Reading the tea leaves: From chai to high tea | The Financial Express

Reading the tea leaves: From chai to high tea

Retail chains are on an expansion spree, riding on growing demand from a young consumer cohort

Reading the tea leaves: From chai to high tea
The success of chai chains is a reflection of evolving consumer preferences.

Just about a month back, Wagh Bakri Tea Group, the third largest packaged tea company in India with a turnover of over `1,500 crore, opened its 15th tea lounge in Noida’s upscale DLF Mall of India.

A little over two years ago, Chaayos’ physical footprint was 75 outlets across the country. Currently, its store count is 200.

Chai Point too has reached 180 stores across nine cities. Both Chayoos and Chai Point have ambitious expansion plans and expect to add about 100 stores each over the next 12-18 months.

Get the drift?

Today the humble cuppa is much bigger than an excuse for roadside tittle-tattle. The rash of tea lounges and bars have taken what used to be, at its best, a social lubricant, and turned it into a `700-crore market.

Homegrown tea café chains have been quick to cash in on the out-of-home demand from a young consumer cohort, offering snacks, groovy ambience and even free wi-fi connectivity. Chains such as Chaayos, Chai Point and Wagh Bakri’s Tea Lounge are ramping up their offerings to cater to a segment for whom coffee shops were the default hang-out zone. Up until now.

But how sustainable are they, given that 80% of the tea drinking market is unorganised? Pramod Damodaran, CEO, Wagh Bakri Tea Lounge, says brands in this segment are catering to the “need state of the consumer”, whether it is meetings,family outings, a quick rest after shopping at the mall or a quiet moment in airports, offices or hospitals. “We elevate the tea drinking experience and make it premium, almost akin to how tea drinkers in the past would enjoy their tea at fancy hotels, but we offer the experience at affordable prices,” he says. While coffee chains offer muffins and croissants with their beverages, Wagh Bakri pairs its teas with pakoras, samosas and vada pav, which resonate more with the average Indian consumer.

Growing the market

Nitin Saluja, founder, Chaayos, draws parallels with global coffee brand, Starbucks. “Before Starbucks launched in the US, there were very few good quality coffee retail outlets. In the Indian context, before chai cafes were launched, consumers could barely enjoy a good cup of tea in a hygienic retail space outside their homes,” he says.

The pandemic, too, played its part in getting consumers to choose hygienic options. That is why home delivery, which was 20% of Chaayos’ revenue prior to the pandemic, now hovers around 30-35%.

The success of chai chains is a reflection of evolving consumer preferences. Saluja says despite the presence of huge international and homegrown brands in the coffee retail segment, the category earns an annual revenue of around 1,500 crore. “In comparison, there are only 3-4 homegrown chai café players, but their combined annual revenue is around700 crore. Only chai retail chains in India can replicate the success of coffee chains in the West,” he says.

Damodaran says his chain is not competing with coffee chains but rather catering to the growing need for cafes. It is for this reason that the brand also offers coffee across its outlets. Wagh Bakri has 15 tea lounges and 10 tea kiosks (Tea World) across Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi NCR but plans to ramp up its footprint in the North, West and South over the next three years.

“The industry can ensure long-term health only by capturing the value offered by out-of-home consumption in modern branded formats, packaged branded sales in modern retail and direct-to-consumer models,” sums up Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight.

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