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Cup of tea, coming on the social network

A tea garden in Darjeeling. File picture

The Queen likes her morning cup of Darjeeling tea, we are told, but her young subjects do not seem to have taken to it.

The Tea Board of India has realised that it needs some serious social networking to find and hold on to new, young drinkers of Indian tea, if it has to beat Chinese competition and instant coffee in the UK and other countries in the West.

“We want to start a campaign through social media sites,” M.G.V.K. Bhanu, the tea board chairman, said during his recent visit to north Bengal.

“Tenders have been sought from companies that can launch this campaign and work as our agency to exhibit tea through virtual platforms that are gaining popularity everyday,” he said.

The countries the board is focusing on are the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

Britain’s association with tea is as old as its relationship with India. It is the British who first grew tea on a plantation-scale in this country.

For many Britons afternoon tea with scones is a must, but Indian tea has got replaced on many tables by varieties of flavoured herbal Chinese tea.

Figures available with the tea board show that there has been a decline in the export of Indian tea since 2009.

In 2008-09, the quantity of tea exports to the UK was 18,642,000 kg. In 2010-11, it had dipped to 16,849,000 kg.

Argentina, Denmark, Belarus, the Czech Republic, Iraq, Saudi Arab, Afghanistan and South Africa have shown reducing import figures of Indian tea during this period. Only in the US, the export figures have increased — from 8,894,000 kg in 2008-09 to 11,627,000 in 2010-11.

In terms of tea exports, India is in the fourth place, with Kenya, Sri Lanka and China ahead of it for the last four years.

In the fifth place is Vietnam, a comparatively new player in the global tea market.

Bhanu said India exported around 214 million kg in 2011. “But in 2012, though we are yet to get the final figures, it seems exports would be less by 15-20 million kg as compared to 2011,” he said.

“Through the social media campaign, we intend to create more consumers and win back the markets abroad,” a tea board official said.

“The idea is to position Indian tea in the global market in innovative and unique ways to encourage trials, and thereafter gain loyalty. The campaign will also try to acquire the consumer’s mindspace and create preference for tea made in our country,” a tea board source said.

Sites like Facebook and Twitter are the chosen tools for this campaign because the sites are identified with the youth, a section in the West the tea board wants to capture badly.

“The agency selected will be entrusted with an array of responsibilities. That would include selection of the networking sites, developing, hosting and updating content, promotion and submitting analysis reports to us,” the board official said.

Another tea board official said: “The agency will also gauge the emerging trends in the international tea market, like health benefits of tea, and accordingly develop content so that it increases the popularity of Indian tea. The agency will also undertake creation, management and promotion of blog content, including engaging celebrities and high-profile people to write and talk about Indian tea.”

So far, the tea board’s virtual connect is only through its website.

“The social media pages would be integrated with the official web portal,” a board official said.

“We would also ask the agency concerned to provide us with feedback and brief on any new trend or specific requirements of the consumers to leverage promotion,” the official said.

The UK Tea Council in London, the US Tea Association, the Tea Board of Kenya and Vietnam Tea Association have their presence on Facebook and some other social media sites.

“The tea board’s initiative to launch a campaign online is the need of the hour. Given the high concentration of global consumers at these sites, a majority of whom are not yet tea drinkers (young people), Indian tea can be made popular among them,” Rajeev Lochan, a tea exporter based in Siliguri, said.

Chinese flavoured tea is not the only competition that Indian tea faces in the global market. There’s also coffee to reckon with.

Tea board officials said tea was still the topmost beverage consumed across the world. “Coffee, however, is predominant in markets like Europe and the US,” said G. Boriah, the director (tea development), over phone from Calcutta.

“Coffee was a natural drink for over decades, but in the recent years these countries (Europe and the US) are opening up as new markets for tea, which is why we want to tap prospective consumers through social networking,” he said.

The Queen’s grandson, Prince William, was once photographed making himself a hot cup of tea. Might be just the picture the tea board needs to promote the brew around the world.