Wrong book led to turn­ing new leaf

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS INSIGHT - By CHEN YINGQUN

Many ex­pats come to Wuyuan county in the north­east cor­ner of Jiangxi prov­ince as tea tourists, but Joe d’Ar­me­nia is the only one who has taken root there, work­ing di­rectly with farm­ers in Xi­tou vil­lage at his or­ganic tea fac­tory.

It all started 17 years ago when he bought the wrong book at New York air­port.

“I thought I bought a thriller about mur­der, mys­tery, ex­cit­ing de­tec­tives and things like that, but it was about green tea,” says the 69-year-old English­man.

D’Ar­me­nia, who stud­ied eco­nom­ics at the Univer­sity of Lon­don, spent all his work­ing life in mar­ket­ing, first at the multi­na­tional con­sumer goods com­pany Unilever Plc for 10 years be­fore help­ing with the Olympic Games for the next 20.

It was a serendip­i­tous mo­ment when he mis­tak­enly came across the tea book. He was re­tired and think­ing about what to do next. You could say he turned a new leaf.

D’Ar­me­nia be­came in­ter­ested in green tea’s pur­ported can­cer and heart disease preven­tion qual­i­ties men­tioned in the book. He car­ried out some re­search on the green-tea mar­ket in the United King­dom and Ger­many and dis­cov­ered that al­though its clean taste is very suit­able to Western palates, there was no or­ganic prod­uct avail­able.

He then de­cided to go to China to find qual­ity or­ganic tea. In 1997 at the Can­ton Fair, he met Yu Guangzhong, pres­i­dent of Wuyuan Xi­tou Or­ganic Tea Co Ltd, who took him to Wuyuan county.

At that time, Wuyuan’s tea in­dus­try was fac­ing a dif­fi­cult time. Be­cause it had been ex­port­ing through other com­pa­nies and un­der other names, it didn’t have a fa­mous brand and peo­ple knew lit­tle about the area or its mar­ket.

“I was the first for­eigner to get or­ganic tea di­rectly, so they were ex­cited when I came,” d’Ar­me­nia re­calls.

“Wuyuan had a unique prod­uct but no di­rect ac­cess to the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. My com­pany had ac­cess to that mar­ket but had no ex­pe­ri­ence or knowl­edge of the prod­uct. We needed each other.”

D’Ar­me­nia’s lo­cal com­pany, Wuyuan High Moun­tain Tea Co Ltd, now works with 690 farm­ers in the county, where his fac­tory blends and packs the fi­nal prod­uct. His tea sells in more than 40 na­tions and re­gions, in­clud­ing the United States and South Africa.

“The fastest grow­ing mar­ket now is out­side Europe,” he says. Two years ago the com­pany en­tered Aus­tralia and has seen an an­nual growth of about 15 per­cent. But d’Ar­me­nia says he is not aim­ing for quick growth. In­stead, he wants his busi­ness to re­tain the hu­man touch.

Al­though he lives much of the time in a small cot­tage on the out­skirts of Lon­don, d’Ar­me­nia says: “The farm­ers are our farm­ers, who live next door to us. Our busi­ness is built on trust; we trust farm­ers and they trust us. We have very good re­la­tion­ships.”

Yu Guangzhong says d’Ar­me­nia was also a pi­o­neer in bring­ing the Fair­trade con­cept to Wuyuan to im­prove farm­ers’ lives and in­comes.

His com­pany joined Fair­trade In­ter­na­tional, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that works to se­cure a bet­ter deal for farm­ers and work­ers. Ev­ery year, the farm­ers’ co­op­er­a­tive gains mil­lions of yuan in sub­si­dies from the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Other com­pa­nies are now fol­low­ing in his foot­steps.

Joe d’Ar­me­nia founded a tea pro­cess­ing com­pany in Wuyuan and sells or­ganic tea in more than 40 na­tions and re­gions.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.