Bold and imaginative market decisions have taken Kericho Gold to the top of Kenya’s tea market, and the brand is now looking for a breakthrough in the UK and Europe
Aman without tea in him is incapable of understanding truth and beauty’ according to the famous quote by Okakura Kakuzo – the venerable Japanese scholar, known in the Western world as the author of the long essay The Book of Tea. Sure, the habit of drinking tea may not be as popular today, as it was a century ago, when Kakuzo published his work, but perhaps the very charm of tea drinking in the 21st century resides precisely in the proud preservation of this fine tradition, albeit on a smaller scale, making it somewhat special and exclusive occasion.
Notwithstanding, Kericho Gold does not think small in any way. The Kenyan brand was launched in 2002 by Gold Crown Beverages, and today it has a market share of more than 75 per cent in the Premium Tea market segment in the Eastern African country, despite the fierce competition it has faced. “Indeed, one of our greatest assets is our NPD (new product development) programme, which ensures that we have new products in the market at least twice a year,” says Fahim Ahmed, Managing Director of Kericho Gold, reiterating business’ philosophy to always look for improvement and growth.
The aggressive business development has seen the brand exported to 19 countries, including the USA, Australia, South Korea, China, South Africa, Norway, and Saudi Arabia. Fahim reveals the company’s plans to increase its international presence: “We will be targeting the UK and some EU countries this year with our Attitude Teas, Fruit & Herbal Infusions, and Pyramid ranges. We have also recently appointed a distributor in Finland and we expect the first listings in October 2018. As a regular participator in food shows and exhibitions, we recently visited FOODEX JAPAN, where we were able to identify a distributor and we hope to finalise the agreement shortly.”
Having started only with the offering of black tea, Kericho Gold soon began adding new products to its expanding catalogue, including green tea, as well as the abovementioned ranges of flavoured black and green teas, called Attitude Teas, the Fruit and Herbal Infusions, the Health & Wellness range, and the most recently launched Pyramid category. The Attitude Teas range has gone on to become a huge success among millennials, who are its target market. “Tea consumption among the young was in sharp decline, as tea was seen as something that only the elderly enjoy, with coffee being the beverage of choice for the youngsters. We managed to change all that and now the attributes of each flavour from Attitude Teas is hotly debated on social media,” Fahim reports.
The innovative approach Kericho Gold has taken with the introduction of Attitude Teas was not a precedent for the brand. The business has a proven track record of launching products that have never been sold in Kenya before. One such example is the Fruit & Herbal Infusions range some seven years ago. “When we first attempted that,” Fahim recollects, “a buyer from the largest supermarket chain in Kenya said that it was not going to work, because Kenyans only drank black tea. Our counterargument was that they only had black tea, because there were no other options for them to choose from, which, to us, meant that there was a potential customer base of 48 million people for the new range. Since then, sales have grown at an average of 70 per cent year-on-year.
“Similarly, we were the first company to launch the Pyramid range in Kenya, thus offering Kenyans non-Kenyan teas for the first time. It is a very upmarket range, retailing in the country at about 75p per teabag, and is now selling fast in supermarkets in the wealthier suburbs of Nairobi.” The international teas Kericho Gold lists include handmade Sencha (Japan), Spiced Rooibos (South Africa), Camomile flowers (Croatia), Peppermint (Egypt), as well as teas from Ceylon and Rwanda.
When all is said and done, however wide the range, if the actual tea is not of the highest quality, it cannot possibly be so successful, and those engaged with creating Kericho Gold teas know that perfectly well. “We do not compromise on quality of ingredients. No amount of money spent on TV advertisements or billboards can get you a repeat purchase if the quality of tea is below par,” Fahim explains, maintaining that the only way to guarantee that the customer will buy again is to make the product really stand out. “Take the standard Black Teas, for example. We put in painstaking efforts to create a blend from the best teas grown in Kenya, and ensure the consistency of taste day after day, year after year.”
Kenyan tea has been praised as one of the best in the world and Fahim tries to enlighten us on why this is so: “Unlike other parts of the world where plantations suffer from pest infestations, and therefore require a heavy use of pesticides, Kenya’s tea growing areas are blessed, and there have been no reported incidents of pest infestation across our tea farms. Kenyan teas are also special for another reason. They are high in antioxidants due to their slow growth, as tea is grown in high altitudes, between 1800 and 2300 metres above sea level.”
To keep its promise to constantly offer new innovative products, Kericho Gold is going to refresh its assortment over the course of 2018. “A whole new range of loose leaf teas is on its way, as well as a small Travel Pack, which can be easily slipped into a briefcase or a travel bag for those who cannot go without Kericho Gold when they travel,” Fahim smiles. The company is also in the process of building its new factory, an investment of just under £12 million. “It will be solar-powered, and is designed to have an efficient flow, thus minimising bottlenecks in the production process, something so many factories are plagued with, because they were not purpose-built,” Fahim reasons.
Finally, Kericho Gold has a very clear idea of how it wants to raise brand awareness with a series of PR activities. “We are very active on social media, we take part in food shows all over the world, and we sponsor a breakfast show, hosted by a celebrity chef on a popular TV channel in Kenya, who also airs on Cake World TV. The show is produced by Food Time Television Ltd in Virginia, the USA, so we aim to get the brand out as much as possible,” Fahim concludes. Kericho Gold looks set to be brewing up a successful future.