Kudos to Dilmah Tea, a Sri Lankan company I know very well.
I just picked up this copy of Fortune magazine (July ’07) and there’s a good feature on this maverick tea company. There’s no link to the article on Forbes Online, so let me paraphrase. It’s a story of how a independent company is making the big guys sweat. Big guys meaning the Lipton’s and Twinings of this world. What’s special about them?
First, Dilmah makes a claim to product quality that no other tea marketer could -a single source of the leaf. Most people don’t realize that when they dip a tea bag in boiling water, the tea inside is ‘blended’ — meaning it comes from several countries in one big, tasteless mash-up! I could attest to that — as a huge tea drinker I stock and drink many varieties, including the real thing from Dilmah which I store and serve like, um, wine!
Which brings me to the second point in their marketing differentiation. They position the brand somewhere between a wine and a heath drink. As Fortune reports, the multinationals pooh-pooh the wine analogy, saying it is ridiculous. That’s expected (beyond sour grapes!) because they don’t appreciate the nuances of tea, the climatic differences, and the soil etc in Sri Lanka.
Third, and this has to worry the multi-nationals, Dilmah is getting into the experiential retail business of "tea bars" –hipster Starbucks-like hangouts for the other caffeine crowd.
The Fortune article didn’t mention Dilmah’s other major promotional thrust: cricket! The firm is a big promoter and sponsor of the sport, and in some ways synonymous with it in Asia and Australia. No accident, when you think about it. Tea and cricket. Two British exports that now have a distinctive ‘Ceylon’ flavor.