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Direct from the United Kingdom Tea Convention.

The second U.K. Tea Convention was held at Jersey-Channel Islands, May 17-20th. Twenty eight countries were represented and 275 delegates participated in the event.

At the outset, the following key factors were noted:

* It would become increasingly difficult to continue to increase the tea yield per hectare any further. Land for further expansion would become increasingly difficult to acquire, although landfilling was seen as a possibility in some areas;

* Replanting would be an expensive option. World demand would continue to increase;

* India, where consumption had risen so dramatically but where per capita consumption remained low, would play a key role in future trends. In addition, the question of whether India would be able to service internal demand while, in the long term, continue to export tea, was posed;

* The political situation in the former USSR and Eastern Europe suggested new markets would become available; and

* Established markets would hold steady although becoming less important in world trade terms.

Tea Production

The world tea crop has been increasing at a steady rate until 1991, largely due to favorable weather conditions. In 1992, however, a huge reversal was witnessed. The drought of 1992 set back production in a large number of countries.

Despite the crop loss, prices did not move up largely because of disruptions in the buying of CIS and the Russian Federation, thus producers' income was affected adversely.

The CTC production has increased as the demand for Orthodox tea has declined. There have been the following changes as well.

Instant tea--Made by the producer on site by freeze drying green leaf, or made tea. Blenders have been making instant from bulks made to their own specifications.

Decaffeinated--Produced on the estate from either green leaf or from made tea.

Organic--While there seemed to be a market for organic tea, it failed to materialize.

Estate Packed--A number of producers are packing estate tea for sale to the consumer in a variety of packaging. In India, the polypack has been particularly popular.

Canned Tea--Some Eastern countries provide tea in cans, blended in a variety of ways, often flavored, and ready to drink hot or cold.

Producers are now improving methods to minimize damage and to ensure the product arrives at its destination in the best possible condition. Stretch wrapping, strapping, and the use of pallets has reduced handling. Handling is further reduced when containers are loaded at the estates. Vacuum packaging may be the next step to preserve the freshness and flavor of tea destined overseas.

The export of tea in "value-added" form has also been undertaken, but promotional requirements have been under-estimated and export sales have been difficult to sustain. It is becoming increasingly apparent that "branding" is important.

In 1993, production should improve and the devaluation of the currency by some countries could improve net realization. However, the currency fluctuations have to be viewed against increased costs of imported inputs such as fuel, fertilizers, etc.

The spread of Islam and the strict enforcement of its code, which prohibits alcohol consumption, should increase tea consumption. Countries like Kenya and Indonesia could expect a strong domestic demand.

Vietnam, which has had its plantation sector in disarray, could become a tea producer of significance as it has the ideal climate.

Disposal of Crop

The pattern of world exports has been changing, with Africa increasing its share. In 1988, Asia accounted for 74% of tea exports, Africa accounted for 22%. In 1990, Asia fell to 71% while Africa increased to 23.3%. Again in 1991, Asia declined to 70% while Africa rose to 25%.

The break-up of the USSR led to a considerable reduction in their imports. The imports into this country fell from 235,000 metric tons in 1991 to 100 metric tons in 1992.

The Gulf crisis and the imposition of sanctions on Iraq affected Orthodox price levels in Colombo and Jakarta, which remained depressed throughout.

India will continue to play a major role in the tea industry. In 1992, exports stood at 190 m/kg, production was calculated at 704 m/kg and per capita consumption was estimated at.61 kg.

Tea Opportunities in Central and Eastern Europe

There are new opportunities in expanding the tea market in Central and Eastern Europe. Bordering Western Europe is Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. From the breakup of the former USSR have emerged 15 independent states: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus, the Baltic States, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Black Sea States and Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the Central Asia States. Amid these regions lie the largest states of Ukraine and Russia.

The States have existed individually on maps for centuries but for the last 70 years for some, 40 years for others, they have suffered the controlled economies and restrictions of communism.

Poland has a population of 38 million people; Czechoslovakia 16 million; and Hungary 11 million. In the old USSR, population in the Baltic States region is low--10 million in Belarus down to only 3 million in Latvia and Lithuania. Similarly the population ranges from 3 and 7 million in the Black Sea States. But in the Central Asia States, Kazakhstan has 17 million people and Uzbekistan has 20 million. Moving up, Ukraine has 52 million people and Russia a substantial 147 million.

The opportunity in these areas may be the last of the great opportunities of the 20th century.

Tea Consumption

Of all food and drink sectors, tea is the single most important market. It is drunk more times than any other product is consumed.

The tea market 30% bigger than bread and rolls; 2.5 times the size of potatoes; and a staggering seven times the importance of eggs and carbonates.

The Health Benefits of Tea

The most important message of the U.K. Tea Convention was that tea should be promoted as a healthy drink. The convention agreed that the future possibilities for the emerging research evidence on the health benefits of tea consumption are exciting and the timing of the research efforts was appropriate. To summarize:

Given the fact that the population is aging and health care budgets are projected to escalate, governments will place increasing priority on the identification and dissemination of the behavioral modifications which can reduce the risk of developing chronic degenerative diseases--notably heart disease and cancer.

There is increasing evidence that diet can influence the risk of these diseases and this recognition in the formulation of national nutritional recommendations and dietary guidelines can be expected.

The consumer is increasingly aware of the association between diet the development of heart disease and cancer and there is evidence that the consumer is responding to this information.

The potential protective effect of tea polyphenols can be presented within the context of a substantiated and credible platform, i.e. that of antioxidants.

Efforts must be taken to disseminate information in a reliable and cautious manner and through appropriate channels, i.e. scientific journals, first. Caution must be exercised not to overextend the interpretation of scientific evidence.

The message should recognize the fact that tea is not the only food which contains antioxidants; rather it should highlight the fact that tea is an appropriate choice within a healthy diet and lifestyle context.

At present, preliminary evidence suggests that tea may have many potential positive health benefits. Hopefully future research on the possible protective effects of black tea consumption will continue to be positive. Only time will tell, and the outcome of the proposed research must be patiently awaited.

In the meantime, an International Research Program has been funded by the United Kingdom, United States, and Canada to look further into the effects of black tea on cancer and cardiovascular disease.
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Author:Dudeja, Vijay
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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