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Text: ekaterra, the tea division of Unilever, is the biggest tea business globally, with world-class purpose-driven brands including PG tips, Pukka, Lipton, T2 and Tazo, says the company. With 12 production sites in four continents and tea gardens in three countries, ekaterra is growing a world of wellbeing through the regenerative power of plants.

Pioneers of tea since 1869

Our story began in Victorian England in 1869 where Thomas J Lipton shipped and handled tea in the US and Van der Berghs invested in Lipton. Eventually, Van den Berghs and Jurgens merge with Lever Brothers to form Unilever. At the same time, PG Tips was launched, a pre-digestive tea that only uses the two top leaves and bud of each plant.

Over 50 years later, we acquired Brooke Bond tea which had a 31% market share. Subsequently, Bushells Holdings in Australia and New Zealand joined Unilever. In 1996, PG tips patents and launches first tetrahedral teabag, known as ‘pyramid’ teabag.

In the early 2000s, Chinese consumers could not get enough of the Lipton jasmine and green tea bags and in the US Lipton iced tea turned heads with it’s ‘Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it’ marketing Campaign. 2007 was a very important year for ekaterra as Lipton launched its first rainforest-alliance certified tea, from Unilever’s Kericho estate in Kenya. As a global tea company, ekaterra has been at the forefront of sustainable sourcing.

Their partnership with the Rainforest Alliance at a time when most players weren’t showing an interest in sustainable sourcing. Today, they are approaching 98% sustainably sourced tea, while the rest of the industry hovers around 25%. From 2013 to 2017, Unilever acquired more businesses such as TAZO from Starbucks and in 2018 PG Tips launched the first ever fully biodegradable teabags. In 2021, ekaterra was established as independent tea division of Unilever to lead the tea category with 34 brands including Lipton, Pukka, Tazo, T2, PG tips, Joko, Elephant, Brooke Bond, Red Rose, etc

Net zero emissions target for 2030

“ekaterra set the bar high last year, announcing its climate and nature commitments in Glasgow during the UN Climate Summit, COP26,” says John Davison, global Chief Executive, ekaterra. “We are one of the first major businesses to take steps in becoming climate-positive while setting a clear target for net zero emissions by 2030. Alongside reducing greenhouse gas emissions, other goals include ensuring all packaging is recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025 and deploying regenerative agriculture for sourcing raw materials by 2023. In the tea category, we have a unique opportunity to become climate positive through the regenerative power of plants,” says Davison. At the COP26, ekaterra globally made the following commitments:

• Reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2030 compared to 2010 – we’ve cut 66% so far

• Switch to 100% sustainably sourced teas by 2023 – just 2% to go!

• Make all tea bags plant-based by 2025 – 73% and counting

• Ensure all packaging is recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025 – 82% today

• Send no waste to landfill from ekaterra operations

• Source raw materials using regenerative agriculture by 2030 – learn more about this eco-friendly approach here

The power of plant-based ekaterra’s tea brands already playing a pioneering role with sustainable business practices across the value chain. As the world’s largest tea brand, Lipton sources 100% of its teas from sustainably certified suppliers. PG tips, the first major brand to introduce bio-degradable tea bags in 2018, recently removed all traditional plastic from its packaging. Now it has transitioned to a fully plant-based range, complete with biodegradable tea bags and boxes without plastic wraps. This has already made an impact, he says, with a massive 757 tonnes of oil-based plastic saved from using biodegradable tea bags and 46 tonnes of plastic saved from the plastic wrap being removed. With shoppers now five times more likely to buy sustainable products4, there’s a clear demand for a cuppa that not only tastes good but also does good for the planet.

Meanwhile, Pukka is B-Corp certified and allocates 1% of annual turnover to support environmental initiatives. T2 is another B-Corp certified brand affirming 100% ethical sourcing for all aspects of its business. TAZO® is campaigning boldly in the USA for climate justice by planting more trees in deprived inner urban areas in order to help clean the air.

“ekaterra has a deep commitment towards the communities that surround its entire value chain from the plantations in Kericho to the local TCF school in Khanewal. We want to give back to nature more than we take. We want to do so by reducing emissions, restoring biodiversity and switching to natural materials wherever possible – from bush to cup,” says Farheen Salman Amir, President BSPAN & General Manager Pakistan, ekaterra.

“We are doing our bit in Pakistan as well. We recently undertook a solar power project for our factory in Khanewal. Due to this project, our greenhouse gas emissions have reduced by 60%. Not only that, 100% of our tea bags are plant-based; 75% of all packaging is recyclable, compostable or reusable; and our teas are 100% sustainably sourced and certified by the Rainforest Alliance,” says Salman.

“Sustainability is about using less of the planet’s resources, which is a good start, but at ekaterra, we want to go beyond this. In the tea category, we have a unique opportunity to become climate positive through the regenerative power of plants”, says Salman.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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