Researchers Link Diets that Include Tea in Teabags to High PFAS Levels | Flavor Enhancing Microbes Are at the Root of Quality Tea | Retail Tea Prices Remain High as Inflation Eases
Tea News for the week ending February 23, 2024
Invented in 1875, the aromatic “qihong cha” or Keemun black tea, grown in Qimen County in China’s Anhui Province, quickly rose to prominence, explains senior tea master Lilian Xia, President of the Canada Tea Institute. She joins Tea Biz to recount the legacy of a Chinese market-savvy entrepreneur, Yu Ganchen, the pioneer of Qimen tea, who developed the processing method for Qimen black tea and expanded its sales overseas.
Researchers Link Diets that Include Tea Brewed in Teabags to High Levels of “Forever Chemicals”
Researchers studying dietary patterns report a link between consuming tea in teabags and high levels of forever chemicals likely leeched from tea bags and packaging. The study was financed by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and was led by chemists at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California (USC)
According to researchers, dietary changes could lower pre- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) levels in the body based on testing that showed increased levels in human trials among those consuming certain foods and beverages. The research is based on a nationally representative sample of 725 young adults.
The PFAS levels were highest in those who ate out frequently and those who drank tea in teabags and consumed processed foods. Eating food at home demonstrated the opposite. Every 200-gram increase in home-prepared food showed lower levels of PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid), one of several forever chemicals.
A single additional serving of tea was linked to 24.8% higher levels of perfluoro- hexanesulphonic acid (PFHxS), 16.17% higher perfluoroheptanesulfonic acid (PFHpS), and 12.6% higher levels of perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA).
Totals also rose among those who consumed pork, hot dogs, and processed meats.
Researchers expressed concern that even metabolically healthy foods such as tea can be contaminated with PFAS, which is known to harm human health.
Hailey Hampson, a PhD candidate at the University of Southern California, told Technology Networks, “Our primary hypothesis is based on a study published last year, which found that some tea bags contain PFAS. This study, conducted in India, tested 108 tea bag samples collected from the Indian market and found that 90% contained detectable PFAS concentrations.”
The research team is now testing popular tea brands in a follow-up study.
Hampson said, “We need more research on commercially available tea bags in the USA to determine the degree to which PFAS contamination in tea bags is an issue in the USA. Based on our findings and the findings from other researchers, we are currently performing a study to test for PFAS contamination in tea bags from the US market.”
Seafood, fruit, and vegetables, even the air you breathe, have been shown to contain microparticles of toxic polymers known to irritate lungs and cause headaches, asthma, and possibly cancers.
BIZ INSIGHT – A research paper published in 2019 calculated a single tea bag, when brewed in boiling water, releases up to 11.6 billion microplastics and 3.1 billion nanoplastics in a single cup. The plastics implicated were nylon and PET particles found at levels in tea “several magnitudes higher” than plastics in other foods. A 2021 study suggests that microwaving tea bags further amplifies the release of nanoparticles. Many brands have since switched to paper teabags, most of which are sealed with plastic.
Flavor Enhancing Microbes Are at the Root of Quality Tea
Enhancing the underground community of microbes surrounding tea roots significantly improves tea quality even in poor soil and sickly plants.
Researchers at the Fujian Agriculture and Forest University in China found that microscopic microorganisms that regulate nitrogen intake are essential to the production of theanine. The amino acid, found only in tea, imparts a distinctive umami flavor and mouthfeel. Their study published last week in the scientific journal Current Biology attributes improved taste to a delicate balance known as nitrogen homeostasis.
Lead researcher Wenxin Tang writes, “The initial expectation for the synthetic microbial community derived from high-quality tea plant roots was to enhance the quality of low-quality tea plants.
“However, to our astonishment, we discovered that the synthetic microbial community not only enhances the low-quality tea plants but also significantly promotes certain high-quality tea varieties.
“Furthermore, this effect is particularly pronounced in low-nitrogen soil conditions,” he writes.
The Hindustan Times writes that by analyzing microbial populations in the roots of various tea plants across seasons, researchers developed a synthetic microbial community as a “custom-built team working together towards a common goal. In this case, the goal is to mimic the beneficial microbial environment of high-theanine-producing tea plants.”
“The researchers found that their synthetic microbial community significantly increased theanine content in tea plants (at least for the tea strains they tested). This indicates there might be a new way to improve tea quality by managing soil microbes rather than using chemical fertilizers,” writes Anirban Mahapatra.
He cautions this doesn’t mean we’ll see the use of this technique overnight. There are legitimate questions about how scalable using microbial communities to enhance tea flavor might be when discussing extensive gardens. But if these results hold out after further testing, we might have high-quality artisanal batches of tea from more sustainable cultivation practices that prioritize quality and environmental health.
Tea producers who adopt microbial management techniques to improve tea quality would be able to differentiate their products to open a whole new segment of the premium tea market.
Retail Tea Prices Remain High as Inflation Eases
Inflation is easing, but the cost of making and packing tea is higher than ever because of spiking distribution costs and rising fertilizer prices.
