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A new strategy for Darjeeling tea

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Al Ries, chairman, Ries&Ries, an American marketing-strategy company

Al Ries, chairman, Ries&Ries, an American marketing-strategy company

“Country of origin” used to be a powerful force in marketing. Gin from England. Vodka from Russia. Fashions from France. Automobiles from Germany. Computers from America. Many brands owe much of their marketing success to associating themselves with a specific country.

The world is changing. Today, where a brand is produced is less important than the brand itself. What do you call a Toyota automobile manufactured in America with American parts and American workers? A Japanese car?

Or how about Ralph Lauren, a famous American clothing designer whose company had revenues of $6.9 billion last year. Would you call his clothing “American clothes,” in spite of the fact that almost none of his clothing is made in America?

Coca-Cola is widely perceived to be an American drink even though all of the Coke consumed in India is made in India with Indian ingredients and Indian workers.

Today, the brand is more important than where the brand was produced. In the future, many global brands will be like Red Bull, an enormously successful brand identified with no particular country.

Which leads us to Darjeeling, perhaps the most-famous tea brand in the world.

Next to water, tea is the world’s most-popular beverage. Something like 4,000,000 tons of tea are produced and consumed annually. Of this total, the tea gardens of the Indian district of Darjeeling produce only about 10,000 tons, or just 0.25 percent of the world’s total.

India is missing a big opportunity. Instead of considering Darjeeling as a “place where tea is grown,” why not consider Darjeeling as a tea brand?

The tea gardens of Darjeeling could form an association to market the Darjeeling brand globally. Then buy tea in bulk from other Indian districts that meet the high standards set by Darjeeling-grown tea.

What? Darjeeling tea not grown in Darjeeling? Wouldn’t this undermine the power of the Darjeeling brand?

Not really. Tea drinkers don’t want to drink tea grown in Darjeeling. Tea drinkers want to drink high-quality tea and they recognize the Darjeeling name as a guarantee that the tea is high quality.

There’s no reason a tea brand called Darjeeling couldn’t achieve a global market share of something like 10 percent, or 40 times the current sales of Darjeeling-grown tea. At premium prices, too.

There’s a good example in America that demonstrates the power of creating an association to market an agricultural brand. Years ago, the cranberry was a little-known and not very widely-used fruit. Then the cranberry growers got together to form a cooperative. One of their first decisions was to create a brand name for their cranberry products. “Ocean Spray” was the name they selected.

Over the years, the Ocean Spray cooperative marketed fresh cranberries as well as cranberry juice and many other cranberry products. Today, Ocean Spray is the leading producer of shelf-stable juice drinks. It also produces dried cranberries, a product called “craisins,” a play on the word for dried grapes, raisins.

Annual revenues of Ocean Spray are $2.2 billion and 30 percent of their sales are outside the United States.

All around the world, consumers are eager to buy global brands. As time goes by, people will forget where a brand originally came from and focus on the perception of the brand itself.

Where did Red Bull originate? Does it really matter? What really matters is Red Bull’s perception as the leading global energy drink.

Someday, Darjeeling could be perceived as the leading premium tea brand. But only if the tea growers of Darjeeling change their strategy from an “origin” approach to a “branding” approach.

About the author / 

Sanchit Khera

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