Sri Lanka’s apex state body for the promotion and regulation of Ceylon Tea, The Sri Lanka Tea Board (SLTB) has embarked on a campaign to promote the product in the vastly untapped Latin American continent that has a population over 600 million, where tea is the third preferred beverage, according to a top Tea Board official.For this purpose, a Latin American delegation containing 31 tea sector officials is in town to study about Ceylon Tea, and is participating in a 5-day training program in Colombo
“We currently export closer to 3 million kilograms to the Latin American region but with this exercise we expect to increase the quantity at least up to 10 million kilograms a year within t wo years,” recently appointed SLTB Director General, S. Anura. Siriwardhana said.Currently, the SLTB is sitting on a US $ 50 million (Rs.6.6 billion) promotional fund raised via the promotional cess imposed 4-years ago.The 2015 budget proposed to give 50 percent of this fund back to the exporters as a matching fund to strengthen their existing promotional campaigns while the SLTB will spend t he balance i n selected markets.
“We have a plan to spend Rs.1 billion during 2015 for the promotion of Ceylon Tea i n selected markets,” Siriwardhana noted.Sri Lanka’s tea exports are largely concentrated among Russia and Middle Eastern countries but the strong interest stemming from Latin America is a positive sign of encouragement to diversify as well as increase capacity for the local growers.During the first 8-months, Sri Lanka increased her tea exports by 12.5 percent to US $ 1.08 billion while policy makers expected the industry to bring US $ 5 billion by 2020.
According to the Honorary Tea Commissioner of Sri Lanka for Latin America Diego Morlachetti, the Latin American market is as big as 60 million kilograms per year out of which 30 million kilograms are consumed by Chile, which has a population exceeding 17 million. Argentina consumes 10 million kilograms of tea a year.“The objective of our visit is to study how tea is blended and consumed, serving habits and other manners related to tea and to educate our people back in Latin America to create a new market for tea in there,” he said.Meanwhile according to the Director of Mexican School of Tea, Cecilia Corral, the traditional beverage ‘Yerba Mate’ leads the Argentinean beverage market followed by coffee and tea.
However in Latin America, tea is now gaining popularity ahead of other beverages due to its health benefits and cultural value attached to it.
Morlachetti who is also the Director of Argentine Tea School, led the Latin American delegation representing officials from Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay and Colombia. According to him, this is the first such delegation to Sri Lanka in 150 years.They will also visit Lumbini tea factory (Pvt) Limited (Lumbini) in Deniyaya in the Southern part of Sri Lanka to learn how tea is manufactured, and will also obtain training on tea plucking, rolling, and tasting in the same factory.The whole program is part of the concept of ‘make your own tea’ by Lumbini where the visiting delegation learn to manufacture their own cup of tea and take it to their country as a souvenir.
Latin America is already growing tea but it is mostly an export-oriented industry as 95 percent of the tea is exported to United States and Europe. Morlachetti who has 15 years experience in the tea trade said they opted for Ceylon tea as they find difficult to trade with China – another tea growing nation – due to communication difficulties.However he said they do not consume tea from Kenya – despite being the largest and the cheapest tea producer - as they have reservations about the country’s sanitary practices and thus not wanting to jeopardize consumer safety.