In the UK, prices are up 6% compared to last year but are rising more slowly. The inflation rate for milk and tea dropped to 2.9% in December. In January 2024, tea costs 10.6% more than it did in January 2023.
Last October, tea cost 15.1% more than in October 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics. Coffee is up by 9.5%, and cocoa and powdered chocolate are up by 12.3%. Sugar spiked 49.6%, according to the Guardian.
Analysts are concerned that foods that normally transit the Suez Canal will be impacted as virtually all container ships are now routed past Cape Hope, a detour that adds 10-14 days of transit expenses.
In January, the FAO Food Price Index* (FFPI) stood at 118, down 1.2 points (about 1%) from its December level. The index is 13.7 points (10.4%) below its corresponding value one year ago.
Eating at home and eating out continues to cost more for Americans. The US Labor Department data show restaurant prices were 5.1% higher in January than in January 2023. Grocery costs are up 1.2%.
A report in the Wall Street Journal advises relief isn’t likely to arrive soon. “Restaurant and food company executives said they are still grappling with rising labor costs and some ingredients, such as cocoa, that are only getting more expensive.”
In 1991, according to data from the U.S. Agriculture Department, U.S. consumers spent 11.4% of their disposable personal income on food. At the time, households were still dealing with steep food price increases following an inflationary period during the 1970s.
More than three decades later, food spending has reattained that level, USDA data shows. In 2022, consumers spent 11.3% of their disposable income on food, according to the most recent USDA data available.
Americans typically spend less than 10% of their disposable income on food.
Keemun’s Hong Cha Revival
By Dan Bolton
Lilian Xia and her staff in Canada offer a seven-level curriculum for adults and teens. The organization, she says, “is committed to popularizing tea knowledge, using tea as a link to strengthen cultural exchange among all ethnic groups, all classes, and all ages.” The society hosts educational tea parties, tea-themed activities, and tastings, including a public introduction to Runsi Qihong (Keemun) sponsored by the Anhui Guorun Tea Co. Lilian and I met at the Toronto Tea Festival in January. Here, she tells the of hongcha (red tea), which is experiencing a revival in China as millions line up daily for their milk tea. Keemun has a special place in the story of black tea as it is the first modern market-driven tea. Tea fragrance has always appealed to tea drinkers. Jasmine is one of the oldest and the most famous scented teas globally. However, European royalty and upper-class preference for milk and sugar, crumpets, and dainties limited sales of green tea, creating an opening Keemun quickly filled. Read more…
Share this Post Episode 156 | Researchers Link Diets that Include Tea Brewed in Teabags to High PFAS Levels | Flavor Enhancing Microbes are at the Root of Quality Tea | Retail Tea Prices Remain High as Inflation Eases | PLUS In 1875, European Royalty and upper-class preference for milk and sugar, crumpets, and dainties limited sales of green tea, creating an opening Keemun quickly filled | 23 Feb 2024
Maritime Security Concerns Worsen in Suez and The Red Sea as Two Missiles Disable British Ship | Rising Operating Costs Close a Third of Uganda’s Tea Factories | Hydration Concerns Motivate Consumer Purchases
Tea News for the week ending February 16, 2024
“New tools and approaches are changing the game from always looking backward through the rear-view mirror to giving everyday tea professionals a new crystal ball that allows us to look around the corner and predict what’s coming,” observes Liam Brody, the new Committee on Sustainability Assessment CEO. Brody explains COSA’s role in intelligence-gathering and developing strategic tools that advance sustainable practices with “sound business” underpinnings. He also shares his vision of how artificial intelligence will revolutionize and influence consumer behavior and perception of sustainable practices.
By Dan Bolton Shipping company executives see no sign of improvement for vessels transiting the Red Sea, leading UK retailers and tea companies to take steps to minimize shortages.
As shipping costs surge, suppliers in Kenya and India face a more daunting challenge. Rates from Asia to Europe are up nearly five-fold, rising to $5,000 per 20-foot container. During the height of the pandemic, the expense of shipping containers of tea long distances exceeded the value of bulk tea within.
Three months into the crisis triggered by the war between Israel and Hamas terrorists, Yemen’s Houthi rebels continue their drone and missile attacks in both the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. On February 18, twin anti-ship missiles disabled a British-owned bulk cargo ship, forcing the crew to abandon the ship, which was taking on water and in danger of sinking.
Bloomberg reports that last week, ship arrivals in the Gulf of Aden were down about two-thirds compared to early December, according to Clarkson Research Services Ltd., a unit of the world’s largest shipbroker.
Executives of the largest shipping companies told Bloomberg TV that threat levels continue to escalate. The disruptions could last an entire year.
Maersk Chief Executive Officer Vincent Clerc told Bloomberg, “The amount and range of weapons being used for these attacks are expanding, and there is no clear line of sight to when and how the international community will be able to mobilize itself and guarantee safe passage.”
Half of the tea consumed in England is shipped from Kenya and India via the Suez Canal. This week, executives at Yorkshire Tea and Tetley Tea reassured the public they had implemented measures to minimize any disruption of the blending and manufacturing due to shipping delays.
