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Indian Tea Industry – Driving trends and innovation with plant power
Saturday, 27 March, 2021, 12 : 00 PM [IST]
Ruhani Sandhu
Tea lovers and health enthusiasts should be excited about the future. There has never been a better time in the history of the food and drink industry, where we are seeing so many varied varieties of tea and organic ingredients in the market, as there are now. 2021 and the time from now are all about nature, nutrition, clean and plant-based drinking, holistic-healing, simple ingredients, sugar reduction, sustainability, transparency and ethics, ethics and ethics.

According to Research and Markets Report, the clean label and natural ingredients market is expected to value USD 51.14 billion by 2024, registering a CAGR of 6.75 per cent during the forecast period 2019-2025. The demand for natural ingredients and clean products is growing owing to the increasing health concerns of the customers, regarding the adverse health effects of artificial ingredients and packaged food. Plus the need for extra-addition to their diet, amidst their stressful, hectic and active lifestyles, is booming the need for change.

The global tea industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and we've witnessed the tea market grow exponentially over the last decade. There have been new trends in the consumption of tea which have led to innovation in flavours of tea and it's many styles of consumption but as the consumer preferences are unfolding and there's a major shift in the landscape of the consumption of beverages, the Indian tea industry is on a keen lookout and willing to adapt and evolve.

We can understand the present need for the tea industry's shift by taking a look at the tea's eco-system in the last 50 years. The tea market started with CTC tea (popularly known as chai-patti) and for years we were happy with drinking our favourite chai. Then came an era of green tea which highlighted many health benefits (unlike chai) and a style of drinking tea without milk. This lead to an increase in the popularity of consumption of black tea and green tea leaves. As 80 per cent of consumers focus on the flavour and taste of the tea rather than the health benefits, there was a need in the tea industry to further evolve and offer various exciting flavours to the consumers.

Looking at the wellness shift in recent years, the Indian tea industry recognises that change must remain constant and that it must focus on a new segment of tea in the industry. Although there are innumerous varieties and options for tea drinkers in the market today, we need to be conscious of the fact that more than 99 per cent of tea that is available are flavoured teas – which are flavoured using cheap synthetic oils that are high on pesticides, herbicides and cancer-causing compounds. Nature identical flavours are not natural. Furthermore, these chemical-based synthetic oils are not meant to face high temperatures because they decompose and become more toxic.

The global wellness movement has made the modern consumer very much aware of his lifestyle needs and preferences. There was a time when people were fine with eating processed food, off the shelf packaged food. But with the rising momentum of awareness, the modern consumer has become more sensitive about his health. Much of this consumption shift is attributed to consumer's need to enjoy healthier alternatives to soft drinks, sweetened fruit juices, and depending on whom you ask, even coffee. Palates and attitudes have changed over the last decade and educated consumers are leaning towards more healthful alternatives. The herbal tea trend is also fueled by the consumer's awareness and understanding of organic food and drinks. Furthermore, the rising modern diseases, have also created a need amongst the consumers to take a more proactive, rather than reactive approach to their health.

The need for today's tea drinkers to amplify their diet and lifestyle in healthy ways has brought the world's attention to Adaptogenic herbs and the Indian tea industry is the second-largest exporter of tea in the world can offer many solutions. Predicted to be one of the biggest wellness trends of 2021, adaptogenic herbs or 'adaptogens' are a unique class of healing plants that balance, restore and protect our body.

Out of the thousands of herbs available on the planet, only a few qualify as adaptogens. The term adaptogen was introduced into scientific literature by Russian scientist Nikolay Lazarev in 1957 to refer to 'substances that increase the state of non-specific resistance in stress. Broadly, an adaptogen must work on improving holistic health and must have four Ns – nourishing: bring nutritive health, normalising: balance the highs and lows in the body, non-specific: act on multiple parts of the body and non-toxic: must be completely safe when used over a long period.

The concept of an adaptogen is new to the western mind but is basic to Ayurveda. These new generation innovative food ingredients are actually dietary choices that our ancestors understood and used for centuries with great success in healing their bodies before modern medicine ever came along. The list of main adaptogens includes ashwagandha, moringa, brahmi, amla, tulsi, mulethi and turmeric.

It's the wisdom of the east and the information boom of the west. When the consumer is educated and already convinced, the demographic becomes lucrative for manufacturers and brands to increase their sales. Asian-Pacific countries are habitat to people who are more connected to their roots and using food as medicine because of their vast ancient knowledge about healing with food. We are teaching the world about returning to basics – cleanly and healthily. The west is inspired by our wisdom and in return, it's formulating global trends, which are shaping the popularity of functional products and beverages.

To cater to the rising demand and offer healthier options to the consumers globally, the Indian tea industry has its eyes on the prize by developing products in two segments:
1 - Herbal tea blends: More adaptogens, more botanicals, blended with black and green tea or just herbs alone (tisanes), with no flavouring artificial oils and additives. Just herbs and tea blended with love. When it comes to finding natural cures and herbal remedies for improving overall health, the Indian subcontinent's rich history of ancient Vedic knowledge and treasure of rare herbs and shrubs will be the centre of natural medicine.

2- Ready to Drink (RTD): As the demand for healthy, functional, performance-based beverages continue their upward trajectory, the growth of 'new era' wellness beverages will literally ‘own’ its share of the marketplace through truth and transparency. The beverage industry will see innovative plant-based drinks with natural herbal ingredients, marketing health benefits such as improved hydration, energy, immunity, focus, performance and more.

The ongoing pandemic has impacted consumer perceptions about health in many ways and has created a renewed interest in functional food and drinks. We've realised that eating for the future is exactly like eating in the past — it has to be sustainable, it has to be commonsensical, and it has to resonate with our being. 'Healthier the better' is going to be an ongoing global need. India being a tea-drinking nation will see functional tea as the most promising area in the beverage industry. The India tea industry will innovate, diversifying in the field of developing flavours through herbs, fabricate micro-nutrients as a wellness instrument with novel and ethical production for improved product functionality. Here's to many new ideas and new products in the market and hope that they have a good story and a focus on sustainability.

(The author is founder of Rangsaa, Consultant, TEDx and tea note speaker)
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