SMART AFRICA Founding Editor Elvis Mboya interviewed Wesley Bosuben [pictured below], General Manager, Tea Estates at James Finlay (Kenya) Limited on matters tea – its centuries of evolution to become the second most consumed beverage in the world, his firm’s impact on Kenya’s economy as the leading producer and supplier of the country’s top export, and the future of tea sector in a dynamic and competitive global market.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- The firm has 10,300 hectares of tea fields
- 28 m kg annual leaf tea capacity
- 7,000 people who live and work on the farms
- 9 tea farms
- 4 leaf tea factories
- 1 tea extracts factory
Mboya: Please, briefly introduce your company, James Finlay (Kenya) Limited tea estate in Kericho, to the audience/readers.
Wesley: James Finlay Kenya is a leading grower, manufacturer and supplier of Kenyan tea.
We produce a wide variety of Black, Green, White and Purple Kenyan teas to meet our customers’ demand from around the world.
As well as tea farms, we have four black tea factories and a tea extraction plant. One of our core values is sustainability.
We have been operating for over 100 years, and we’re focussed on how we can create sustainable growth for our business, the communities we serve, and the wider Kenyan economy.
Since the Chinese invention of tea back in 2737 BC, a lot has evolved until it was introduced in Limuru, Kenya in 1903 and thereafter in Kericho where your firm is currently based. Briefly, take us through this tea journey.
Discovered over five thousand years ago in China, tea is a global phenomenon, second only to water in popularity worldwide.
Legend has it that tea drinking was discovered by Emperor Shennong around 2737 BC. By the time of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) tea had become popular as a medicinal drink.
By the time of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD), tea became widely available within China and became a central part of everyday life. Loose leaf tea emerged and the leaves started to be roasted. Around this time, tea was introduced to Japan.
During the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) loose leaf tea grew increasingly popular. By the time of the Yuan (1271–1368) and Ming (1368 to 1644) dynasties, unfermented tea leaves were being pan-fired before being rolled and dried. Subsequently oolong, yellow and black teas were developed.
Tea became popular in Europe and the US thanks to Dutch and Portuguese forays in eastern China during the 17th century, returning with Chinese tea.
In the early 1800s the British started to develop tea growing and production on a large scale in India and later Sri Lanka. The produce of these two countries was soon to eclipse all the tea that had ever come out of China.
The introduction and dominance of tea brands in the second half of the 19th century, selling tea in packaged and blended form to guarantee a consistent product to the consumer. Not to mention, the introduction of the tea bag in the first half of the 20th century.
From the 1970s, tea moves into varied different formats from powders to decaffeinated. Ready to drink tea, mostly packaged in a bottle, is a fast-growing category, particularly in Asia and America.
In the future, health and wellness trends will play a huge role. Fermented teas such as kombucha are gaining in popularity by delivering an adult taste with probiotics many believe to be beneficial.
We expect to see a focus on upscale and niche specialty tea driven by the experience economy. We also predict beautiful, minimalist, premium tea houses in Asia and beyond where one can take time out to savour the unexplored world of tea.
A combination of these, coupled with true provenance and sustainability will ensure tea’s bright future for generations to come.
The success story of tea, tracing its path for thousands of years, has to date seen it ranked as the most consumed beverage globally only after water. How would you quantify and qualify this fact?
Quite simply tea is the most amazing beverage. It’s delicious of course, but it’s also versatile, and endlessly nuanced. Its health properties have been well known for thousands of years.
In fact, tea’s health benefits are currently enjoying newfound popularity. Some estimates say that as over 2 billion cups of tea are consumed worldwide each day.
Many of the alternatives, such as juices, and carbonated flavoured drinks (sodas) were introduced to the public in more recent times.
Tea has managed to compete effectively with these other drinks on the basis of its reported health properties and low price.
In Kenya, tea is the most valuable export, contributing to about 20% of export earnings to the country. Your company contributes about 5% to that figure, according to recent data published in your in-house magazine. It must be a gigantic demand to meet. Please explain.
Kenyan tea is prized around the world but is particularly popular in countries seeking a hot tea with strength of cup, with or without milk, such as the UK, Egypt, Pakistan and Russia and, increasingly, the US.
At JFK we’re proud to play a major role in the tea industry which is clearly economically invaluable to Kenya.
Because James Finlay Kenya is part of Finlays, we have a global network that enables us to meet global demand for Kenyan tea.
JFK produces around 25 million kilos annually, and the vast majority of what we produce is exported, thus earning valuable foreign exchange.
Achieving this means working together as an organisation, and as a community.
When abroad and one mentions that he is from Kenya, you are likely to be asked about one of these ‘five wonders’: The Maasai community, marathon athletes, wildlife, Obama’s origin and tea. In your view, how significant is tea to the country’s branding and social aspects.
Kenyan tea, a perennial crop grown around the equator in near organic conditions, is among the best in the world and its profile is rising.
There is a huge opportunity for the Kenyan tea industry to build a powerful and globally recognisable consumer brand.
Kenya somehow needs to emulate Sri Lanka, who many years ago very successfully created the Ceylon brand for their teas.
There exists an opportunity for the Tea Board of Kenya to create something similar for Kenyan teas.
Over 600,000 Kenyans are directly involved in the Tea sector, it is therefore imperative that the Government creates the right conditions for the sector to flourish.
Please, describe some of the tea brands Finlays produces and their market niche locally and abroad.
As a B2B [business-to-business] business, we don’t have our own brands, but we partner with local and global brand owners to bring the best from bush to cup.
We supply CTC (Cut, Tear and Curl), Orthodox and Organic tea in the form of black, green or purple.
The CTC black tea is mainly for blending and packaging into different brands for the retail market.
The rest are either packaged neat or flavoured for the retail markets. We also produce extracts products for ready to drink global beverage brands.
Describe your company’s relationship with your long-time customers in the value addition and logistics chain – significant to sustainability of your operations.
Finlays aims to build long term relationships with customers, based on provenance and sustainability.
We can trace such relationships back over 100 years with our earliest customer.
With deep roots across the globe and unparalleled experience and expertise, no-one is better placed to unleash the potential of natural beverages for brand owners, by bringing the best from bush to cup.