A spokesperson for Tetley told the BBC, “At the moment, it’s much tighter than we would like it to be, but we’re pretty confident we can maintain supply levels. Our priority is to maintain our consistently high levels of service based on ordered and forecasted demand. We believe we can continue to deliver this, but acknowledge that this is a critical period which requires our constant attention.’
Spokesman Tom Holder of the British Retail Consortium, representing 200 retailers, reports temporary disruptions in the scheduled arrival of some black tea, but delays thus far amount to no more than a “blip.” Companies are adjusting orders and inventory to account for 10 to 14 additional days at sea. Sainsbury’s website assured customers of adequate supply but expressed concern should shipping firms experience lengthy delays.
According to Reuters, more ships are re-routing via the Cape of Good Hope than transiting the Red Sea via the Gulf of Aden.
BIZ INSIGHT – Britons drink about 100 million cups of tea daily, according to Sharon Hall, chief executive of the UK Tea and Infusions Association. The UK is the world’s fifth largest tea importer. Tea imports from outside the EU amounted to 104 million kilos in 2021. UK blenders export about 9.5 million kilos of tea valued at two million British pounds ($2.5 million in US dollars) annually, mainly to the European Union.
Rising Operating Costs Close a Third of Uganda’s Tea Factories
Uganda’s tea sector is in crisis with the closing of nine factories, about a third of the 28 in operation. Excess stocks of lower-quality tea following an aggressive expansion of acreage under tea are holding down prices amid spiking costs for electricity, which led to the closures.
Tea is an important crop supporting 80,000 smallholder families in 17 tea-growing districts. Each factory that closes jeopardizes the financial welfare of 7,000 to 10,000 families.
Trade minister David Bahati told the local press that the Prime Minister is personally chairing a cabinet-level committee that has drafted policies to address requests for immediate subsidies to lower the cost of electricity. Uganda has a low per capita consumption of electricity and one of the highest average unit electricity costs in the sub-Saharan region. Rural factories currently pay 3,470 shillings per kilowatt compared to an average cost of 1,900 shillings per kilowatt in industrial areas.
The policy recommendations will then be presented to the house, he said. In addition to immediate subsidies, Dickson Kateshumbwa, NRM, a member of the Parliament representing Sheema Municipality, urged the government to implement policies enabling Uganda to compete better in the international market.
He told New Vision, “People pluck the leaves without guidance. That is why Uganda fetches the lowest amount of tea in the region, but not because we do not have fertile soils. We need that policy to improve our quality,” Kateshumbwa said.
Members of Parliament representing tea-growing regions are calling for a bailout like that, given sugar producers are facing similar high production costs. Tea is the fourth most important agricultural export after coffee, maize, and fish.
Hydration Concerns Motivate Consumer Purchases
Tea marketers should take note of studies showing rising consumer thirst for hydration.
Consumer interest in hydration intensified post-COVID, with 56% of US adults in 2023 reporting “they were better at staying hydrated this year.” Forty-eight percent did so because of increased physical activity, reports Synergy, a global manufacturer and supplier of flavorings, extracts, and essences.
In the US, 32% of adults feel more motivated to live a healthy lifestyle now than before COVID-19, which has led to a greater focus on self-care and overall wellness, according to Synergy.
“In the UK, 58% of bottled water users would like to learn more about their hydration needs, and 54% of French adults think drinking fortified water is an excellent way to boost your vitamin and mineral intake.
Sixty percent of Millennials, the most of four cohorts, are engaged with functional hydration drinks. According to Mintel International, Generation Z and Generation X follow, each with a 58% engagement rate, with Boomers indicating 44% engagement. Female Gen Zs are the biggest users of functional hydration beverages.
Consuming beverages fortified with electrolytes, first introduced in the 1960s, is top of mind for all four cohorts. Gen Z drinkers seek protein, while Millennials, GenX, and Boomers want multivitamins. The younger generation wants fat burners, while Boomers seek omega-3 and glucosamine.
Eighty-five percent of US bottled water drinkers say that staying hydrated keeps them productive at work. Seventy-three percent of UK Adults say optimal hydration is essential for mental performance.
BIZ INSIGHT – Water bottles have become a status symbol, a vital accessory to daily life, writes Synergy. Stanley’s Quencher has seen a 275% year-over-year increase in sales and has experienced a 215% increase in its best-selling category, hydration, according to Retail Dive. What you are most likely to find inside those bottles are citrus, summer fruits, and berry flavors, according to Synergy.
The Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA) was established to measure the massive quantity of precise data and the impact of harder-to-quantify, pragmatic ways of measuring sustainability, such as living income calculations, gender inclusion, and next-generation training.
In 2005, sustainability pioneers at the United Nations identified the need to harmonize sustainability metrics with science-based credibility. Seven years later, COSA became a not-for-profit public research organization to complete that work.
Daniele Giovannucci co-founded COSA to counter what he called “the fluff and ignorance masquerading as development and the colossal sums wasted by well-meaning funders.” He championed the “democratization of data,” devising standard metrics for the coffee industry in 2018.
