NEERAJ RATHI: GLOCALIZING NEPALI TEA
The Nepalese tea industry, apparently, is quiet the unsung hero. Yes, the catchy jingles do give it a local feel which might have led us to undersestimate the inherent quality of the tea from Nepal. It turns out, the tea from Nepal doesn’t fall too far behind international level. However, the teas from Nepal has not been able to enjoy the recognition it duely deserves.
But it looks like things are changing. A tea that stands out from the rest, Rakura has been proactive in trying to put itself on a higher pedestal. Initiated in 1973, Rakura is shaped on the notion of putting Nepalese tea at its rightful place. Their mission has always been to transform and create more recognition for Nepalese tea. The brand name boasts of a number of achievements such as being Nepal’s first export of teas abroad, opening the first private factory in Ilam to produce finer quality Nepalese teas, crafting the first novelty tea products for the Nepalese tourism sector and becoming the first Nepalese tea establishment to tie up with an international retail chain to provide quality Nepalese teas. With their conscious efforts to be at the forefront of innovation and progress in the Nepalese Tea Industry, we talk to the man behind the reigns of Rakura. Motivated to revolutionize the Nepalese tea Industry internationally, Neeraj Rathi, the Managing director of Rakura is pacing forward to generate a long-term sustainability model for alleviating poverty in our tea growing communities while putting Nepalese tea on the world tea map.
- What do you plan on changing in the tea industry with Rakura?
What most people don’t know, including our own Nepalese populace, is the fact that Nepal makes some of the best teas in the world that have always either been blended with other finer teas of the world or sold by itself, as a high-end product. This practice has continually robbed Nepalese tea producing community of a fair price and more importantly, its deserved brand value. Nepalese teas lack the brand significance that other tea producing countries of the world possess – largely due to the absence of support and resources.
I believe this is where Rakura comes in. A vision and a brand that encompasses the nation’s finest teas and works towards promoting and creating more appreciation for Nepalese tea around the world.
- So, how are you working to attain this outcome?
I believe the first thing that we’ve had to do is completely change the experience of Nepalese teas. We sensed that teas in Nepal were either sold as unbranded loose, novelty gift products or as a brand with substandard raw materials.
Hence, to catch up with some major international brands, we are producing a bundle of delightful products that consumers around the world would want to take home repeatedly. From the perception of value, to hand selected teas within each Rakura product, to the standard and function of packaging as well as the usage of the latest technology, we are working to create a brand that personifies Nepalese tea and competes with the best teas in the world. Today, we break new ground each time we come up with a new product.
- How does Rakura stand up to the international big tea players in the market, today?
I believe we stand pretty tall. It is amusing that a lot of customers still assume Rakura is not a Nepalese product but is infact an import. In addition to handpicking only the finest teas, we have accomplished strategic patnerships with other finer tea-producing gardens. This helps us select their best teas for creating a perfectly well rounded Nepalese tea blend. We have climate controlled packaging units, the latest in packaging machinery and the most updated hygiene and food safety standards, all to help us serve the freshest teas possible. We also made a point to use the world’s best and most eco-friendly packing materials available for achieving not just an attractive package but also a functional one. All in all, every aspect of the Nepalese tea experience that starts from unwrapping the pack right uptill the flavour hits your palate after, drinking the flavourful brew are fastidiously studied to create Nepal’s best tea offering yet.
Today, competition isn’t just with local competitors, we’re going up against the other teas in the world at the best price point.
- How has the feedback been from the market?
The feedback, both positive and judicious has been overwhelming from Nepal and around the world. I believe that has been the most important factor in motivating us to keep moving constantly. Given that it was Nepal’s and our first time, we’ve had lots of learning to do. The opinion of our customers has helped us experiment, learn and tweak our products to what our customers want and need.
Customer feedback is why Rakura has become a synonym for quality tea in Nepal and again, broken new ground in the perception of our country’s teas.
- How has Rakura influenced the market?
It’s been delightful for me to see the way Rakura has affected the market. We’ve seen competitors trying hard to use our motto as well as the design and text of our packaging in various ways. Some have tried to come up with new products that they had never thought of and tried bettering the design and functionality of their packaging. At the end of the day, its good times for the customer and our country. It keeps us on our toes, makes us admire our contemporaries and take the next step in the industry while our competitors also strive to collectively better the awareness of Nepalese teas.
I believe we stand pretty tall. It is amusing that a lot of customers still assume Rakura is not a Nepalese product but is infact an import.
- Rakura has advocated the health benefits of tea with the motto “Drink Health” in Nepal. Has that dynamic caused a stir in the market?
Yes, it’s caused a major shift in how people look upon their tea now because tea in Nepal was always viewed as unhealthy. When we first launched, scepticism was rife but now even doctors are advocating the consumption of tea as part of a healthy lifestyle. Many people in Nepal and around the world have already adopted numerous cups of tea as a daily part of their lifestyle and this will only keep growing with more research. It’s no wonder that even prominent coffee companies like Starbucks or Coffee Bean have made ambitious forays into Teas.
- What are the different types of Rakura teas available in the market? Does each tea have its own unique health benefits?
Rakura currently has 18 kinds of packages consisting of 11 varieties of teas including both loose teas and tea bags. These teas have been created to serve different needs both at work and at home for consumers with differing tastes.
Health benefits for the teas can either be common or unique depending upon the tea and the needs of the buyer. For instance, Orthodox Black tea and Green tea have somewhat the same health benefits except for a higher caffeine content and better taste for the black tea. Similarly, green tea with natural lemon and honey would serve a different purpose than green tea with jasmine, as the latter concoction is better at calming you down and relieving pressure.
- Could you tell us about the company’s foray into the export market?
We’ve been in the tea export for over 40 years now and we’re the first tea exporters from Nepal. Our bulk tea business that still accounts for a major portion of our portfolio has been exported to 15 countries all over Asia and Europe. Our Rakura brand of teas took off soon after its launch to Malaysia, and then the Philippines and now the Czech Republic and China. We are now in talks with major distributors in several countries and will hopefully enter the households of those countries.
- Where do you want to see the company standing in the next 10 years?
I believe we’ll keep on striving with accomplishing our vision for Nepalese tea. I hope to see us learn, innovate and transform the perception of Nepalese tea or any other space that we get into. I also wish that our brand achieves recognition for our industry, our country and our organization in the coming decade and most importantly create a tea to amaze the people around the world.
Photo: Jenish Rajbhandari