In the 1950s, Merrill J. Fernando, who devoted himself to the tea industry, found that a large amount of domestic black tea was transported to Europe, America and some developed countries in Oceania as raw materials, and was mixed with the broken tea of India and China to maximize the benefits, while the local tea farmers in Sri Lanka had low profits, suffered from exploitation and were in a difficult situation. Looking at those inferior mixed black tea named “Sri Lankan black tea”, Merlin believed that he had the responsibility and obligation to correct the name of Sri Lankan pure tea, and at the same time changed the current situation of the exploitation of the tea industry in his hometown to maximize the benefits of local tea farmers. In 1988, he founded the Dlimah brand. Dlimah, taken from Dilhan and Malik, is a combination of the names of Merlin’s two sons. His grandchildren inherited his passion for tea and joined in the cause.
Dilmah is the world’s first tea brand owned by tea producers. Unlike tea brands from multiple origins on supermarket shelves, Dilmah’s tea is selected from a single origin and packaged in place to maintain freshness. At present, Dilmah has become one of the top ten famous tea brands in the world, and its superior quality is renowned in more than 90 countries around the world.
1. Brand positioning: Make the best Ceylon black tea in the world
The Dilmah family has always believed in the following sentence: “The best black tea comes from Sri Lanka, and the best tea in Sri Lanka comes from Dilmah.”. In order to maintain its brand positioning, Dilmah has made a commitment to the origin of tea, whether it is mixed, and the tea making process. Dilmah’s brand image promotional film “The Story of Tea” shows the whole process of Dilmah’s tea from picking to packaging in the form of a similar documentary, reflecting Dilmah’s strictness in tea making.
(1) Single origin, pure Ceylon black tea
Ceylon black tea, together with Anhui Qimen black tea, Assam black tea and Darjeeling black tea, is the world’s top four black tea. In a narrow sense, Ceylon black tea refers to 100% of the tea produced in Sri Lanka. At present, many products claimed to be Ceylon black tea on the market are actually mixed with black tea from India, Kenya and other production areas.
In order to regulate the export of Ceylon black tea, the tea export authority of the Sri Lankan government uniformly issued the “Ceylon tea quality mark”: the sign of lion king with sword. The upper part of the rectangular sign is a male lion with a knife in the right front paw, and the lower part is two rows of English. The upper row is Ceylon tea, which means “Ceylon tea”, and the lower row is Symbol of quality, which means “quality mark”. This mark is a symbol of quality and a guarantee of origin.
Dilmah is a pure Ceylon black tea approved by the Sri Lankan government. There are two male lions walking upright on its logo. The shape of the male lion is somewhat similar to the male lion on the “Ceylon Tea Quality Mark”, which shows the quality of Dilmah tea. The background color of the logo is dark mint, and the male lion is dark yellow. The color with low saturation shows the brand’s low-key, calm and quality characteristics. The brand slogan “For lovers of tea” appears under the brand name, emphasizing the original intention of the brand, that is, to let the world tea fans drink authentic Ceylon black tea, which is full of the Fernando family’s faith in tea.
(2) Refuse to mix tea and maintain unique flavor
Ceylon black tea can be divided into blended tea and non-blended tea. For example, British breakfast tea is often mixed by Assam tea (take its concentration), Ceylon tea (take its taste) and Kenyan tea (take its color) in a certain proportion, which is essentially different from mixing. Blending can learn from each other’s strengths, while mixing is to mix black tea from different production areas, different picking times and different grades. One of the main characteristics of tea is the uniqueness of its growing environment. Specific climatic characteristics breed tea with unique taste. The pure flavor of tea is destroyed by the mixing behavior in pursuit of high profit.
As the price of famous tea in Ceylon and other famous regions rose, the concept of mixing became popular. However, Dilmah insists on Merlin Fernando’s guarantee of quality and authenticity, and promises never to use mixed tea.
(3) Adhere to manual picking and traditional manufacturing
Although the CTC method adopted by many tea enterprises in recent years can save production costs, it always represents only a compromise. Meilin believes that the tea produced in this way has lost its soul. Dilmah only provides tea made by traditional technology. It insists on manually picking fresh two leaves and one bud. After drying, rolling, oxidizing, baking and other steps, the tea produced is of high quality and good taste.