COSA, supported by discerning philanthropists from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the InterAmerican Development Bank, has standardized sustainability metrics for leading brands, global frameworks, cutting-edge technologies, and governments for two decades. Giovannucci retired in mid-2023, and Liam Brody was named his successor. Liam explains COSA’s role in intelligence-gathering and developing strategic tools that advance sustainable practices with “sound business” underpinnings. He also shares his vision of how artificial intelligence will revolutionize and influence consumer behavior and perception of sustainable practices. Read more…
Share this Post Episode 155 | Maritime Security Concerns Worsen in Suez and The Red Sea as Two Missiles Sink British Ship | Rising Operating Costs Close a Third of Uganda’s Tea Factories | Hydration Concerns Motivate Consumer Purchases | PLUS Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA) CEO Liam Brody says “New tools and approaches are changing the game from always looking backward through the rear-view mirror to giving everyday tea professionals a new crystal ball that allows us to look around the corner and predict what’s coming.” | 16 Feb 2024
The UN FAO IGG Confederation of Tea Smallholders Will Relocate its Headquarters from China to India for the Next Four Years | Iran Tea Imports Plunge by 62% | Economists Forecast Higher but Stable Prices for Beverage Soft Commodities in 2024
Tea News for the week ending February 9, 2024
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. Peter Goggi, IGG TEA delegate representing the US 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.
UN FAO IGG Confederation of Tea Smallholders Relocates to India
By Dan Bolton
The headquarters and staff of the Confederation of International Tea Smallholders (CITS) will relocate from China to India for the next four years. Delegates to the 25th Session of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Intergovernmental Group on Tea (IGG Tea) ratified the decision during their recently concluded three-day session in Guwahati. According to IGG Tea, smallholders hold a position of growing importance in the tea sector, where they cultivate 70% of the global acreage under tea. Smallholders pluck 60% of raw tea leaves and produce a sizeable amount of finished tea.
The announcement notes: “Their vitality and integral role within the tea supply chain cannot be overstated. Solving this sector’s issues is essential for the long-term viability and health of the tea industry, not to mention the farmers and their communities themselves.”
IGG delegates, one each from 44 producing countries and non-voting officials from 14 countries, praised the Government of India and the Assam government for their significant investment in the development of the small tea growers’ sector, citing the dedicated research and development work at the Tocklai Tea Research Center in Jorhat.
The federation (CITS) was established in May 2016 by delegates to the 22nd Session of FAO IGG on Tea meeting in Naivasha, Kenya. The federation was envisioned as “a forum for developing policies and solutions to strengthen the global tea smallholder sector by acting as a convener, catalyst, and resource to improve the consistency of tea policymaking on a global level.”
BIZ INSIGHT – Joydeep Phukan, Secretary of the Tea Research Association at Tocklai and Coordinator of the FAO IGG on Tea for India, told Tea Biz’s Roopak Goswami that “Moving CITS to India will synergize the efforts of federal and state governments as well as the Tea Board of India in bringing the global best practices to small tea growers of India.”
Iran Tea Imports Plunge by 62%
One of the world’s top tea-drinking countries saw tea imports plunge 62% in value during the first ten months of the Iranian calendar year, which begins in March.
The Tasnium New Agency reported only $185.75 million worth of tea was imported from eight origins, according to the Islamic Republic of Iran Customs Administration. Volume declined to 33,683 metric tons as shipments from India dwindled.
Shortages have been reported, but the steep decline suggests that traditional suppliers are shipping more tea to surrounding countries where the non-tariff barriers to trade are lower.
Iran typically consumes about 21% of India’s annual tea exports. Indian traders report exports to Iran declined by 15.7 million kilos from January to October 2023. Tea exported from India is down overall, but shipments to Iran showed the most significant drop.
Indian producers say restrictions on Iran’s inability to trade in US dollars result from sanctions first imposed in 1979 and additional European sanctions imposed in 2010, are preventing timely payments. The higher transport cost in war-ravaged regions, including the Black and Red Sea, further complicated trade.
In November 2023, Iran halted tea imports at the request of Iran’s federal Inspection Organization. Investigators accused the CEO of Debsh Tea, the nation’s largest tea company and sole tea importer, of embezzling $3.4 billion in subsidies (about three trillion in local currency). Around $300 million is budgeted annually to purchase orthodox grades and tea for blending. Investigators became suspicious when that sum had tripled in recent years and eventually uncovered evidence of currency manipulation and fraud involving customs officials, members of the country’s central bank board, top executives in the food safety department, and office holders. The four-year scheme is the largest embezzlement in Iran’s history.
BIZ INSIGHT – Iranian tea exports also steeply declined by 12,828 metric tons. Value fell by 58% compared to the 2022 fiscal year ending March 2023. In the past, Iranian growers produced as much as 70,000 metric tons of tea to meet domestic demand. Iran still ships locally grown tea to 25 countries but at far smaller volumes than in the early 2000s. Tea exports peaked at 21,000 metric tons in 2000 before bottoming out at 4,500 metric tons in 2003 following the imposition of sanctions tied to nuclear development that continue to interfere with timely payments.
