Daily Archives: April 12, 2010

Can science reverse erosion of Darjeeling brand credibility?

Darjeeling tea is one of the most expensive tea varieties in the world and is prized by connoisseurs for its distinctive taste and aroma.  Originating from a small area of India’s West Bengal state, there are only 86 Tea Estates that currently produce Darjeeling Tea. All of these are in Darjeeling District, and only teas coming from these estates can be called Darjeeling Tea.

A recent press release, details of which can be read here, indicates that the University of West Australia’s Forensic and Analytical Chemistry Group will be using isotopic analysis as an analytic tool to address fraudulent labelling of Darjeeling tea.

The Tea Board of India, a non-profit entity set up by the Indian government to administer the trade and marketing of Indian tea, controls the Darjeeling trademark. This is registered in the US and is protected under various jurisdictions.  There is a highly protected and distinctive Darjeeling logo that has only been used by the producers, packers and exporters, under license and authority of the Tea Board.  This strict control over the brand is an example of the use of intellectual property regimes to protect intangible assets and to generate income for people in developing countries.

But even with these efforts, there have been widespread reports of fraudulent use of the logo, and evidence that as much as 50% of tea sold as Darjeeling in Germany is in fact inferior product.  And according to Teas.com.au:

Almost 40 million kg is sold as “Darjeeling Tea” when the actual production capacity is just 10 million. Most of this tea comes from Sri Lanka and Kenya …Some of the fake tea is called Lanka Darjeeling or Hamburg Darjeeling but most of the time it’s called Pure Darjeeling.

The Tea Board has been unable to adequately enforce its trademark and, as a result, the brand credibility has suffered with an ensuing loss of consumer confidence.  The question is whether scientific traceability can be an effective tool in reversing this erosion.  Experience suggests that a significant investment in enforcement will also be necessary.  For more on this subject, see http://casipblog.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/ethiopia’s-gi-bill

Post written by Peter Bloch, consultant to CAS-IP