“About two years ago, we used to send 10 cases of white tea to the Middle East a month and that was enough. Now we are airlifting cases to keep up with the demand,” Vivette Anklesaria, national sales head for UAE at Dilmah Tea, told FoodNavigator.
Founded in 1974, Dilmah is a brand of Ceylon tea that is currently available in 92 countries, including in the Middle East region.
“The market trends in the Middle East have changed. There was a time when people only consumed the regular English red or green tea. They never knew what was beyond that,” she said.
But with growing consumer awareness and education about health issues and tea types, consumers in the region have opened themselves up to other types, which includes white tea, said Anklesaria.
“Five years ago, in the Middle East, we did not think people will come in to a cafe and ask for tea and not coffee. Today, we see that happening,” she said, adding that the Middle East consumer’s lifestyle has pushed the demand for tea.
“We are seeing even doctors in the region recommend tea to children as they grow up to fight obesity, to fight diabetes,” Anklesaria said.
White tea comes from the buds and leaves of the Chinese Camellia sinensis plant, which are allowed to wither in natural sunlight before they are lightly processed to prevent oxidation or further tea processing.
According to Anklesaria, white tea, which is the least processed tea, has the highest levels of antioxidants. Some studies claim that white tea contains high levels of catechins, which are touted as reducing the occurrence of artherosclerotic plaques and the severity of strokes, and even to prevent cancer.
“We are now seeing that customers [are] asking for white tea specifically. They are no longer asking for green or black tea alone. We are seeing specific demand from the premium hotels, who are offering white tea as part of their afternoon tea,” she said.
Dilmah has been in the Middle East for about 15 years and works with distributors in the region to target the burgeoning foodservice industry and only the higher end of the retail market. According to Anklesaria, the tea-maker works with almost all the top hotel and restaurant brands in the region.
“The food service market will continue to be big for us. They say that this year, there will be 25 new hotels in Dubai alone and that is going to be a huge opportunity,” she said.