Stable Price Outlook for Soft Commodities in 2024
Tea is classified as a soft commodity, one of several grown in the tropics and delivered globally along supply chains similar to coffee, cocoa, sugar, and spices.
The sector has experienced three years of extreme volatility attributed to escalating geopolitical tensions, soaring pandemic-induced shipping costs, and adverse weather conditions.
Last week, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) predicted risks would ease and prices would stabilize in 2024. In its “Commodities Outlook 2024,” EIU writes, “El Niño and the Russia-Ukraine war still loom large for soft commodities. Prices for food, feedstuffs, and beverages (FFB) will rise throughout 2024, driven primarily by beverages, as El Niño will hit production, and therefore, prices for coffee and cocoa will increase.”
In the section subtitled “Resilient Prices Amid Global Headwinds,” EIU writes there is “Some relief in sight, with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) giving a 72% chance that El Niño will end by mid-year. But the damage to this season’s harvests will already be done by then, with coffee and cocoa production forecast to fall by 9% and 13%, respectively, in the 2023/24 crop season.
At least the threat of a “historically strong” El Niño is waning significantly, according to NOAA. NASDAQ reports that (Intercontinental Commodity Exchange) Arabica coffee futures
ICE Arabica coffee futures rose to the highest price since 2011 in 2022 but closed in 2023 at $1.90 per pound, a 12.5% gain from the previous year.
Energy prices, excluding crude oil, will trend downwards in 2024. Prices of hydrocarbons will largely trend in the opposite direction than those of most industrial raw materials and soft commodities, writes NASDAQ.
Observations on Tea Oversupply
By Dan Bolton
“The IGG is a fabulous opportunity for all interested parties on a governmental level to talk about the tea industry,” says UN FAO IGG TEA Delegate Peter Goggi, president of the Tea Association of the USA. “It’s essential to express their views. They all have issues that they’re facing. The problems facing countries of origin differ significantly from those facing consuming countries. But ultimately, solutions that satisfy both need to be met,” he says, adding, “The overriding concern of all parties in this business is the lack of profit throughout the supply chain.” Read more…
Share this Post Episode 154 | The UN FAO IGG Confederation of Tea Smallholders Will Relocate its Headquarters from China to India for the Next Four Years | Iran Tea Imports Plunge by 62% | Economists Forecast Higher but Stable Prices for Beverage Soft Commodities in 2024 | PLUS UN FAO IGG Delegate Peter Goggi Discusses The Economics of Oversupply | 9 Feb 2024
Lunar New Year Will Boost Consumption and Tea Travel | Nepal Recovers from Foreign Currency Crisis | Pakistan’s Legal and Smuggled Tea Imports Climb
Tea News for the week ending February 2, 2024
The Toronto Tea Festival concluded on January 28, marking a turning point in 2024 as the crowd surged from a low of 2,600 in February 2020 to 4,000 attendees – a 25% increase from previous highs. Joining us today to discuss the changing dynamics is Tao Wu, co-founder of Tao Tea Leaf and one of the festival’s key organizers… but first, let’s listen to the excitement ON THE FLOOR at the weekend event.
Lunar New Year to Boost Consumption and Tea Travel
The New Year that begins Saturday will bring renewed vigor to China’s tea economy as travel experts predict strong sales during the extra-long holiday. “A year after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in China, the eight-day Chinese New Year (CNY) holiday is expected to see a major surge in travel and consumption as people head home for family reunions or set off for a week of travel and tourism,” writes China Briefing.
Last year, Chinese border control agencies recorded 5.2 million inbound and outbound transits, a 4.7-fold increase approaching pre-pandemic totals. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism reported 135 million domestic trips. This is roughly in line with the figure seen during the holiday in 2019, according to the administration.
East Asian cultures celebrating the holiday include Koreans, Vietnamese, Tibetans, and Chinese. The Chinese New Year falls on Saturday, February 10, 2024, beginning the Year of the Dragon—the Wood Dragon.
The 2024 Spring Festival Holiday Travel Forecast Report, jointly compiled by Baidu Maps and the Highway Science Research Institute of the Ministry of Transport (MOT), forecasts that travel volume over the 2024 holiday will exceed last year by more than 40%, with the busiest day of travel being on the last day of the holiday (February 17) as everyone returns home (departures are more staggered).
According to the forecast, “One of the major trends noted in recent years is the mixing of tourism and (CNY) New Year celebrations, where families choose to get together in a new destination rather than in their hometown. Some of the most popular domestic destinations for this type of travel include Yunnan, Guangdong, Fujian, Beijing, and Harbin for winter getaways. For international travel, Southeast Asia remains the most popular destination. Search data from Baidu.com shows that families and children account for as much as 42% of the holiday tourism cohort.
Whereas short-haul travel became popular during the pandemic, longer-distance travel is now back in vogue. Data from online travel agency Trip.com indicates that travel within the same province or to peripheral provinces will account for just 25% of overall travel during the 2024 holiday, while inter-provincial long-distance travel will account for as much as 75%.
Tea vendors welcome the holiday as it draws large crowds to tea-producing regions and encourages gifting of tea and an increase in out-of-home consumption at restaurants.
