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Coffee and Tea Reports from the Front Lines

International Tea Players Debate a ‘Fair Cup’

England - Recently, 12 tea companies and other key players in the tea sector met in London to discuss ways in which purchasing practices need to change to protect vulnerable tea farmers and workers.

Retailers, tea companies, tea producers, investors and industry professionals took the bold step of participating in a public meeting to debate the issues amidst regular media reporting on the hardships facing tea workers and against a background of declining tea consumption in the U.K., low prices and an international oversupply of tea.

Leading the debate were senior representatives from Twinings, Finlays, Harrisons Malayalam and Morley Fund Management with M&S, Tesco, Tetley and the Tea Council.

The meeting was triggered by a report released by Traidcraft, which unravels the complex tea supply chain. Focusing on the actual experiences of Kenyan tea pickers and factories, the report makes recommendations to tea companies and retail buyers, U.K. government, consumers and investors.  The five key recommendations for company buyers include: build a direct relationship with your suppliers, be clear about the terms and length of that relationship, develop specific business improvement plans together, determine and pay a sustainable price for your tea and understand and improve the impact of your standards

Other key issues discussed were the difficulties tea producers face when trying to switch to alternative crops and how prices are further suppressed as tea farmers produce more and more tea to try to make ends meet - thus contributing to the cycle of oversupply.

As the third largest tea importer globally, the U.K.’s impact on the industry is significant and hence was a critical place to start the discussion. Michael Pennant-Jones of Finlays, said, “We welcome the report which raises key recommendations and benchmarks against which the tea industry can demonstrate responsible purchasing practices. The level of debate and discussion at the launch is proof of the tea industry’s willingness to engage on issues that pose challenges not just for the purchasing companies but for all concerned stakeholders.”

Author of the report, Liz Dodd, said, “There is evidence of good practice and innovation in the tea supply chain but it’s patchy. Often companies push the burden and cost of improving conditions for pickers and workers onto their suppliers. Traidcraft is encouraging them to turn the lens around onto their own behavior and to see how they can improve their purchasing practices and so support suppliers to make positive changes.”

In response to the report Mark Suddaby, hot beverages buyer, Tesco, said, “We are focused on innovation and driving quality to more customers. Retailers have an equal responsibility to protect this area from further value erosion caused by an over-reliance on deep cut activity to drive volume and market share.”

Fiona Gooch, responsible purchasing initiative, said, “With the U.K. retail price of tea remaining fairly constant in real terms over the past ten years and the producer price of tea having plummeted by nearly 40% in real terms since 1980, it’s clear that paying a sustainable price becomes essential if the global supply of tea is to remain of high quality.”

Coffee Condoms Promote Safe Sex in Ethiopia

Africa - According to a report published in The Guardian and on cnn.com, A U.S. - based charity is hoping to fight the spread of AIDS with a unique product that appeals to coffee mania in the country that claims to have invented the drink: java-scented condoms for Ethiopia.

The Washington D.C.- based charity DKT International says the novelty product addresses a serious issue as Ethiopia has an AIDS rate of 2.1%, and in the capital Addis Ababa it is more than 7%, according to government estimates.

Andrew Piller, director of DKT’s local chapter, said the aim of the coffee condoms was not to make money, but to make condom-users more comfortable. DKT has noted some users’ complaints about the latex scent of plain condoms, and has also tried to market condoms in other parts of the world tailored to local tastes, including those scented with the infamously stinky durian fruit in Indonesia and sweet-corn fragranced condoms in China. In Ethiopia, consumers purchased some 300,000 coffee condoms during one week in September, the month the product was introduced here.

