consumers appear to be heeding the advice to shop early. The Guardian reported a Deloitte survey that showed people spent 80% to 85% of their holiday gift budgets before Black Friday. Read more…

    Africa has only one-eighth the minimum density of weather stations recommended by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) leading to inaccurate forecasts and unreliable early-warning systems. Kenya’s government currently maintains only 22 rainfall stations in a country spanning 225,000 square miles. 

    Weather Stations: A Climate Change Adaptation Essential to Tea

    The Glasgow Climate Pact calls for doubling the developed world’s investment in climate adaptations for poor nations. 

    Farm-level mitigation is underway as tea gardens dig ponds to capture rainwater and plant trees for shade but generalized weather forecasts focus on changes in average conditions and are of little help alerting growers to heatwaves and frost. 

    Africa has only one-eighth the minimum density of weather stations recommended by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) leading to inaccurate forecasts and unreliable early-warning systems, according to the Washington Post. Kenya’s government currently maintains only 22 rainfall stations in a country spanning 225,000 square miles. 

    As it turns out, the gardens themselves are repositories of great volumes of “hidden” weather data used by the University of Leeds to develop high-tech computer simulations capable of providing climate information that is both useful and usable for tea growers in Kenya and Malawi.

    The Conversation explains that understanding what future conditions will be like is particularly important for tea growers because the tea plant has a long lifespan, of more than 80 years. “That means it is critical to take decisions now that will continue to be sound in the future, like replanting with better and resilient cultivars, planting shade trees and crop diversification,” according to researchers.

    The site-specific modeling establishes a temperature threshold specific to tea varieties. In Kenya’s Rift Valley growers are alerted when projections show several consecutive days of temperatures exceeding 27 degrees Celsius. In Malawi, the threshold temperature is 35 degrees Celsius.

    “Projections from a suite of 29 global climate models offer projections for the 2050s and 2080s,” according to the Leeds University researchers.

    Biz Insight – In January the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) signed a two-year contract with aWhere of Denver, Colo. to monitor 6,787 virtual weather stations in Kenya that provide advanced weather data and analytics that support climate-smart agricultural decisions. aWhere maintains 1.7 million virtual weather stations worldwide according to CEO John Corbett, who writes that “Having accurate weather data and analytical tools to generate actionable insights for the food sector positions Kenya as a leader in climate adaptation.”

     Dan Bolton

    • Read more… links indicate the article continues. Learn more… links to additional information from reliable outside sources.
    Tea Price Report
    Nov 20 – Sale 46

    India Tea Price Watch | Sale 46

    This week saw good quantities of tea on offer, with an all-India sale percentage at 80%. Prices were marginally higher than Sale 45. Kolkata saw good demand for all CTC, Orthodox, and Dust. Hindustan Unilever was active for CTC while the Middle East was active for Orthodox. The quantity of Darjeelings on offer this week was higher and prices were up marginally. In Assam prices remained largely the same as the previous week, however, they are better than corresponding 2019 prices. Analyst Abhijeet Hazarika @TeaSigma notes that high sales volume in the last two weeks with increased offerings has eased pressure on supply. Read more…

    Aravinda Anantharaman

    Upcoming Events

    December 2021

    World Tea & Coffee Expo | Gandhinagar, India | December 2-4
    Launched in 2013 and now operated by Messe Muenchen India, this hybrid virtual and in-person event for tea and coffee professionals is now scheduled for the Helipad Exhibition Centre, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India. Website | Register
    Click to view more upcoming events.

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  • Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 44

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    Hear the Headlines

    | India Tea Industry Reforms
    | Glasgow Climate Pact Boosts Morale, but Will Momentum Build?
    | Drinking Tea Linked to Lower Risk and Severity of Stroke
    | Golden Leaf Awards Return

    Seven-minute Tea News Recap


    In Part 2 of this extended Newsmaker Interview, Aravinda Anantharaman speaks with Tea Board of India Chairman Prabhat Bezboruah who describes a new board mission to increase consumption, promote tea exports and expand markets at home and overseas. He also addresses discussions underway to transfer regulatory oversight of India’s tea industry from the Ministry of Commerce to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare. Read more…

    India Initiates Tea Industry Reforms

    By Aravinda Anantharaman

    India’s highest levels of government are reforming the basic structure of agriculture. The intent is to loosen regulations on pricing and storage and to permit direct sales of produce. The rules have protected India’s farmers from the free market for decades. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called the reforms a “watershed moment” for Indian agriculture. Opposition by farmers has been so intense that Modi announced in November that the government will abandon the September 2020 reforms. Will tea reforms go forward? In this Newsmaker Interview Prabhat Bezboruah, Chairman of the Tea Board of India describes a new board mission to increase consumption, promote tea exports and expand markets at home and overseas. He also addresses discussions underway to transfer regulatory oversight of India’s tea industry from the Ministry of Commerce to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.

    Listen to the interview (Part 2)
    India Tea Board Chairman Prabhat Bezboruah discusses reforms in the regulatory oversight of India’s Tea Industry.
    Listen to the interview (Part 1)
    The year has been “quite bad” compared to 2020, explains India Tea Board Chairman Prabhat Bezboruah


    Ekaterra CEO John Davison, left, is joined by: Sebastian Pole, Founder, Pukka Herbs (with mic), Ruchira Joshi, UK Country Director, Sustainable Trade Initiative, IDH, Jenny Costelloe, Executive Director, Ethical Tea Partnership and Abdul-Razak Saeed, Climate Policy Lead, Rainforest Alliance.

    Glasgow Climate Pact Boosts Morale, but Will Momentum Build?

