Gold Crown’s locally produced premium brand makes inroads against foreign rivals 

MOMBASA, Kenya—This nation exports more tea than any other in the world, but for years Kenyans weren’t able to enjoy a cup of premium tea cultivated in their own country. One company is leading a movement to change that.

Kenya annually exports roughly 400,000 tons of tea, ahead of other leading producers such as China and India. But high-quality tea was widely viewed as a luxury here, and for decades few Kenyans drank it. About 5% of Kenya’s tea crop stays in the country, much of it dust and residue from higher-quality leaves sold and processed abroad, and many Kenyans use it to make the hot, milky brew known as chai.

In recent years, however, a locally produced premium brand has appeared, shelved in supermarkets next to the 400 shilling ($4) packs of Unilever PLC’s Lipton and Associated British Foods PLC’s Twinings, which are both made with Kenyan tea abroad and re-imported.

bn-si608_kenyat_p_20170303145317An employee shows off a tea leaf at the Maramba tea plantation in Limuru, Kenya, about 20 miles northwest of Nairobi. The leaf will be dried, cut and packed before it is auctioned in Mombasa.

Gold Crown Beverages Ltd., a family-held business incorporated in the U.K. but with a base here in Kenya’s biggest port city, is selling premium black and herbal teas, made by Kenyans for Kenyans, at roughly half the price of foreign competitors. The company’s Kenyan sales, $9 million in 2016, have almost tripled since 2012.

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Gold Crown has managed to establish a product that doesn’t rely on exporting raw materials and importing processed goods, a feat that has long eluded most African companies. Cocoa producers in Ivory Coast and Ghana have for decades failed to produce a competitive brand of African-made chocolate. Oil producers in Nigeria and Angola have struggled to refine and process their own petroleum products.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has urged Kenya to go further than just exporting tea and add more value to the commodity at home.

“There exists an enormous blue-sky opportunity to roll out higher-quality tea like purple tea too,” said Aly-Khan Satchu, a Kenyan financier and investor, who referred to rare tea grown here that turns the water purple when brewed.

To read the complete article, please visit wsj.com

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