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German Tea Market:
High Standards, Moderate Consumption
By Manfred Körner

Surprisingly heavily involved, Germany is beginning to be recognized as a crucial player in the tea industry. Here, we examine the recent German market trends and how the country contributes to tea import, export and retail worldwide.

Germans are not known being crazy for tea. Per capita consumption had been just at 25 liters in 2006, nearly on par with previous year’s volume. 77% was black tea and the remaining 23% green tea. About 60% is sold as loose product, and the remaining 40% in tea bags. Overall, domestic consumption amounted to some 17,530 tons. “German tea drinkers do not consume as much as the British or the Chinese do, but they have a reputation for demanding the highest quality. Many of the tea gardens of the world grow top quality teas, particularly for the German market,” comments Jochen Spethmann. Spethmann is chairman of the German Tea association and CEO of the Laurens Spethmann Holding, the market leader in Germany and a major player on the European tea market.

Hub of International Tea Trade
Tea imports into Germany grew by 12.2% in 2006 setting a new record at 46,785 tons. Also, tea exports peaked. About 25,302 tons were processed, blended, flavored and packed in Germany before being shipped to all parts of the world. Countries like the U.K., U.S. and Russia count on tea “made in Germany.” Due to its competence and experience in tea processing, the German tea industry is steadily gaining importance in the international tea trade. The Port of Hamburg is Europe’s tea capital number and handles more than 70% of all German tea imports, as well as some 50% of the European-wide traded teas.

World Leaders in Tea Production
On an international scale, China and India are the most important tea producers. Chinese production increased in 2006 by 17.2%, amounting to well over one million tons. Germany is one of the major importers. The share of Chinese teas increased to over 22% of total import, up from 19.7% in 2005. The second tea producing country is India with a total production of 955,907 tons (plus 3%). India is well known for its Darjeeling and Assam varieties, the latter being the basis for the regionally important East-Frisian tea blends. India’s share in German tea imports accounts for 14.9% representing a volume of 6,976 tons. Both China and India have an overwhelming domestic consumption. China exported “only” some 26% and India 21% of their respective production. Third in place is Indonesia with a production of 139,761 tons, whereof 90,500 tons went into export. Indonesia makes up for around 14% of total German tea imports.

World Champions in Tea Exports
Though the volume of tea production was considerably less in Sri Lanka and Kenya as compared to China and India, both countries were supplying more tea for the world market. Nearly all domestic production was destined for export, including Sri Lanka’s 310,822 tons as well as Kenya’s 310,607 tons. In Germany, Sri Lanka’s share in imports accounts for 13.4% after 12.6% in the previous year (Kenya’s share is included in the all-African share of 6.5%). After expansion of the tea growing acreage during the last four decades, production in this East African country has considerably increased in terms of volume. Today, tea has become one of the major cash crops and export commodities. In Germany, Kenyan varieties are mainly used for blends.

Specialist Outlets for Connoisseurs
The most important sales channel for German tea consumers are food retail shops and discount stores, combining nearly 60% of all purchases; tea specialist shops account for another 18% of all purchases. These shops are the focus for many tea-loving enthusiasts who look for a broad range of products, including specialities and those who seek individual advice and guidance from the experienced and trusted tea expert. The third major sales channel is the multitude of smaller retail shops, many of them operated by Turkish owners and targeted at a potential of 3.2 million Turkish customers in Germany. The hotel and catering industry as well as the mail order business account for another four% each.

100 Years of OTG

It all began in 1907. Inspired by the idea selling East Frisian tea blends beyond the region of East Frisia, tea trader Laurens Janssen founded the Ostfriesische Tee Gesellschaft (OTG). At the beginning of the 1950’s his grandson, Laurens Spethmann, took over the management with the same determination and dedication as his grandfather. He transferred the company’s seat to the then “Free Harbour” of Hamburg. Here the doors to the world were opened. Together with his wife, Marianne, he converted the OTG into a successful national and international supplier of teas. During the company’s initial years, the production of private-label teas shaped the business. By the end of the 1960’s, OTG took the first steps in the direction of branded products and created the MILFORD brand. In 1972, OTG experienced the first expansion abroad by acquiring the Austrian company GROSCH tea which later was renamed MILFORD Tee Austria. In a second line of expansion, OTG engaged itself in the business of “health and nutrition.” In 1988, OTG acquired the traditional East Fristian brand OnnO Behrends, adding the reputed MESSMER brand only two years later. Further acquisitions and establishments followed in U.K., France, the Netherlands and Russia. In 1996, while reorganizing the group, the Laurens Spethmann Holding was founded and the fourth family generation got to the helm. Today OTG is the leading supplier on the German-speaking tea market and one of the major players in the European tea business.


Tea & Coffee - November, 2007
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