Pakistan’s Legal and Smuggled Tea Imports Rise
Pakistan has emerged from deep financial difficulties, thirsty for tea.
According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, tea imports surged 5.5% to $336 million during the first six months of the current fiscal year (July- December 2023). The increase is due in part to the reversal of trade deficits that crippled the country’s economy in 2022 and 2023. Import volume grew by 9.1% to 138,750 metric tons in the current fiscal year, compared to 128,000 metric tons during the same period in fiscal 2022.
Exports are up 5% to $15 billion overall, but imports decreased by 16% to $26 billion, down from $31 billion during the same period last year. The nation’s deficit from July to December (2023-24) declined to $11 billion, down by 34% during the fiscal year’s first half.
Scarcity and a spike in prices led to a high incidence of tea smuggling with the Afghan Transit Trade (ATT), estimated to have increased by 159% during fiscal years 2022-23. According to The Nation, Kenyan tea exports to Afghanistan totaled $75 million last year, up from $29 million in FY2021-22.
The newspaper reported, “Afghan authorities expressed shock over the 159% increase in the import of black tea. Afghans prefer green tea, according to an unnamed source who claimed Pakistani importers prefer to trade with Afghan traders instead of buying directly from Kenya. “The duty-free black tea is then smuggled back into Pakistan, which has caused loss to the national exchequer, the source argued.”
Nepal Recovers from Foreign Currency Crisis
Nepal achieved a record high of $13.3 billion in foreign currency reserves in December, reversing a two-year crisis.
According to Nepal Rastra Bank’s (NRB) report on the ‘Current Macroeconomic and Financial Situation of Nepal,’ reserves QUOTE “soared 13.6% in the past five months of the current fiscal year.” Remittance inflows were cited for adding $1.6 billion through December.
In 2022, Nepal was forced to limit imports of nonessential goods as its foreign currency reserves dipped. The cause was declining tourism and unusually low remittances from migrants who send home part of their earnings, one of the largest sources of foreign income for many developing countries.
Globally, remittances to low- and middle-income countries grew 5% in 2022 to $626 billion out of $767 billion worldwide. Nepal received $9.29 billion in remittances in 2022.
According to the NRB records, remittance inflows increased 28% to 613 billion rupees during the review period compared to a 23% increase in the previous year.
In US dollars, inflows increased 25% to $4.6 billion in the review period compared to 13% in the review period last year.
The tea industry, the largest foreign exchange earner after cardamom, is facing a crisis at a time when the National Tea and Coffee Development Board (NTCDB) has set a target of doubling foreign currency in the current fiscal year.
The newspaper My Republica writes that the Central Vice President of the All Nepal Trade Union, Bhupal Sapkota, blames the NTCDB for not effectively solving the problems of tea industrialists, businessmen, farmers, and workers. These include labor concerns, lack of irrigation systems, poor road infrastructure, and erratic distribution of electrical power and water supply.
Tea Board Executive Director Bishnu Prasad Bhattarai pledged to play an effective role in solving the existing problems in the tea sector and adequately address all the problems raised by the stakeholders. Nepal earned NLRs 3.80 billion rupees, about $28.6 million in US foreign exchange dollars from tea exports last fiscal year. India, China, Sri Lanka, Russia, and the Netherlands are the main export markets.
There are 20,237 hectares of tea plantations in Nepal, mainly in Koshi province, with 38 CTC processing facilities. There are, in addition, 30 orthodox tea factories. Total employment is 70,000.
Nepal has set an ambitious target to transition from a World Bank-designated lower-income country to a status as a middle-income country by 2030.
Enthusiastic Young Crowd Sets Record Attendance at Toronto Festival
By Dan Bolton
Tao Wu and his sister Mingzhou Gao (an accountant) co-founded Tao Tea Leaf 14 years ago, opening their first three tea shops on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto. Tao and “Lisa” were raised in the Wuyi Mountain in China’s northwestern Fujian province, where their parents run a tea garden, and their brother has a tea shop and exports tea. In 2013, Tao was one of the original organizers of the Toronto Tea Festival. In this interview, he shares his observations and insights on the recently concluded 10th edition.
Share this Post Episode 153 | Lunar New Year Will Boost Consumption and Tea Travel | Nepal Recovers from Foreign Currency Crisis | Pakistan’s Legal and Smuggled Tea Imports Spike | PLUS The Toronto Tea Festival that concluded January 28 marks a turning point in 2024 as the crowd surged from a low of 2,600 in February 2020 to 4,000 attendees – a 25% increase from previous highs.
Traditional Medicinals is a Northern California-based botanical wellness brand rooted in modern herbalism to inspire active connection to plant wisdom in service of people and the planet. Formulations of more than 60 teas, lozenges, and capsules are strictly limited to science-based botanical ingredients without added flavors and in quantities that meet pharmacopeia standards for efficacy. The company’s single blends and single-herbal infusions are organic, sustainable, and ethically sourced. Traditional Medicinals was launched in 1974, and in recent years, the company has experienced exponential growth as consumer demand fills the sails, expanding distribution from niche natural food stores to mass market outlets. Joining us is Chief Marketing Officer Kristel Corson. She says, “Our teas have been around what seems like forever, but herbals are having their moment, and it is important to educate folks, not just on what has been, but on what medicinal herbalism is today, and it’s very different.”