“Everybody likes the flavor of coffee,” says a DKT spokeswoman, Emebet Abu. The condoms sell in packs of three for 1 birr, or about 11˘ - about half the price of a cup of coffee in one of Addis Ababa’s many sidewalk cafes, and much cheaper than unsubsidized condoms. Doctors have long argued over the health effects of coffee, but its reputation looks set to receive a boost thanks to a new flavored condom that aims to encourage safer sex in Ethiopia. The dark brown condoms smell like Ethiopia’s popular macchiato, an espresso with a generous amount of cream and sugar. “It is about time to use an Ethiopian flavor for beautiful Ethiopian girls,” said Dereje Alemu, a 19-year-old university student. The charity’s latest condom has attracted some criticism in deeply conservative Ethiopia. “It’s inappropriate,” said Bedilu Assefa, a spokesman for the Ethiopian Orthodox church, whose millions of followers are encouraged to abstain from sex outside marriage. “We’re proud of our coffee.” But even those not sold on the idea of coffee condoms recognize the importance of safe sex. Around 300,000 of the coffee condoms were sold in one week when they were launched in September, according to DKT International.

Germplasm From Lisbon Helps Develop New Arabica Strain

Portugal - Portugal, a country where coffee can hardly be grown, has played a significant role in India coming out with a new Arabica coffee variety after 21 years.

The germplasm for the yet-to-be named variety has been obtained from Coffee Rusts Research Center in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital. However, scientists at the Coffee Board in Bangalore call it “Sarchimor,” which is derived from its parents Villasarchi and Catimor.

The germplasm was brought to India in 1981 under an Indo-Portugal exchange program. With the new strain getting ready for release, that exchange program, which had been kept in the cold, has been recently revived by the Department of Science and Technology.

The last Arabica variety, Cauvery, released by the Coffee Board was in 1986. It was a high-yielding variety that gave 2.5-3 tons of beans per hectare. But its drawback has been that it succumbs to leaf rust and does not grow well in all elevations.

The new strain, likely to have a feminine name going by the Union Minister of State for Commerce, Jairam Ramesh’s statement, is capable of growing in marginal areas and gives a yield of 1.75 tons a hectare. But this variety will be more helpful to the planters as input costs in terms of pesticides used for controlling the rusts will be lower.

According to the Coffee Board chairman, G.V. Krishna Rau, its “one single attribute” is significantly higher proportion of bold beans. Besides, the crop has a higher capacity of foliage retention. This means, the stem of the crop will be covered by the thick foliage of the crop and as a result, there could be relief from the white stem borer which is currently wreaking havoc in coffee plantations. “The new variety also has higher resistance to all known varieties of rust disease,” Rau says, but cautions, “the new variety will not solve all problems.” Also, the Coffee Board would be giving clones of the new variety rather than the seeds.

This is because the board does not want cross-pollination of this variety with any other, which could weaken the succeeding plants. “Planters may not be allowed to propagate this variety or will be asked to perform the operation under a controlled atmosphere,” say officials.

The plan to protect the variety is to irrigate plots in which the new varieties are planted in February so that the crop blossoms early and no cross-pollination takes place.

Iced Tea’s Getting Hot

India - While international formats such as ready-to-drink and flavored teas may still have to wait to enter Indian households, iced tea is likely to be the “cool” format for the next season, once the winter is over.

A number of companies are lining up sub-brands while the Indian Tea Board is planning a campaign on iced tea in a few months. Big companies such as Tata Tea and a host of regional players like Wagh Bakri, Jivraj Tea, Pioma Industries with the Rasna brand are all planning an entry into this segment.

Restaurants & Institutions, a source of food and business trends information, has said iced tea is the beverage of choice for nearly a third of diners, the last time they ordered a beverage at a restaurant for dinner.

Interestingly, corporate service accounts of Gaithersberg and Sodexho feature iced teas infused with flavors like pomegranate, raspberry, lime and mint.

Indians generally like their chai hot, although the over Rs 5,000 core branded tea market is coming up with innovations. India is increasingly adopting branded flavors and variants such as masazla, ginger, elaichi and lemon for their daily consumption.

Piyush Desai, chairman, Wagh Bakri Group, said, “We will leverage on the Indian consumer’s acceptance for the branded flavored brews in recent times. We plan to come up with ice tea and flavor tea varieties next year.”

Tea & Coffee - January, 2008

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