Signature Estates teas come from the Darjeeling, Assam and the Nilgiris regions of India that have been run by the Chatterjee family for a hundred years, with 14 family estates producing tea that is all certified 100% pure by the Indian Tea Board and certified
organic by the Institute for Marketecology (IMO), Switzerland.
Mr Anando Chatterjee of Signature Estate’s Massachusetts, US-based division says that the company is seeing a tea revival over the past seven years in the US, helped by growing consumer demand for organically produced goods.
Mr Chatterjee says reflecting this growing trend is that organic tea imports in 2013 are
estimated to be over USD 40 million, a 15% increase over 2012 figures.
“Organic tea exports from India, the world’s largest producer of organic tea, are growing steadily due to better
price realization by organic farmers and financial assistance offered by the Tea Board of
India,” he explains.
“India’s Tocklai Experimental Station, the oldest tea research institute in the world, has come
out with numerous packages designed to help Indian organic tea farmers achieve higher returns including significant subsidies on the organic certification process.”
Major tea markets for the US company are the United States and Western Canada. Outside Canada, exports are going to Ireland; Germany, the single biggest buyer of organic tea in Europe; the UK, where the market has dropped; and Iran, a major market for nonorganic,
high quality tea.
In North America, Signature Estates supplies tea to a wide range of customers, including large brands like Safeway and specialist organic stores, through to smaller specialty tea
brands in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, Mr Chatterjee says, with a large part of the business focused on private label.
He says there are several factors driving consumer demand for organic teas, with the primary one being a greater awareness about the harmful effect of pesticides.
Since most organically certified teas in the US are also Fair Trade certified, it is sometimes difficult to determine which factors, such as avoidance of chemicals and health benefits of team are actually driving growth.
“At the Tea Expo in Las Vegas, the USA Tea Association had shown that specialty tea,including organic sales, has doubled over the last five years and is showing good growth,
while conventional tea in the grocery market is going down,” he says.
“The baby boomer segment, who are moving closer to retirement, are likely to spend on specialty tea and coffee, while people’s commitment to local and sustainability is a trend that is helping.”
The company is moving away from its multiple Fairtrade certifications, and one reason is that it has a commitment to source teas from estates where responsible cultivation methods are combined with high standards of social and economic welfare for tea pickers and their families.
Mr Chatterje says that there are a number of significant developments, such as Fair Trade USA’s departure from FLOCERT, which has given rise to a larger debate around the essence of the FT movement.
“Some specialty tea brands are dropping the FT logo entirely and pursuing their own social welfare programs e.g. Light up India because they feel this hands-on approach has a more immediate impact.”
Signature Estates’ produces Estate teas, Flavoured teas and Chai teas, with Masala chai the top selling SKU. Mr Chatterjee points to McCormick & Co. Inc.’s recently released Flavor
Forecast which predicts that teas and Indian masala’s will do very well in 2014.
“Our product development team will be launching three new chai’s – Kashmiri Kava, Ginger Cardamom Chai and Rooibos Vanilla Chai, in line with the growing trend towards spicier tea brews,” he says.
“We will also be launching a range of organically certified ‘wellness’ or Ayurvedic teas. Ayurveda means ‘science of life’ and has been practiced in India over 5000 years. Our
upcoming line of Ayurvedic teas will be carefully crafted caffeine-free tisanes designed
to help remove toxins and regulate and balance one’s vata, pitta and kapha doshas”.