20 October 2017 12:31:04 IST

Malathy Sriram writes poems and short stories for children and adults, as well as book reviews and articles of general interest. She is a post-graduate in English Literature from Ethiraj College for Women, Chennai. Her work has been published in Indian Express, Deccan Herald, Mirror and Femina. She has edited website content and is the editor of The Small Supplement, an online magazine for children with articles on history, science, arts and culture, sports, technology, companies and brands, mythology and short stories. Reading, teaching English, listening to music (all genres) and singing complete her oeuvre.

Where tea is the great leveller

Spreading harmony through quality teas apart, Wagh Bakri believes in doing its bit for society

If you feel the name of this tea brand is intriguing, you should take a look at its logo! It shows a man presiding over a tea drinking session — involving a tiger ( wagh ) and a goat ( bakri ) drinking tea out of the same cup. The idea behind this is that tea, being a great leveller, will bring about equality in society and thus ensure harmonious coexistence.


The logo was the result of founder Sri Narandas Desai’s belief in the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi, at whose behest he originally went to South Africa in 1892. On his 500-acre tea estate in South Africa, he learnt the basics of tea cultivation, production and sales hands-on.

It is said that he was forced to return to India in 1915 due to racial discrimination. He landed in India with nothing but a few valuables; but he had with him a real treasure — a letter from Mahatma Gandhi himself, certifying him as the most honest and experienced tea estate owner in South Africa.

He re-established his tea business as the Gujarat Tea Depot Company in Ahmedabad in 1919; its first retail outlet for selling wholesale teas was located on Gandhi Road. The actual brand ‘Wagh Bakri’ made its appearance only in 1925. It was followed by the ‘Good Morning’ brand.

Desai’s three sons joined the business and, till 1980, they sold tea in both the wholesale and retail formats through seven retail outlets.

Packaged teas

The company is said to have been the first to recognise the need for packaged teas and was renamed the Gujarat Tea Processors and Packers Limited (GTPPL) in the year 1980. Darjeeling teas, Mili teas and tea bags soon followed (it was supposedly the first company to import tea bag manufacturing machines in 1999.)

Today, the packaged tea market in India consists of about 3,000 brands, accounting for about 40 per cent of the tea market. It is said to be a highly fragmented category, with the top 20 brands accounting for two-thirds of the market.


GTPPL’s growth was steady and, by 2003, Wagh Bakri had entered the top 100 of India’s most popular brands. Its new corporate office was inaugurated in 2006. It is the country’s third largest packaged tea company, with its products also being sold in 30 other countries. Its annual turnover is about ₹1,100 crore. The fourth generation of the family, all members of which are tea-tasters and blenders, is in charge now.

A variety of flavours, such as natural, ginger, Earl Grey, tulsi, neem, lemon grass, elaichi, masala, mint, peach, khus and saunf, are offered across different categories that include CTC, organic, green, second flush, oolong and hand-rolled tea, in leaf, dust, fanning and tea-bag forms.

Within this format, some are offered in sugar-free form. (The company plans to introduce 10 new flavours in the next two years.) All these fall under the company’s brands Wagh Bakri, Good Morning, Mili and Navchetan. Wagh Bakri targets the premium consumer, while Navchetan was launched to bring loose tea buyers into the packaged tea category. Green teas were launched to attract health-conscious consumers.

Tea lounges


On the lines of coffee joints, Wagh Bakri pioneered the concept of tea lounges, where people can drop in with family and friends for aromatic tea and light refreshment. It opened its first 5-Star Tea Lounge in Jaipur in 2005 and now has nine tea lounges across Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Delhi and Goa.

The Wagh Bakri brand is the best-known label in the GTPPL stable and enjoys 7 per cent share of the national packaged tea market, according to a leading market research agency. It contributes to about 70 per cent of the total sales, Mili chips in with 20 per cent, and the remaining 10 per cent is accounted for by specialty, Darjeeling and green teas.

Pesticide-free, hygienic packaging

The company has joined hands with Greenpeace and made a commitment to eliminate the use of pesticides in tea cultivation. It has an eco-friendly, high-tech tea blending plant, whose processes are non-polluting with even tea waste being used as a fertiliser. In fact, its Dholka plant is reportedly the country’s first tea unit to use solar energy.

Every stage in the production of tea is kept clean and hygienic. The packing that is used is food-grade material; even the printing is solvent free. The workers wear gloves throughout to ensure touch-free packing. Recently, staple-free tea bags that are meticulously tied with thread and have no metal smell, were introduced. These can be used in microwave ovens too.


Drinking tea is habit-forming and most consumers are fiercely loyal when it comes to their brand. Convincing a regular tea-drinker to even try another brand is a challenge. This is the reason GTPPL went in for aggressive advertising, pulling out all emotional stops with its ‘ pehli mulaqat ’ ad spot. (Its advertisements have bagged the company several important awards.)

Customised for regions

But getting the consumer interested and intrigued is only the first step; retaining him/her after the tentative first taste is a bigger challenge. This is why, when the company wants to venture into a new market, it goes to great lengths to get the flavour just right.

The water and milk available in that area are tested before tea blends, customised to the tastes of that area, are introduced. Getting the exact, required taste for a particular region can take upto 6 months of research. The blend has to be just right to appeal to consumers; but it should also retain the unique Wagh Bakri flavour.

GTPPL reportedly sells 30 million kilos of tea annually, of which the lion’s share — about 90 per cent — is accounted for by tier 2 and tier 3 cities. Exports account for 3 to 5 per cent. Online purchases can be made at buytea.com .

Certifications, social responsibility

Wagh Bakri holds the ISO 9001:2008 Quality Management System Certification, the ISO 22000:2005 and HACCP Food Safety Management System certifications, and the BRC Global Standard for Food Safety. The products are certified as 100 per cent organic as per the National Organic Programme (NOP) standards of the USDA (US Department of Agriculture). The company also holds a Lacon GmBH certificate. Its testing laboratory is ISO 17025, NABL accredited for quality control and consistency — it is the only packaged tea company to have this accreditation.

The Indian Ministry of Food Processing Industries & Assocham named it the ‘Most Promising and Trusted Brand of the Year 2015-16’.

True to its founder’s spirit, the company believes in coming to the aid of the distressed and helpless. During the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, Wagh Bakri was actively involved in providing succour to the sufferers. It also assists several social organisations involved in service to the differently abled, the visually challenged, polio foundations and hospitals, among others. Recently, it donated funds to install 50 dialysis machines at a urological hospital at Nadiad. The company’s Vasant Narayan Desai Charitable Trust donates generously to the downtrodden.

The company takes a great interest in education. Every year, student achievers across Gujarat are hailed and recognised by the company. A joint venture between IIM-A, Wagh Bakri and the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, called Student-Mediated Initiative for Learning to Excel (SMILE), provides training and education to underprivileged school students. Yet another initiative is to provide training to Government school-teachers with the aim of improving the quality of teaching.