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French shelves bloom with a new array of China teas.

Fimex is a rather stern-sounding name for a French company with some particularly gentle products to market--the lines of tea belonging to the Thes de la Pagode and Jardins de The brand families. The company is the creation of Philippe Tisserand, and reflects his robust appreciation for China and its teas.

Tisserand's tea business is young and still relatively small, although it seems to be growing by the day. Fimex was formed only as recently as 1988 and began marketing teas in 1989, nevertheless Tisserand manages it with a seasoned hand (this is his second career in life) and with a passion for tea such as converts bring to their new religion.

All of Tisserand's teas are from mainland China or Taiwan, all are packed at origin, in either Hong Kong or Taipei, and in paper tea bags. The bags employ neither thread nor staple, highlighted as a point of product purity, and are sealed in airtight aluminum envelopes-- normally five bags to a pack. These aluminum packs are then packaged in attractive cartons of either 30 or 90 sachets for the Thes de la Pagode line, and in cartons of 25 sachets for the Jardins de The series. The outer cartons were designed in Paris, where the company is headquartered, and bear the luxury look that the teas themselves deserve.

Fimex thusly not only survives but flourishes as a marketing instrument for high quality China teas in teabags, and most particularly of teas naturally low in caffeine. This is classic niche marketing because prior to their launch, such teas had virtually no presence in France at all.

Naturally-low caffeine teas are in fact the house specialty. The company commenced with the Thes de la Pagode series, targeted at health food store and pharmacy markets. The best seller by far in the line is a Yunnan, brand name Hao Ling, which is heralded for its anti-cholesterol virtues (backed by test data). The other teas include a Formosa Pouchong (touted as a highly beneficial diuretic) and extended to blends with ginseng and guava, and a China jasmine.

Tisserand has cause to be cautiously optimistic about the teas, last year after only three years on the French market, he sold 150,000 boxes of Hao Ling. Until now, the majority of company sales have been by health food stores, about 80% in fact. The remainder have been through pharmacies. This is soon to change, however, due in part to the creation of a new foodstore-oriented tea line Jardins de The--and also because the Pagode line has just recently been contracted for sale in a group of about 2,000 French pharmacies thereby vastly increasing its market presence. There are in sum about 2,200 health stores in France, of which some 800 are deemed suitable by Tisserand for tea products like his. Conversely, there are 26,000 pharmacies in the nation, which, in sum, offer saturation distribution potential.

The new tea line was actually launched only this past autumn, with a debut at the giant SIAL food show in Paris. Jardins de The include the same teas as in the company's original line but the package format is for 25 sachets, and the package art is more sophisticated, less health oriented. To keep things simple, in France the Pagode line will be restricted to the health food/pharmacy sector, while the Jardins line will be sold exclusively through supermarkets.

"We have introduced Jardins de The because there is a clear market demand for such teas," explains Tisserand. "In France, supermarket shelves offer only a small selection of China teas, if any at all, and these are virtually all Jasmines. Nevertheless, we have discovered there is a demand for classic China teas in sachets of higher quality and naturally lower caffeine content, especially now with concern about the relationship between caffeine and cholesterol."

More than 80% of all French tea sales are via food stores, with a value in advance of 100 million dollars. Currently, over 70% of sales are of tea bag formats.

As for export sales, Fimex is already selling Thes de la Pagode in Belgium, Switzerland, the U.K., Canada, and the Arab Emirates, and is looking for agents in Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands. Jardins de The products will also be exported.

"Our mass market has been glutted here with a very standard selection of bad quality teas in bags, in flavored teas and so forth," comments Tisserand. "This is bad for tea in general because it means that many people will never even get to taste real tea, let alone tea from China. However, it does also allow a market opening for important products of quality, even if they come from a small firm like ours."

For Tisserand, bringing China's teas to French mass markets is both a business and a mission. To keep his faith strong, and his product to standard, he makes a trip each year to China in order to personally visit the gardens and drink yet deeper from those fountains of tea knowledge.
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Title Annotation:FIMEX imports teas from mainland China and Taiwan
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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