The FINANCIAL -- Geoplant LLC, producer of Georgian tea under the brand name Gurieli, is taking actions to increase export and to introduce new bio teas this year.
Furthermore, Gurieli is going to increase the range of its offered tea products and improve the packaging.
“We have increased the premium Prince Gurieli tea line, which is now presented fully, offering classic, fruit and herbal teas in tin boxes, as well as in pyramid teabags and pyramid teabags in individual envelopes,” said Mikheil Chkuaseli, CEO at Geoplant.
“We hope to strengthen our positions in the HoReCa segment. Furthermore, we have introduced Gurieli fruit tea in envelopes. This packaging ensures a more intense aroma of the already unique and popular fruit teas, which are a combination of dried fruits gathered across the whole of Georgia, from Kakheti to the mountainous Racha,” he added.
Meanwhile, Geopant is also working on the rehabilitation of tea plantations and also on introducing a new variety of the tea Sencha, a type of Japanese ryokucha which is prepared by infusing the processed whole tea leaves in hot water.
“Georgia would become the third country after Japan and China to produce this well-known tea,” said Chkuaseli.
As of today Gurieli tea is exported to Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Russia and Turkmenistan as well as to various other European countries by private exporters.
Geoplant LLC has recently won Golden Brand Awards for its successful activities in 2015.
Q. Could you please summarise the year 2015 and the beginning of 2016?
A. The year 2015 was truly a tough year, and one of the main challenges was to maintain the pricing policy despite severe devaluation of the Georgian national currency the Lari. Fortunately, in the most complicated period we were able to achieve this goal.
We experienced a 25 percent growth in sales. The revenues totalled USD 5 million last year.
Apart from this, we were working hard on opening our new packaging factory in Ozurgeti, the centre of Georgia’s Guria region which is famous for its tea plantations. The project provided jobs for more than 70 people during construction and now has almost 30 full-time employees, with forecasted growth of up to 60 in the nearest future.
Equipped with high-tech Japanese technologies the factory has given us the opportunity to double the capacity of production. We are able to produce premium pyramid teabags in our factory, which was unprecedented in Georgia. We have created unique infusions of fruit and herbal teas, our quality classic teas are hand-picked in an ecologically clean environment, carefully processed without any additives, emulsifiers, and without chemicals or poisons.
For the last 40 years there has been no packaging plant built in Georgia. We have constructed this plant. Spread over 1,300 square meters, the plant will be opened in July of this year.
Georgia will get a quality and high standard of packaging equal to that in European countries. We will implement standards which will never allow this industry to go backwards again.
Compared to last year, 2016 is substantially more promising and our main challenge is to increase our presence on the existing export markets as well as to penetrate new markets.
Q. Which is the most popular tea from the Gurieli assortment?
A. In line with world trends, black tea in teabags is the most demanded product.
However, interest towards herbal and fruit infusions is quite high, which is a positive change and hopefully sales in this direction will increase as well.
Q. How does Gurieli tea attract clients and retain its competitive advantage?
A. Every year we introduce new products, varieties or packaging, positioning ourselves as an innovative brand aimed at development.
The fact that Georgian consumers appreciate our products is our best competitive advantage.
Unfortunately, we do face significant problems with some cafés and restaurants, who give preference to imported products as the majority are working on a 400 percent margin. That is why they avoid selling Georgian tea.
However, a lot of our customers remain loyal to, and supportive of, Gurieli and Georgian products in general.
Q. Your goal is to revive the tea industry in Georgia. How are you contributing to this process?
A. Geoplant has been operating in the business since 1996, when Georgian tea was practically erased from the international map. We started selling bulk tea to famous tea producing companies. Afterwards the idea of establishing a Georgian brand of tea developed in 2008 and the birth of Gurieli can be regarded as a turning point, when the closed factories continued to work and the plantations followed after.
Shortly after the launch, the brand became popular and has established itself strongly on the local market, gaining about 20 percent, when initially imported products held 98 percent of the market.
Many people are employed in the business, which in turn supports increasing welfare in the regions. Production of quality tea, creation of our successful brand, and our overall performance in Georgia is beneficial for the development of the agricultural sector and the overall economy of our country.
Q. Has Gurieli tea become one of the visit cards of Georgia?
A. Fortunately, Gurieli was able to establish itself as a brand and through export as well as various expos across the world, is somewhat known to the international market. However, we have a lot of work to do and hopefully sooner rather than later tea will become as popular as, for example, Georgian wine, as we have the full potential of being one of the top producing countries. Remember that during Soviet times Georgia was in the list of the top five countries in terms of tea production. The experience and success stories connected to Georgian tea are a solid basis for its further development.
Q. The Government of Georgia launched a special programme that supports tea development in Georgia. Do you see any positive trends in this direction?
A. The current strategy of the Georgian Government to support local production is quite promising. We are optimistic that we will have better results in local production and an increase in export in 2016.
Preferential Agrocredit has been issued for the rehabilitation of tea plantations that cover over 300 hectares of land. This means that yield per hectare will increase at least four times. We will have a soaring quality of tea leaf. It will contribute to an export boost of loose as well as packaged tea. The second important thing is that we shall have the opportunity to conduct some experiments on the plantations. This includes implementation of a drip irrigation system. This system is unique even for such giant countries of tea production as China, India and Ceylon. It will allow us to increase productivity and efficiency five times or more.
An additional ambitious plan involves the import of anti-freeze methodology from Japan. There is a short period during spring which carries a risk of the tea leaf becoming damaged in the event of temperatures falling below six degrees. Implementing the new method will help us prevent this risk. Through the state project ‘Produce in Georgia’ we have been financed with USD 2 million.
The average consumption of tea in Georgia is 800 tonnes. There are still many deforested plantations. If the Government pays more attention to the industry it would be very helpful for the whole economy. I am convinced that Georgia can re-assert its place in the global tea industry. It has the potential to supply not only local demand but also export it. The increasing trend of tea consumption is good proof for that. We are witnessing an increase in black tea consumption. The demand for green tea and its consumption is even increasing fivefold. Georgia has huge potential to respond to this demand. In order to use the existing potential, we should maintain our plantations. The Government should support large companies, as they have the real potential to develop the industry on a grand scale.
During its history, Gurieli has invested a huge sum in developing its brands. Gurieli tea is an established brand. Now we have to develop the plantations, which will give us an effect of synergy. Although today Gurieli might be standing alone against all imported brands, I promise that we will not be alone in the future and we certainly won’t lose this war.