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Singapore's luxury tea boutique chain TWG debuts in Indian market

Arnab Dutta/New Delhi 15 Feb 18 | 05:32 AM

We are not Starbucks. We don’t want to be in every other corner. Rather we want to be the destination: Taha Bouqdib CEO & co-founder TWG Tea

It took ten years for the first TWG Tea boutique to throw open its doors in India. Surprising that for a brand that is built around tea, a drink that is as much of a necessity as it is a political statement in the country. But TWG Tea that has 70 salons and boutiques in close to 16 countries chose to take its time, and has finally launched with two boutiques in New Delhi, one located inside The Oberoi and another at the DLF Emporio mall. Why did it take so long and is India ready for a luxury brand in what is considered to be the common man’s beverage?

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Taha Bouqdib, president, CEO and co-founder of TWG  Tea who opened the first salon and boutique in August 2008 at Republic Plaza in Singapore believes that Indians are now more likely to sample the premium fare on offer. He sees a greater willingness to experiment with experience among a larger group of people today.

The TWG boutiques are designed to convey a sense of elegance and luxury where the décor is as important as the brew in the cup. Bouqdib is looking to transport the same brand ethos to India, where he is hopeful that a growing number of billionaires and the young, who value experience over everything else, will see tea drinking as a premium indulgence. He is also looking at India as a market for TWG’s label of exclusive artisan teas which he believes are perfect for the gifting market that is moving beyond the staple sweets, chocolates and dry fruits boxes.

Positioning is critical in the TWG brand strategy. “We are not Starbucks. We don’t want to be in every other corner. Rather we want to be the destination," he says. In India, TWG has tied up with RJ Corp that manages other global food and retail brands like KFC and Pizza Hut for its chain of boutiques. But there is an understanding that the brand must not just be marketed differently but it also has to be positioned within the luxury retail segment. “Our stores should be in high-end locations and should make a statement—mixing fashion and luxury brands. In next seven years, we shall be present in all major cities across the world," Bouqdib says.

The boutiques offer exclusive and premium teas from different countries. Inside the one that has newly opened up in The Oberoi, there are over 280 varieties and each label has a story—there is one that is the favourite of the Japanese royal family and another that has been processed with 24 carat gold. There are the exclusive Silver Moon Tea packs and the iconic Singapore Breakfast Tea, all stacked up in trademark yellow metallic jars. 

When he first set up in Singapore in 2008, many believed that TWG had got its timing all wrong. After all the world was in the grip of an economic crisis and why would people want to spend on a cup of tea? According to Bouqdib, his initial fears were soon dispelled. The high footfall in newly opened stores sent the message loud and clear—“such a tea serving platform will bring people together in good  and in bad times," he says.

Bouqdib, a French of Moroccan origin, began his journey in the world of luxury tea in 1993 in Paris as an overseer of management and operations of retail, food and beverage outlets. But he chose Asia for his tea parlours where “everybody is born with a cup of tea," he explains.

The first overseas expansion for TWG was to Japan. Given the country’s penchant for tea drinking rituals, it was a natural move. India has been a more arduous journey, given that the country has never had a luxury tea-drinking or brewing culture. It is a drink mostly had at home or at corner stores by the side of the road. TWG is a luxury label and such labels thrive only when they are able to create a high symbolic value for a select set of consumers who are not as focused on price, but more on the attendant trappings around the brand. A sense of exclusivity is delivered through a price point and through exquisitely designed boutiques and selection of teas. A full range TWG store offers over 800 types of tea where the price would range from tens of thousands of rupees to lakhs per kilo. The two boutiques in India are not there yet. 

While, tea is widely consumed in India, contrary to  general perception, India’s annual per capita consumption (0.7 kg) falls far behind countries like Mauritania (3.2 kg), Gambia (1.2 kg) and Pakistan (1 kg). Moreover, the super-luxury nature of TWG’s business makes it more difficult to find consumers. This is why it took the brand so long to enter India and while Bouqdib is confident that the market is now more open to his brand of tea, it will be a while before the brand goes all out with its entire range of teas. For now, he is focused on the new stores  and the next leg of expansion: two stores in Mumbai and one each in Kolkata and in Delhi airport. 

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