Welcome to our world of tea.
We are a family tea company. My father, Merrill J. Fernando, fought to establish this business; he fought against vested interests, which favoured a form of economic colonialism that saw Sri Lankan tea producers as raw material producers and nothing beyond, and he fought against his colleagues and the government of his country, both of which feared the wrath of the multinational entities and the establishment that dominated the global tea industry. If it sounds like a fairytale, it was not, and whilst my father succeeded through determination and perseverance, many more did not, and their efforts and dreams failed.
The result of his determination, and what eventually became the commitment of a lifetime for him, has much greater significance than his achievement alone. Dilmah was the first producer owned tea brand in the world, excluding naturally the tea business of Sir Thomas Lipton which was a colonial enterprise, and long since sold to a multinational corporation, and also excluding Tata Tetley, an Indian congolemerate which purchased its brand from Tetley Tea Co. Dilmah represents a fundamentally different mode of operation, for it is a company that was formed with the objective of offering the great Ceylon Tea Industry, which lies at its heart, its workers and teamakers, a better deal.
Dilmah was also formed with the objective of countering the increasingly rapid commoditization in tea. Whilst the success of the global tea industry was founded on the passion and commitment of a number of family or otherwise owner operated tea companies in the 1800s and early 1900s, that began to change in the mid 1900s. The success of tea and its popularity attracted transnational corporations, which sought to profit from tea. Being a natural beverage reliant on art and expertise in its mastery, tea suffered then as now, at the hands of these large corporations. The commoditization that has ensued was potentially disastrous, both for consumers who enjoyed good tea, and for workers and their industry.
It is in this scenario that Dilmah was born. My father’s business model was quite simple; he sought to build a family tea brand, the first producer owned tea brand, to decommoditise tea, to bring real tea back to supermarket shelves, and to secure a better deal for the ailing Ceylon Tea Industry.
His journey was fraught with danger and littered with obstacles but three decades on, he achieved his dream of launching his Dilmah, Pure Ceylon Tea – garden fresh and unblended. Two decades after that, the business in which he is now joined with the same vigour by my brother Malik and I, is undergoing similar trials, although perhaps not as intense as the birth pains of Dilmah.
This blog offers an insight into our world – it will cover not just the trials but also the joys of our great industry. Our approach to business is fundamentally different to what has become acceptable and dominate today. We genuinely love tea – and we believe that quite apart from the enjoyment of tea, and sharing that enjoyment with consumers around the world, there lies in our tea industry, the solution to many of the issues of poverty that our country faces.
This blog expresses personal opinions which should not be misconstrued to be the official position of our business. Thank you for visiting; if I can help you in your quest to understand tea, please feel free to let me know through these pages.
Dilhan C. Fernando