By Uwin Lugoda
The Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky bottle is a true icon when it comes to premium grade liquor, and is recognised worldwide for its consistent quality and taste.
Similar to this Scotch whisky, other premium brands around the world have one thing in common; their consistency when it comes to the product’s quality.
Now, Sri Lanka’s latest tea brand, Truly Ceylon Tea, hopes to bring that level of consistent premium quality to both the local and international markets. The brand recently launched with three types of black tea, called Ceylon Classic, English Breakfast, and Earl Grey and three types of green tea; Jasmine Green Tea, Lemon Green Tea, and Pure Green Tea.
According to Truly Ceylon Tea Chairman Savith Kalupathirane, what differentiates Truly Ceylon from other brands is that their products are 100% single-origin Ceylon tea, offering staple-free, individually foil-sealed tea bags for freshness, consisting of the highest quality tea Sri Lanka has to offer.
“In terms of tea, we offer the best of the best when it comes to quality tea, which are all from a single origin. Unlike most international brands that claim to be Ceylon tea, we will not be blending our tea with lower grade teas,” said Kalupathirane, speaking to The Sunday Morning Business in an exclusive interview.
He explained that most international tea brands that claim to be Ceylon tea usually only have about 5-10% of Sri Lankan tea, and are blended with teas from other countries like Vietnam, India, and Africa. This is also the case when you look at local brands that are available in Sri Lanka, as most of them use tea imported from China, for products like green tea.
“Even the green tea which we have made available locally is 100% Ceylon tea, and is also single-estate green tea. We do not import any Chinese green tea. And in terms of black tea, we only buy the most expensive export-quality tea for our brand” Truly Ceylon Tea Chairman Savith Kalupathirane
“This is another thing that sets us apart; even the green tea which we have made available locally is 100% Ceylon tea, and is also single-estate green tea. We do not import any Chinese green tea. And in terms of black tea, we only buy the most expensive export-quality tea for our brand.”
Kalupathirane stated that when looking at other local brands that are available both in Sri Lanka and overseas markets, there is a significant difference in the quality of the tea despite being the same brand and having the same packaging. He explained that the tea exported is of a much higher quality than those available locally, which is of the lowest quality or dust-grade teas.
However, Truly Ceylon has made it one of their principles to always maintain a consistent standard for their premium teas, despite the market.
“The problem with most brands is that there is no consistency to their quality, so the quality is different from market to market. This again is a point where we stand out. Similar to Black Label, which is world renowned for its consistency with its unique quality, we want to be consistent in our unique quality as well,” said Kalupathirane.
Another thing, he claimed, that sets Truly Ceylon apart is the ingredients they use in their products. The brand uses natural ingredients when it comes to their different tea blends, which includes using lemon peels for their lemon green tea and jasmine petals for their jasmine tea.
The brand also prides itself in their individually wrapped tea bags, which come in packs of 25. Kalupathirane stated that this is because most local and international brands wrap one foil around all their tea bags, which, when opened, expose the tea bags to the external environment. This will lead to the quality of the exposed tea bags deteriorating and a significant difference in quality between the first and last tea bags.
“Because we individually foil-seal each of our tea bags, the quality will remain consistent from your first cup of tea to your 25th cup.”
He stated that from a brand perspective, they plan to promote the premium tea as a lifestyle tea, since most of the tea brands available both locally and internationally are promoted as health and herbal teas. He explained that these traditional teas can only target an older audience, as opposed to beverages like coffee, which is trendier and attracts younger markets. Hence, Truly Ceylon is also set to be a tea that targets these younger markets, making itself trendier.
At present Truly Ceylon Tea is available for purchase islandwide, with free delivery through Daraz, and in select supermarkets such as SPAR, Arpico, and select Laugfs and Cargills outlets. Moreover, the brand will also be available in the HORECA (Hotels, Restaurants, and Cafés) segment, such as Café Kai at Hilton Colombo, Coffee Stop at Cinnamon Grand, The Commons Coffee House, and at Isso for diners.
“While we are predominantly targeting export markets, we also see that Sri Lanka is a tourism hub, and even though our tourism industry is currently on hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, once we open our airports and tourists start coming in, we want them to experience premium Ceylon tea.”
Kalupathirane explained that being a premium brand, they do not compete with other local tea brands which are mostly price driven. Due to the tea being of a much higher quality than other brands that are available locally, the brand’s products cannot compete in the cheap tea space.
As for their exports, Truly Ceylon is targeting the HORECA segment worldwide as well as leading supermarkets in Sri Lanka which deal in premium products. These markets include Europe, North America, and Australia. According to Kalupathirane, they are currently in talks with distributors worldwide to support their sales and their brand presence in respective markets.
Apart from these international segments, he also stated that the brand will place major focus on their ecommerce platform, which will be launched next month, in partnership with Arimac, a premier Sri Lankan end-to-end digital agency. The idea behind the ecommerce platform is to focus on a monthly subscription-based tea delivery programme which will be available globally.
Kalupathirane stated that each subscription will cost $ 10 a month, and he plans to have one million monthly subscriptions in the next five years, which will amount to a turnover of $ 10 million per month. He explained that while most tea companies have online stores, they have not placed major focus on it, but Truly Ceylon has planned to put a considerable amount of effort into their digital presence.
“Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world after water, and Ceylon tea is regarded as one of the best. So it is not unrealistic for us to expect one million subscribers in the first five years at $ 10 a subscription.”
As for the tea itself, he stated that all their tea is purchased from the local Tea Auction from multiple estates which provide A-grade quality teas. When it comes to manufacturing, the brand has entered into an exclusive manufacturing partnership with Regency Teas, which keeps to a high standard set by Truly Ceylon.
The brand has also pledged to aid in the conservation of wildlife as part of its brand mission to promote tourism in the long run; in accordance with the international Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a logo is found on each tea pack. The brand pledges to support reforestation and is set to be the starting board for Sri Lanka to get involved in this global project through Truly Ceylon Tea. This initiative also includes buying environment-friendly papers for packaging, which are 10-12% more expensive than the standard paper used by other brands.
Truly Ceylon has also pledged to ensure the highest standard of tea, as it is GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices), ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) 22000, FSSC (Food Safety System Certification) 22000, and Lion Logo certified. It is also recognised by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and is ozone-friendly tea. Kalupathirane stated that these certifications make it so that the brand can penetrate any international markets without limitations.
Furthermore he explained that one of the brand’s main goals is to make Ceylon tea the most preferred beverage in the world. Therefore, he explained that they do not see other local brands as competitors, and instead see them as Ceylon tea. He stated that currently Ceylon tea has been overtaken by smaller markets such as Vietnam, India, and Africa, due to there not being a 100% single-origin Ceylon tea in the market.
“We want to be traditional when it comes to things like manufacturing, but in terms of presentation and marketing, we need to be innovative and set a benchmark for Ceylon tea in the world. We need to get Ceylon tea to its rightful place, at the top, and for this we need a high, consistent quality.”