In addition to being New Zealand’s only tea estate, Zealong Tea also claims to be the largest certified-organic tea plantation internationally with certifications from multiple countries.
“We have organic certifications from New Zealand, the United States, Europe, Canada, Japan and China in addition to being 100% traceable and are the only tea firm certified with ISO 22000, the highest food safety management standards in the world,” Zealong Tea CEO Gigi Crawford told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Traceability and food safety are becoming increasingly important to tea consumers as many are starting to realise that the tea they buy from stores and drink daily are not from where they thought it is from.
“There are many concerns that consumers today are looking for, from environmental such as the use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers, to labour, and they now want to know where their tea is from and what is in it.
“[This presents an issue currently] as everywhere in the tea industry, tea is brought to the factory, blended, processed and resold and if anything happens, there is no way to trace back – which not ideal for consumers looking to buy premium products. Zealong’s teas stand apart in terms of being able to tell consumers exactly where every pack of tea originates from, right here in New Zealand, and we are probably the only tea firm worldwide who can do that.”
Zealong has already made a considerable name for itself in western markets including Germany and the Czech Republic where it is in specialty tea stores, in addition to being ranged in the Harrods department store in the UK and multiple other luxury food stores across the region – and it is now shifting focus to achieve the same, if not higher recognition, in Asian markets.
“We do have our own flagship store in China and an authorized online reseller in Japan, and a major target for us in Asia at present is the premium market in South East Asia, particularly Singapore,” said Crawford.
“Singapore is ideal when targeting the premium market as branding is very important here, and we believe the New Zealand branding as well as our healthier, organic, premium position will be of great interest to local consumers – to put it simply, we want to become the Rolls Royce of tea in the region and believe we can do so here.
“The plan is to start with top restaurants, cafes, hotels and the like to let consumers and the F&B industry as a whole get a taste of our teas and understand the premium aspect we are putting forth first – after that the next step will be to enter supermarkets and retail.
“Harrods in UK is synonymous with luxury and excellence, and they stock Zealong as one of their only organic teas – similarly in Singapore, when we enter retail the focus will be more on premium retailers, so more Cold Storage than NTUC, as we seek to build the premium brand here.”
Origins in oolong
Zealong is essentially a combination of ‘Zealand’ and ‘oolong’, as the firm’s teas all find their origin in oolong tea.
“The oolong we grow here all originates from one Clear Heart Oolong (清心乌龙) cultivar, which makes it very unique, and we also get our green and black teas by oxidizing this oolong for different amounts of time,” said Crawford.
“Apart from being planted in Waikato, New Zealand in clean, green, fertile surroundings, we also only pick the tea a maximum of three times a year [as opposed to eight or nine times elsewhere], giving it time to grow naturally, resulting in very thick tea leaves and a more robust flavour – one teaspoon of our oolong tea can make eight teacups of strong tea.”
Considering the weather in Singapore, Crawford also has plans to look beyond the traditional tea consumption format i.e. being drink hot from a teacup.
“There are other tea brands that have developed iced teas but these mostly contain sugar – we want to maximise the flavour of our teas so consumers can have a healthier iced tea at home, maybe with some lemon, but no sugar,” she said.
“The other new format we’re exploring is tea-based cocktails which is increasingly trending as our teas would definitely be strong enough in terms of flavour to carry a cocktail well.
“When it comes down to it, tea is the second most-drank beverage in the world behind water – not coffee, not wine, but tea – and as consumer demands for quality grow, we believe that they will be willing to pay for the quality we can offer and the assurance of knowing whether their tea is from and what is in it.”