Tea and the Present Reimagined

Photo by: master1305 / Bigstock.com

The tea industry recently met for two days, Sept. 29-30, 2020, in the way we all are meeting in 2020 – virtually. After having to postpone this year’s annual North American Tea Conference, the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada hosted a digital event to pull the industry together, to connect and to share insights. In such disconnected times, this event was not only timely, but it also allowed participants to focus on the theme at hand – reimagining the present.

The event was kicked off with a fireside chat between myself and Jason Berenstein, partner and CFO at District Ventures Capital. We talked about the industry’s need for innovation, change and adapting to the world we have all found ourselves living in.

Tremendous Growth for Tea in Canada
Once the mood had been set, our event speakers included Carman Allison from Nielsen and Vince Sgabellone from NPD. Both provided a valuable look at the impact of COVID-19 on consumer consumption and trends. We experienced tremendous growth for tea in Canada over the past six months, both in dollar value as well as volume. This growth, of course, has been represented in grocery – which is why the information shared by NPD on trends and lessons in the food service sector was so valuable. The impact of COVID-19 on the production of tea was then analyzed by John Snell, who gave us a great overview of the major tea-producing countries and how – for some – COVID-19 has been a tremendous challenge and for others it has contributed to improvements not only in sales but also quality of product.

Anthony Rossi of Loop (TerraCycle company) and Kathrin Gassert of Teekampagne gave us both a real life look at sustainability in practice. Rossi introduced attendees to zero-waste packaging, and Gassert walked us through the concept and philosophies that Teekampagne holds true and has been successfully practicing for 35 years. Both these sessions added to the understanding of how to take conceptual ideas of sustainability and apply them to your own business.

Gassert noted, “Transparency is a necessary condition to bring more fairness to the tea trade – and this has to encompass all stakeholders in the in the supply chain, from plucker to consumer.”

The North American Tea Conference has historically included a presentation by the International Tea Committee (ITC) – an overview of the imports and production numbers. However, this year was the perfect opportunity to look at this presentation a little differently. I asked the question: What would the Green Book data look like if it were presented in relation to each other, and what if we analyzed the data? Ian Gibbs of ITC and Jem McDowall of Universal Commodities did just that in the “Green Book Deconstructed” session. By taking the data and looking at it from a dynamic lens – rather than a static one – they gave us a whole new picture of tea production and consumption trends.

The most challenging element in a virtual platform is engagement. And the technology gods smiled upon us even for this. Following the deconstruction of the Green Book, breakout groups were formed to discuss what data the industry has or needs that would allow it to make decisions smarter. Forty-five minutes of animated discussion was had in three groups, including recommendations shared by all at the end.

A New World
Overall, we all find ourselves in a new world, not a temporary one, but indeed a new one. Beyond the need to connect the tea industry, the focus of this recent virtual gathering was to allow all our attendees a few hours of reflection into what we all need to do in order to move forward. Not to lament the days that are gone or the things we cannot do, but rather to be excited about all the possibilities ahead. Retail tea sales have done well in Canada, but other areas have been hard hit. There are real lessons we can all take from what is happening and apply them further. If I had to sum up the greatest takeaways from the two days, they would be:

1. The change we have seen happen over the past six months was already in place – COVID-19 has simply accelerated it.

2. Looking at what you know from a different angle will always give you a different perspective.

3. Change is frightening but it is real and necessary.

4. I have missed seeing you all! And I look forward to seeing every smiling, familiar face next year at the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada’s North American Tea Conference and at the World Tea Conference + Expo.

Shabnam Weber is the president of The Tea and Herbal Association of Canada, the leading authority and industry voice on all things tea in Canada, representing members from bush to cup. The association provides proactive leadership in the areas of advocacy, generic promotion, education and information in order to ensure the long-term viability of the tea industry. It serves as a source of information and research about tea, and it offers a Tea Sommelier Certification program in Canada. To learn more, visit Tea.ca.

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