    By Dan Bolton

    The Glasgow Climate Pact constructively addresses issues critical to the tea industry both for brands and producers. The document also advances efforts to end deforestation and to phase down (not phase-out) coal.

    COP26 brought into line the four largest polluters when India announced plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2070. India is the world’s fourth-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. China announced it will be carbon neutral by 2060 and both the US and EU reaffirmed their commitment to reach net-zero by 2050. 

    The pact makes concrete tools to curb warming and establishes new rules to hold countries accountable for curbing emissions but falls short of financing efforts in less developed countries. The pact also leaves unresolved how much and how quickly each nation will cut emissions. Delegates returned to their homelands demonstrating greater cohesion and consensus that every nation must do more before the 2022 summit.

    Tea brands welcome rules to encourage trade emission-reduction credits and prevent double-counting and wording that allows carbon-market credits from decades past (Kyoto Protocols).

    The agreement advances the Paris Accords but pledges made by 197 countries are unlikely to contain atmospheric temperatures at less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above their pre-industrial levels. Scientists estimate that close adherence to pledges may limit global warming to around 2.4 degrees Celsius.  Others say temperatures will increase by 2.7 degrees Celsius.

    Warming to either level will wreak havoc in the tea lands. Degrading tea quality and reduction in yield are already apparent in three regional hotspots.

    South India is one of the hotspots where tea production is threatened along with the Rift Valley in Africa and portions of China.

    Biz Insight – Many of the 74 nations where tea is produced find it difficult to finance climate mitigation efforts at the farm level. Unresolved at this year’s summit are concrete steps by developed countries to make good on a $100 billion a year promise made in 2009 to assist poor nations. Contributions in 2019 were $30 billion short and $50 billion of what was pledged is directed at mitigation with much less earmarked to finance adaptations. In Glasgow, delegates asked that countries “at least double” to $40 billion the money committed to financing adaptations making possible construction of clean energy alternatives to coal and wood.

    Golden Leaf judges evaluating teas in 2019 competition

    In-person Judging Returns for the 2021 Golden Leaf Awards

    By Jessica Natale Woollard

    Australia’s Golden Leaf Awards return in 2021 with live, in-person judging to crown this year’s best teas in the Australian market. Tea submissions are open until Nov. 30. View the award guidebook for more information.

    The Golden Leaf Awards are presented by the Australia Tea Masters and feature a number of categories: green, black, white, yellow teas; matcha; Pu-erh; herbals; chai; and iced tea. There’s even a category for tea packaging and best tea house.

    The judging is blind and done by industry professionals. Learn more…

    Australia Tea Masters founder and CEO Sharyn Johnston speaks with Tea Biz’s Jessica Natale Woollard about this year’s event.

    Listen to the interview
    Australia Tea Masters founder Sharyn Johnston
    Tea and Coffee Drinkers are Less Likely to Suffer Strokes
    Moderate consumption of coffee and tea separately or in combination lower the risk of stroke and dementia

    Tea and Coffee Drinkers are Less Likely to Suffer Strokes

    A decade-long study of 365,000 people suggests that tea and coffee drinkers are 32% less likely to suffer a stroke when compared to nondrinkers.

    Results of the UK Biobank study, initiated in 2006 and continued through 2020, were reported this week in the online journal PLOS Medicine. The authors write that “while previous studies have looked at associations between tea and coffee consumption and better brain health, there has been inconsistency in findings.” 

    “Our findings suggested that moderate consumption of coffee and tea separately or in combination were associated with lower risk of stroke and dementia,” writes lead author and Professor Yuan Zhang at Tianjin Medical University, Tianjin, China.

    Associating tea and coffee drinking with better health outcomes does not guarantee that the same outcome will happen for everyone, according to a review of the research published by Medicine Net.

    Professor Zhang said it is also possible that coffee and tea consumption might be protective against dementia and post-stroke dementia. Strokes cause 10% of deaths globally, and those who survive often experience post-stroke dementia. People who have had a stroke have a far greater risk of developing dementia than people who have not had a stroke. About 1 in 4 who have had a stroke will go on to develop signs of vascular dementia, according to WebMD. In the US vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.

    Drinking coffee or tea even in very small amounts lowered the risk for both strokes and dementia.

    Researchers cite weakness in that study participants were in better health than the population as a whole, and that the participants are mainly white and British (96%) “therefore we cannot infer an association that is relevant to everyone in the UK.” Learn more…

    Biz Insight – Drinking two to three cups of coffee or three to five cups of tea daily (or in combination) led to a 28% lower risk of dementia compared with those who do not drink tea or coffee. Researchers say that around 40 years of age, the immune system starts to decline. As people age, they experience a form of chronic low-grade inflammation. Experts have linked this kind of age-related inflammation to dementia and cognitive decline. The worldwide population of those aged 60 years and over will grow to 2.1 billion by 2050 according to the United Nations. Rates of dementia are expected to increase alongside this aging population, according to Medical News Today

     Dan Bolton

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    Tea Price Report
    Nov 13 – Sale 45

    India Tea Price Watch | Sale 45

    Large quantities of Kenyan tea imported and blended with Assam, Darjeeling, Nilgiri, and Kangra tea are impacting the quality of Indian teas sold domestically. Indian media report Kenya tea imports increased 146% year-on-year between January and August prompting the Tea Board to take a stern stance. Importers must now report within 24 hours any tea stored for distribution and declare origin, quantity, and describe the quality of leaf stored. Random checks are underway. Read more…

    Aravinda Anantharaman

    Upcoming Events

    November 2021

    Iraq Tea Festival | Nov. 28-29 | Baghdad Chamber of Commerce
    Baghdad, Iraq |

    Click to view more upcoming events.

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