Big Interview: JING Tea CEO Catherine Archer

27/11/2019
Big Interview: JING Tea CEO Catherine Archer

Catherine Archer has a dream job to many in the tea industry as the ceo of JING, the premium tea company.

She calls it a "precious brand" with a level of authenticity and quality that is "just off the scale".

JING opened its first ever retail store this month. Its double-fronted shop in St Christopher's Place in London's West End aims to bring the brand's definitive tea experience direct to the consumer. It will offer 'Tea Flights'  with immersive tastings led by trained JING experts.

JING works with single origin teas from China, India, Sri Lanka, Japan and Taiwan and is a company that is well known for quality as well as its work to help farmers at source.   

Archer has worked in the food and drink sector for around 20-years and says it was almost inevitable her career would go down that route as it was “in the blood.”

“My father was a farmer and my mother was a trained Cordon bleu chef so I just grew up with food and drink.  My days were spent watching the crops grow and talking to my father about the soil and the different grains, through to the picking and preparation,” she says.

“My whole world was from field to table. The world of food and drink has always interested me in terms of the provenance, the people and the places.” 

Archer has a strong background in F&B working in a large number of organisations from Cadbury and Bacardi, to Unilever, where she set up their premium tea division.

“When I started working in the premium tea sector it felt as if someone had opened a door to this whole new world. I was a regular tea drinker but it would be breakfast tea and milk but suddenly I saw what tea could really be,” she says.

JING was already on her radar at that time.

“The stories and authenticity behind the product and the quality were just so outstanding. It just felt like a really well-kept secret that outside of the trade not many people knew about,” she says. “One day a friend from university mentioned a job that might be of interest. I jumped at the chance to be part of taking JING Tea to the next level.”

Premiumisation

She came on board to pull together a five-year plan for the company and two years into her tenure there has already been some dramatic changes in the business. JING is now the tea of choice in over 100 Michelin-starred restaurants worldwide, hotels, high-quality cafes as well as Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck, The Savoy and The Berkeley.  

“We have seen huge amounts of expansion. We are seeing real growth within the trade sector and so much of that is wonderful in terms of the reputation,” she says.  “There has been a lot of innovation, lots of expansion in terms of new business, around the globe there has been the opening up of new markets and going more direct to consumer.”

The trend of premiumisation that has permeated the food and drink market is also now hitting the tea sector. Archer says that while the UK has accessed tea from a traditional tea and milk approach a “rebasing” of the market is taking place with more understanding of origins and flavour.

This has also been driven as people have experienced tea while travelling in countries such as Asia.

“You see premiumisation really coming down the market and a lot of that is due to education,” she says.  “In the same way now that people will ask for wine from specific countries and specific regions such as a Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, people are becoming much more educated in terms of their tea choices.”

Other trends from across the food and drink sector are impacting the tea market, such as the demand for quality, provenance and well being. 

“It is not that surprising as you have seen the same in wines, chocolate, coffee, olive oils and soaps,” she says. “People want to know where the products come from and we can literally take them down to the single farmer.”

It is this commitment to the farmers at origin that is a core strategy for the business. JING is focused on giving back to the people at origin and ensuring that enough money is going back into the supply chain.

Challenges

Archer says the biggest challenge to the tea industry is skills retention and in particular the Master Teamakers at origin, some of who have worked for 40-years honing their tea skills. 

They have detailed knowledge about tea that is passed through generations. But, there is concern as the next generations are looking to move to the city and leave the countryside.

“It is fundamental to retain the skills and the quality for the next generation and beyond,” Archer argues.  

JING also works hard to ensure that the consumer experience matches the time and care taken at source. It works with individual outlets to curate menus based on its customer base and provides tools such as the right teacups and teapots to serve a premium experience.  

But the future is not just about the traditional afternoon tea experience anymore.  She predicts cold infusions and sparkling teas are set to grow in popularity.

“We have a customer in the City and because of the change in not being able to expense alcohol during work time, they were losing revenue. We put together a four and seven-course tea flight that pairs individual teas, starting with a sparkling tea instead of the champagne, so they could have business meal,” she says. “It has worked really well and been a good revenue generator for the operator.”

She also predicts immersive experiences will drive the market but insists that tea remains an affordable luxury.

“The reality is it is a few pounds.  It is such an accessible luxury and it is lot less than a glass of wine yet the overall experience is fantastic,” Archer says. 

And what of the future?

“I do find my friends are nervous about making me a cup of tea,” she laughs. “But when you talk to people they love tea. It is such a warming product and it is something they grew up with it is about sociability. It is so much about relationships and community.”

For more information on stands and sponsorship at European Coffee, Tea & Soft Drink Expo 2020, which will take place at London’s Olympia on 19 and 20 May, contact John Blackley on +44 (0) 203 668 9809 or email johnblackley@europeancoffeeexpo.com

For details of advertising opportunities. Get in touch with johnblackley@europeancoffeeexpo.com

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