Listen to the interview
Harnessing the Power of Plants
By Dan Bolton
Kristel joined Traditional Medicinals in 2022 “to focus on building the brand for its next phase of growth, rooted in purpose, and delivering amazing products that harness the power of plants and their many wellness properties.”
She spent more than 30 years helping beloved brands like Clif Bar, Jamba Juice, Clover Sonoma, and LeapFrog exceed business objectives through a combination of innovative new product launches, strong retail presence, and marketing programs that create positive, lasting consumer connections.
As chief revenue officer, Kristel helped transform the century-old Clover Stornetta brand from a values-based regional dairy to a nationally recognized conscious-consumer and mission-driven product innovator. Kristel earned a BS in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from San Francisco State University.
Dan Bolton: I am delighted, Kristel, that you joined us today on the Tea Biz Podcast. Will you tell us just a little about yourself?
Kristel Corson: I’ve worked on consumer-packaged goods for over 30 years. About 20 years ago, I found my passion through working for brands driven by multiple bottom lines, more purpose-driven brands that have an impact, and a mission to do better in the world.
I started with Traditional Medicinals about 15 months ago, and they are the most purpose-driven, impact-driven brand out there, at least that I have come across.
It is primarily tea. However, our focus is plant medicine and bringing plant medicine out into the world in an accessible way to help with everyday wellness.
We’ve recently launched lozenges and are looking at different ways to bring this plant medicine, but our mainstay is teas. That’s what started the company about 50 years ago.
Dan: Good Housekeeping recently named Throat Coat a category winner in coffee and tea. The kitchen lab experts and more than 1000 consumer testers were tasked with finding the most innovative, high-performing products. They chose a tea that has been around since the 1970s. The citation by the judges encapsulates several modern trends: “Warm liquids can be soothing, and this blend from Traditional Medicinals is designed to support throat health. It smells sweet and like licorice. It’s also slightly woody. It’s organic, and the brand is B-Corp certified,” said Good Housekeeping’s team of experts.
Kristel: Consumers look to Good Housekeeping because they use consumer panels, they really do their research, and to have Throat Coat called out, as, you know, one of the best teas out there is amazing.
Throat Coat is a product that has been around almost since its inception. It wasn’t one of the original teas, but it came out soon after. The tea helps your throat while you’re sick or when you’re hoarse, but it’s a tea that’s just for overall throat health.
Throat Coat has been getting much recognition lately, but for many years, several artists out there, musicians in particular, seem to love Throat Coat.
Dan: The uplift from niche natural grocery and health food stores to the mass market was underway before the pandemic but has since accelerated. In 2020, Traditional Medicinals spent $30 million building a 125,00 sq. ft. distribution facility near the Port of Virginia to serve East Coast customers. What is propelling the brand forward?
Kristel: Well, Traditional Medicinals, as you noted, has always been rooted in plant medicine. We only use medicinal-grade herbs in our teas. We don’t use any flavorings or anything but the true herb.
This is one of the things we pride ourselves on in trying to introduce the true taste of herbs to consumers. We have a full staff of R&D [Research and Development] scientists and naturopath doctors who understand these herbs, their qualities, and their flavors.
We create our medicinal herbs, formulas, and blends like Throat Coat, whose key ingredient is the slippery elm, a tree bark from Appalachia that soothes throats. It’s a blend incorporated with many other herbs that provide medicinal benefits, like licorice, which also gives it a nice taste. And so we’re very proud that we can bring that efficacy to our teas with blends that consumers like as well.
Dan: In its FoodTrends for 2024report, Whole Foods Market named Traditional Medicinals as an example of a women’s health trend labeled “From Taboo to Top-of-Mind.”
“We’re seeing more brands making products to support periods, pregnancy, postpartum, menopause, and even sleep that address life stages and symptoms previously swept under the rug,” writes Whole Foods.
Traditional Medicinals co-founder Rosemary Gladstar was selling Mother’s Milk lactation tea 50 years ago. The line now includes Raspberry Leaf Tea for menstrual relief, Pregnancy Tea, and Morning Ease for morning sickness.
Kristel: Medicinal-grade herbs have been used for thousands of years to help women through the different stages of their lives. Herbs help with hormonal balance. You mentioned Mother’s Milk, which is one of our original teas. It helps women who are nursing to produce more milk. One of the most recent trends is an herb called raspberry leaf. That is our very popular tea to help women with their menstrual cycles.
One of the things we do at Traditional Medicinals is develop products that can become part of your everyday wellness cycle.
Going to the doctor and getting pharmaceutical drugs is necessary from time to time, but daily for overall wellness, herbs have a place in today’s world.
Dan: So, how’s business?
Kristel: Our business is going wonderfully. We continue to see double-digit growth, year on year. I think it is about being in the right time and place. Post-COVID, people have taken a hard look at their overall health and wellness and have made changes.
