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Sunday, Feb 17, 2002

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Negative campaign against tea

P.S. Sundar

COONOOR, Feb. 16

EVEN as the Tea Board and the Consultative Committee of Plantation Associations (CCPA) have shown the first signs of launching a generic promotion for campaign, it is surprising how they are unable to stop an adverse publicity to tea in a TV commercial.

The dealers in Delhi have specifically asked the Tea Board to take the necessary steps to prevent the manufacturers of other commodities from spoiling the image for tea. But, the adverse campaign launched by a salt manufacturer goes on unhindered in various television channels.

Originally shot in Hindi with well known TV serial actors, the commercial is now also run with dubbed voice in many languages. To a large extent, it focuses on highlighting the positive effects of consuming the particular brand of salt, but at one stage, the doctor in the frame advises people not to take risk in buying any other brand of salt .

"So, while they could refrain from drinking tea and save Rs 2 a cup, they should not miss ... salt''— this is the underlying message.

The comparison the manufacturers of salt have chosen to make with tea on health aspects certainly projects tea in a bad light. No one in the tea industry is that much keen to project the ill-effects of salt intake. But, surprisingly, none of them is known to have to have taken adequate measure to prevent the salt manufacturer from unnecessarily drawing a controversial comparison with tea.

This is despite the researchers from various parts of the globe repeatedly stressing the positive health effects of tea drinking. Apart from stimulating the brain and pepping up the mental alertness, tea is proved to bear numerous positive health effects. Like, it can fight cancer, cholesterol, heart ailments, dental problems and even common cold and flu. It is based on these research findings that the Government decided to promote the tea consumption within the country through the Tea Board. Thus, it released full-page advertisements in September 2001 all over the country, highlighting the research findings on health effects.

The publicity launched by the Tea Board and the CCPA, in the first place, is inadequate. A casual release of a full-page hi-text advertisement in some chosen newspapers on a working day cannot fulfil the purpose. Although the need for generic promotion has generally been accepted even at the March international tea convention of last year, when the researchers from various countries including the US presented their findings in support of tea consumption, the initiative did not come out until September.

Thereafter, there has been a long silence. There has not been a TV commercial for the generic promotion of tea.

On the contrary, the manufacturers of competitive beverages, more so, the soft drinks, the colas and the carbonated beverages, are regularly advertising on various television channels.

Likewise, they are prominent in the print media as well. So much so, some of the constituents of the CCPA themselves have gone to press asking the apex body to step up the promotion campaign. The Tea Board is also said to be delaying in respect of fund sanctioning and disbursal.

This is despite a delegation from the South to North Indian markets specifically recording in its report the need for domestic promotion of tea to boost the sluggish demand.

Be that as it may, some of the actions by the industry and trade are least conducive to promote tea consumption. Take, Hindustan Lever, for instance. This company under the Unilever group, has interests in both tea and coffee. It is now selling its 200 gms of Bru instant coffee for Rs 122 with a free gift of 500 ml of Pepsi worth Rs 18. Why can't it give Brook Bond tea or even Lipton tea (which is also in the same group) as a free gift, realigning the package ? Knowingly or unknowingly, it is promoting the Pepsi intake, which could even threaten coffee consumption volume in the future, let alone tea.

With the situation being so, how can a negative publicity for tea go unchallenged, especially by the captains of the industry and the Tea Board withstand the decline in tea consumption ?

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