The North American luxury market, including Canada, remains a lure and a challenge for any Asian brand seeking to be a global player in high-end goods. Economies and the consumption of luxuries may be booming in the emerging East, but the mature markets offer additional demand and wider acceptance of high prices.
Despite becoming a phenomenon at home in Singapore, luxury tea purveyor TWG Tea is planning to enter Canada as part of establishing a presence in North America.
Taha Bouqdib, the company's co-founder and president, says it's "in search of the right partner to boost expansion into the Canadian market."
Seeing an opportunity for growth in upscale tea, Mr. Bouqdib, a former top executive at Paris tea specialist Mariage Freres, and Singapore-based entrepreneur Manoj Murjani, started TWG in 1997. The company blends its teas in Asia, not far from the world-renowned plantations that provide them the leaves.
Personal relationships with the suppliers ensure the first-pick with each harvest.
"TWG Tea is able to influence and often innovate new processing methods in order to create unique teas with flavours that will appeal to the modern tea drinker," says Mr. Bouqdib. Aside from classics like Earl Gray and English Breakfast, they also offer around 800 more exotic types including the Middle Eastern-inspired Alexandria, which evokes flavours from the glory days of the Ottoman Empire.
In December 2008, TWG rolled out its first international launch in New York at Dean & DeLuca's SoHo store. Stock sold out in days.
Today, the Singaporean brand has its own counter at the iconic shop. Dean & DeLuca now carries the brand in six stores and on its website, which is how it currently fills orders from Canada.
Mr. Bouqdib, who is French but is based in Singapore, believes the modern tea drinker demands better quality leaves and more complex flavour.
At the moment TWG Tea has points of sale in Singapore, Japan, United Kingdom, USA and Portugal. They are seeking expansion soon to the Middle East, Greater China and possibly Canada.
Aside from it's classically packaged teas – handmade cotton wrappers for the teabag option – the brand has also launched into accessories associated with the consumption of the beverage. At the company's retail boutiques, flagship tea salons also offer tea-based food.
"TWG Tea's philosophy is to educate the public about the art of tea culture and tea appreciation, and a big part of this is tea gastronomy – the pairing of tea and food and the use of tea in cooking. Our food offerings, from pastries and cakes to savoury dishes, all contain infusion of our signature teas to also cater to non-tea drinkers. We believe that tea gastronomy is something unique that we are offering to the market, and that it showcases our range of teas brilliantly," says the TWG Tea president.
Special to the Globe and Mail
Alexandra A. Seno has written about economics and business trends in Asia since 1994. She is a regular contributor to Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal Asia. She lives in Hong Kong.