Polyphenol-based marketing, the turning point for Ceylon Tea | Sunday Observer

Polyphenol-based marketing, the turning point for Ceylon Tea

18 October, 2020

It will become a lost opportunity for the plantation employees if we continue to resort to no action talk only policy. Almost all the plantation issues today pivot around a single most indicator which is the NSA or the net sale averages of individual crops.

We are eager to find out who is at fault and not what is at fault. Here is an opportunity for a strategic intervention combined with IT/ICT based system improvements without further delay with the ultimate objective of turning around the plantation industry.

Since I suggested polyphenol-based marketing a few years back, the Japanese appear to have developed the machine to determine polyphenol content of made tea, tried, and tested in many tea growing countries, including in Sri Lanka. Polyphenol based demand for tea, therefore is a strong possibility.

Continuous developments are taking place with many beverage producers with the help of leading beverage universities in the world. We are yet to initiate action in this direction. A top strategic plan is essential to drive the tea industry forward.

An entrepreneurial mindset is the absolute need of the hour as over 75% of the national production of tea comes from the smallholder sector.

Growth strategies must take precedence over the regulatory process. It is our candid opinion that State officials manning the industry are more comfortable with regulation and less interested in growth. Leading an ailing industry only through regulation is somewhat comparable with strangulating to death.

We are somewhat unfortunate that we don’t appear to be embracing MPH concepts such as meritocracy, pragmatism and honesty like in Singapore, Dubai etc. But such deficiencies should not be hindrances to support an entrepreneurial culture that can help the tea industry to achieve its true potential ( 5 b USD per annum).


Sadly, many developments are taking place in the industry at a global level whereas, we are dilly-dallying with closing down the tea factories owing to introducing additives and creating mayhem by calling the best part of our tea production as refuse tea.

Laws are meaningful if the judges consider the circumstances under which the offences took place. Problems lead to opportunities. Since the industry has more to do and less to celebrate all must strengthen the tea Board and its chairman.

Drawing some clues from the incidents of 9/11 in the US and the recent Covid-19 issue in China, our media has a lot to think about before acting on tea industry-related media publicity. Responsible media is an absolute necessity towards achieving national growth targets, but not to provide ammunition to our competitors to destroy us lock stock and barrel.

At the bottom of all these issues are the unscientific approaches and corruption to some degree that are obvious. The causal factor that comes loud and clear again is attempting to address the symptoms while purposely avoiding solving the problem. For that, we must blame the entirety of the education system, which is absent of analytical and critical thinking skills further perished with an island mentality. In the end, the planting community and the national economy suffers, primarily due to the loss of jobs at the grassroots level.

We must remember that those who are losing jobs are the strong voices of our society who wanted the current President in power with great expectations.

Total change will take place if we could condition our minds to start thinking with the end in mind. The spike in this instance is the Per Capita Income goal. Therefore, a strategic intervention aiming at 10 b USD revenue per annum from the plantation industry is essential. Almost half of it is the true potential of the tea industry.

Road map

We need a fully aligned road map to get to the goal fast. It is left to the President to teach his team of leaders the power of strategic management and get everyone to look at one nation-one goal target.

Achieving 10,000 USD per capita income before the first term of office is over is a fitting challenge.

The Ceylon Planters Society is committed to uplift the industry, and this is another one such intervention with tea. We will also speak of the other crops at the very earliest.

There is sufficient research evidence to conclude that tea improves heart health.

Tea can potentially enhance the blood flow around the body by widening key arteries and reducing the risk of clots. tea also contains antioxidants called ‘flavonoids’, which may slow down the onset and risk of heart disease.

But the million dollar question we Sri Lankans must ask ourselves today is, are we making full use of the organic compounds in tea, to attract new markets and better prices. The magical experience when drinking tea has very little to do with the grades of tea.

Though green tea was believed to have more polyphenols, it turns out that black tea too has similar amounts. The most potent polyphenol in tea is a substance called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), which belongs to a group of flavonoid phytochemicals called catechins.

Catechins are polyphenolic compounds found in tea leaves. In recent studies, catechins were found to be providing various health benefits against numerous diseases. Studies have shown that catechins have antiviral effects against diverse viruses as well.

The significant portion of our tea remains a commodity. As long as we stay on the commodity market, we will continue to be price takers and not price makers. A strategic intervention is needed, aiming at gaining a higher value for tea through the latest concepts of marketing.

The national policy should be only to serve tea at national and international functions and not other competitive beverages. Such nationalistic thinking and acting are yet to emerge.


The worst is that the consumer is not educated on the value for money, like in the case of marketing. Value for money (VFM) is not about achieving the lowest price by disposing of large quantities in one single tea auction.

It is about achieving the optimum combination of whole life costs and quality. Traditionally VFM was thought of as getting the right quality, in the right quantity, at the right time, from the right supplier at the right price. Will 10 USD be too much to ask for a kilo of tea, immensely when tea helps you to be healthier? Compare this opportunity with the disease-free happy lifestyle enjoyed by the plantation workers for the past 150 years that stands as living proof for the drinking of tea.

Tea is very much a part of the global beverage industry. The industry is a mature sector and includes companies that market non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages that are targeted at several market segments such as infants, adults, and elderly populations.

We take the easy path of resistance, thus requiring State intervention, which is more important than getting engaged in plantation workers wage negotiations.

The industry will turn around the day government ministers understand their unique role of having to develop and implement policy aiming at improving the socio-economic well-being of Sri Lankans. President Mahinda Rajapaksa achieved a 4,000 USD per capita income goal before his office came to an end by 2015. What we need now is to take it to 10,000 USD per capita levels before 2025, before the current parliament ends its term.


See how the other non-alcoholic beverage competitors are encroaching our beverage market considering our vulnerable position of strategic execution. Planters have assisted ministry officials by providing vital financial performance indicators such as NPV, IRR re all crops cultivated so the ministry could understand how to plan and execute a strategic intervention with definitive timelines

It is a pathetic site to observe that competitor beverages, without much comparative or competitive advantage, are successfully competing with tea because we have failed to educate our consumers on the relative health benefits of tea.

It is about time we understood national priorities rather than strengthening the economies of multinationals and engage in mundane issues such as refuse tea, wages, strikes, climate change that we are comfortable with.

The media, while making their margins by playing to the gallery, must make it a point to address possibilities of nation-building topics even occasionally.

The issues such as: How to increase medicinal properties in tea, will tea remain beyond 2050, competitive advantages of Sri Lankan tea, do the plantations have measurable soil standards to grow tea sustainably, Why food scientists are absent in tea processing value chain in Sri Lanka. Is Sri Lankan tea strategically managed, why HR concepts are taboo in Plantations Management, Is the practice of purchasing green leaf to factories purely by weight sustainable, the need of increasing profit per hectare of plantation land annually, Are their smart plantations in Sri Lanka are pertinent questions to ask.

In short, the media can launch a broader dialogue aiming at most problematic industries such as the plantations. It is essential to align the nation to one single economic goal, and only the media could do it as average leadership is absolutely weak.

The pioneers of the tea industry built a great initiative that can be marketed as a beverage without guilt. Tea is a generic product without guilt.

The writer is a former senior planter and agricultural advisor