The younger generations are much more into plant-based products in general. Herbal tea is one of those. I think that herbal tea is something that consumers, for a relatively low cost, can bring into their daily lives and take better care of themselves.
What’s unique about Traditional Medicinals is how we source the product.
We’re organic, but many of our products are also Fairtrade certified. We try to bring to light how important it is for the producers and growers and the people who collect the herbs to be treated fairly. Within the retail space, consumers are asking for not only good quality products, but also products that are made fairly and ethically.
As we turn 50, we are seen as offering a product that connects with consumers’ needs. And when you connect with consumers, retailers want you. Our roots were in the natural products industry. We were in health food stores originally, with little mom and pops, and then Whole Foods took us on, leading to other retailers like Sprouts. In the last ten years, we’ve stepped into the mainstream with the likes of Kroger, Publix, Walmart, and Amazon.
It was old school to think that if you were a true natural product, you would stay in the natural channel. We believe we’re trying to bring plant medicine to the world, to all consumers, so that they can bring it into their daily lives.
That connection and working with retailers to prove the case over the years that herbal teas deserve a spot on the shelf is something that we’re very focused on and very successful. Today, we’re the number one herbal wellness tea.
Dan: You’ve seen significant online sales growth. Will you describe the role online played in transitioning to mainstream? Sales spiked in 2020. How are online sales now?
Kristel: online sales definitely went through the roof during COVID. Selling online offers a different experience for the consumer versus brick and mortar.
When they find you online, you can often tell the story of your products. You can go deep with pictures, articles, and videos so the consumer can be much more educated. And so, by being educated, especially with something like a Traditional Medicinals tea that has so much behind it, you know, it’s a dietary supplement, which FDA regulates. We have several certifications, which are all third-party accredited. People can read about this, get steeped in that information, and make a much better choice.
Online retailers make it easy for you to subscribe. A lot of them offer discounts if you subscribe. And it becomes part of a consumer’s pantry.
Convenience is a huge part. You can go online at any time to buy a product, but for us, what we’ve been able to do is tell our story. We’ve provided consumers with in-depth information about how we make our teas, where we get our teas, our ethical sourcing, and everything that we believe in that supply chain side.
Consumers get to read reviews. And so you know, not only do you hear from the company and everything they bring forward, but many of our top products have amazing reviews that help consumers hit that “Buy Box” when they’re shopping online.
Dan: Renewed interest in herbal infusions and condition-specific and functional teas are trends that will be long-lived. And how do you see the evolution of Traditional Medicinals?
Kristel: We talk a lot about new products within the four walls of Traditional Medicinals. We are rooted in plant medicine and bringing that to the forefront for consumers.
Tea will always be the core of the brand because of its ability to deliver plant medicine in a way that people can consume easily. It also gives you that sense of daily ritual to take care of yourself; tea provides an entire experience.
But as we look to the future, we also see that we can bring plant medicine to consumers in our organic lozenges under the Throat Coat brand, which is already amazing at retail. People recognize the Throat Coat as something that they’ve had in their pantry for years to help with their throat, but now in a more convenient way.
A lozenge is the perfect product, but there are so many more.
The future is this combination of continuing education, fair and ethical sourcing, and finding new ways to bring plant medicine to consumers.
And so, we’re excited. We’ve got a full innovation team thinking up all the different ways to bring these amazing herbs to consumers, make them more accessible, and help them understand the benefits that they can bring.
We categorize our teas in two different areas; we have the ones that we’re most known for: Throat Coat, Smooth Move, and Mother’s Milk; these are all teas that the herbalist formulates. They’re all blends. And they are put together to provide specific medicinal benefits.
But we also have a whole line of what we call single herbs. These we bring straight to the consumer. Peppermint is an example. We educate them on the fact that peppermint is amazing for digestion. We state that on the packaging and discuss the functional benefit each of our teas brings.
Consumers can study the shelves and figure out what they need most in their daily lives. When Traditional Medicinals brought forth these medicinal-rated herbs, they honored traditions passed down for thousands of years. In addition, we explain ethical sourcing and how we respect collectors and producers. We’ve been a leader in the Fairtrade movement.
The next level is our Fair for Life certification, which examines the entire supply chain and how we bring products to market. The emphasis is on “responsible supply chains” that incorporate long-term vision. Fair for Life was created in 2006 by the Swiss Bio-Foundation and taken over by Ecocert in 2014.
As we look to the next 50 years, in addition to educating consumers on plant medicine, we strive to be a role model for other companies doing business in the most ethical way possible. We’re very proud of that.
Photos are courtesy of Traditional Medicinals. Thanks to Kristel for sharing.
Share this post Episode 151 | Traditional Medicinals is a Northern California-based botanical wellness brand rooted in modern herbalism to inspire active connection to plant wisdom in service of people and the planet. Formulations of more than sixty teas, lozenges, and capsules are strictly limited to science-based botanical ingredients without added flavors and in quantities that meet pharmacopeia standards for efficacy. Chief Marketing Officer Kristel Corson says, “Our teas have been around what seems like forever, but herbals are having their moment, and it is important to educate folks, not just on what has been, but on what medicinal herbalism is today, and it’s very different.”