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ARM Innovation Hub
24 July, 2008 - 01:20 By Staff Reporter

Producer brews plan to sell tea to Chinese

One of the most revered names in quality tea production is using backing from UKTI and EEI to take on the world’s oldest tea market, China.

Williamson Tea in Bedfordshire has been growing and selling fine quality teas since 1869 and chief executive, Malcolm Ferris-Lay believes that its reputation for some of the best brews available will allow it to carve out a niche in a country which has a tea history stretching back at least 5,000 years. The company’s reputation stretches far and overseas business accounts for 60 per cent of its revenues. As well as supplying tea for seven heads of states at a recent Middle East conference in Doha, exports are particularly strong in Russia, North America, Japan and Australia, as well as to a lesser extent in France, Germany, Italy, Hawaii and others. Ferris-Lay has been a tea-taster for decades and while some may compare selling tea to the Chinese to sending coal to Newcastle, Malcolm says that as the Chinese economy thrives, the opportunity to distribute its particular high-grade tea will also increase. He’s due to land in China in December to exhibit on the Food from Britain pavilion at FCH China 2008, the country’s largest international trade show for imported food, wine, beverages and retail and hospitality suppliers. Though the firm does sell through Hong Kong, mainland China is somewhat of an unknown quantity for Williamson Tea. However, Ferris-Lay is confident in the quality of the product. “We have had very good feedback from China through Hong Kong,” he said. “However, it is all completely new, so we do not know yet what and how much we’ll be selling.” The priority for now is to get the product known, then let the quality speak for itself. “We’re looking to make people aware of our brand and look for distributors and business partners,” said Ferris-Lay. “Hopefully we’ll find purchasers and distributors in China. “We are very much at the top of the market and do not do cheap tea and the way the Chinese economy is going we feel we have a good opportunity.” Williamson is using UKTI’s Passport to Export programme, which is delivered through EEI and offers local market intelligence, general strategy advice and potentially, financial support. “This is the first time we’ve used UKTI and EEI, which is helping with funding to support the show through Passport to Export,” said Ferris-Lay. “We have also learnt about other opportunities that we are excited about; the opportunity to use exhibitions and launches from British embassies sits very well with our products.” As well as delivering the highest quality tea, Williamson is dedicated to high quality employee and environmental care. Not only does the company blend and distribute tea from its Dunstable base, manned by 44 staff, but also it owns four Kenyan farms in Changoi, Kapchorua, Kaimosi and Tinderet, having divested its interests in Assam, North East India. The Magor family owns the land where some 15,000 people are employed to pluck around 64 million kilogrammes of tea every year. “All our teas are Fair Trade,” says Ferris-Lay. “We feel very strongly about Fair Trade and make sure that people are treated fairly and looked after on our farms. “We also run a forest alliance and have a Lifeboat Tea that supports the RNLI by passing 4p from every sale to the charity.” Lifeboat Tea is one of the UK focused crops, a tea that Williamson wants to see rolled out across the UK. “We would like a bigger market share here in the UK,” says Ferris-Lay. “We would also like to get the Lifeboat brand into multiples.”

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