Malayalis’ love for tea is part of their culture and folklore. An old joke goes that when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, he found a Malayali running a tea shop there. The fact that people from the south Indian state of Kerala can’t start their day without reading a newspaper and a cup of tea in their hands is a well-known phenomenon.

The Kerala State Civil Supplies Corporation (Supplyco) – a state-owned undertaking, is betting on such unadulterated admiration for the foamier drink by introducing for the first time ever its branded tea product in the Gulf region, starting with the UAE.

Soon, Supplyco’s popular ‘Sabari’ tea brand will be available in supermarkets, small shops and cafeterias across the emirates.

During the launch event held in Abu Dhabi, G.R. Anil, Kerala’s Minister for Food and Civil Supplies, told Khaleej Times that it was for a “first-time experiment” by the state government.

“This is a first-of-its-kind initiative in the history of our state. This is a major step as the government is trying to expand its business overseas. Be it our tea, coffee, spices and other products, it will be available to people overseas. Abu Dhabi is just a start; we hope these products reach other countries,” Anil said.

Initiative to support tea growers

The minister underlined that a good business for tea brands in the UAE, will support the farmers and tea growers in Kerala.

“Tea growers are facing a crisis because of several reasons. By expanding our business abroad, the demand for tea powder will grow and it will assist them. The government is entering this market with an intention to help our farmers. If we see a demand here, we will expand to other Gulf countries. It will be beneficial for our farmers.”

The minister said that the first shipment contains 20 tonnes of tea.

“We are looking at sales to the tune of more than Rs4.5 million a month. We hope there will be good demand for our tea brand.”

Banking on expat community

Anil is hoping for full support from the Kerala diaspora to make this pilot phase a success.

“Malayalis are fond of tea. The premium quality will be available here. The Kerala diaspora has been contributing to the development of the state. I am hoping for cooperation for this initiative too. Malayalis are a big number here and through them we can reach other friends (nationalities). If this experiment wins, then we can move to other products.”

Asked about the next product to be out there in the market, the minister didn’t need a second thought: “Spices. We are a land of spices.”

Other ‘Sabari’ products include curry powder, coffee, coconut oil among others.

Making local brands global

Dr Sanjeeb Patjoshi IPS, chairman and managing director, Supplyco, noted that tea has a strong demand in Kerala.

“Tea is one commodity that Keralites love to have every morning. We have been selling about 300 tonnes per month in Kerala. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, has said: ‘Make local brands global’. This initiative is globalisation for Kerala tea in a big way starting with the UAE.”

The procurement and distribution for the tea powder will be done by Abu Dhabi-based b Fresh Foods General Trading.

“Products will be shipped from Kerala. It will be in packets of 200gm and 400gm, and 5 kg, which is mainly focused on cafeterias. We are seeing interest from Qatar and Oman,” said Abdul Nissar, managing director of b Fresh.

“In a few days, the brand will be available in hypermarkets, including LuLu, big and small shops, especially cafeterias,” added Nasheem A.N., general manager.

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