(4) Multiple quality certifications to strictly control quality
The reason why Dilmah tea can become one of the luxury brands of high-end tea is that it has obtained a number of quality certificates, including carbon neutralization certificate, Rainforest Union certification, chemical and microbiological analysis laboratory certification, a series of food quality management and safety certificates (BRC global food safety standard, ISO9001:2015 quality management system standard, ISO14001:2015 environmental management system standard, FSSC22000 food safety system certification) A series of organic certification (from the European Union, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the Japanese agricultural standards for organic agricultural products) and Kosher certification. This shows that Dilmah has strict requirements for its own product quality.
2. Brand tenet: A cup of moral tea
Dilmah not only undertakes its own moral obligation to consumers: it sells tea from a single origin, which is not mixed and made with traditional technology, but also shows its own sense of social responsibility in the face of society. Dilmah is an enterprise based on humanistic care, and its success is shared with vulnerable groups. Dilmah invests at least 10% of its global income into MJF Charity Foundation and Dilmah Protection Foundation, which plays a huge role in education, health, community development, care for the elderly, disabled and environmental protection. In 2016, a research project supported by Dilmah Conservation Organization found 8 new lichen species; In 2007, Dilmah Conservation Organization launched the first urban botanical garden; In 2019, the Sri Lankan Marine Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA) issued an award to Merlin, founder of Dilmah, in recognition of his contribution to the protection of marine and coastal areas
In order to ensure the sustainable development of Ceylon tea industry, Merlin has established tea schools affiliated to Dilmah around the world, with the purpose of sharing tea knowledge with tea drinkers and stimulating their enthusiasm for tea.
3. Brand marketing activities
(1) Integration of tea and tourism, integration of quality and efficiency
Dilmah has created the tourism project of “Resplendent Ceylon”, creating a unique boutique luxury resort road in Sri Lanka, aiming to provide high-end tourists with a series of real cultural experiences and make contributions to the development of local communities. In 2019, visiting “brilliant Ceylon” ranked first in the “70 Things to Do in Sri Lanka” published by Harper magazine.
“Ceylon Tea Path” is one of the most popular resorts in Sri Lanka. The rest place for tourists is located 1250 meters high in the Ceylon Panorama Tea District of Sri Lanka, which is restored from the residences of five colonial tea garden residents. The furnishings of the 27 guest rooms have the characteristics of the times and are equipped with butler service, providing guests with a private residential atmosphere that is not hotel style. The bungalows are scattered in Ceylon Tea Garden, and tourists can roam among the paths. While appreciating the beautiful natural scenery, tea garden experts will guide tourists to start from tea picking and tea selection, explore lush tea gardens, visit factories with a century-old history, and watch the production process of tea on the tea machine. Of course, free tasting of various kinds of tea is naturally indispensable. In this way, tourists can further understand the history and art of Dilmah tea, build a positive image of Dilmah tea in the minds of tourists through subtle ways, make tourists recognize its values, and promote high-end consumption of tea.
(2) Creative challenge to change stereotypes
In 2015, Dilmah held a global challenge called “Real Afternoon Tea”. The organizers believe that tea, like wine, can be used with food, and tea from different sources and growing heights can bring different flavors to food. In this process, capable people and people with lofty ideals developed many dishes with tea participation. In addition to serving as a drink with food, tea can also be used as seasoning, tenderizing agent, soaking agent, dessert and even decoration. The creativity generated in the competition has broken through the boundaries and application scenarios of tea, developed a variety of uses of tea, and updated views, which is beneficial to the development of the world tea industry as a whole, and has a positive impact on the expansion of the tea market.
“In terms of function, tea has the function of cleaning fat, neutralizing sweet taste, and making taste buds awake to taste the next dish. It is a perfect match for food. Delicious food and delicious tea can bring magic feeling to taste buds when combined”, said Dilhan C. Fernando, the son of founder Merlin. Many latte drinkers in the world have long regarded tea as the favorite drink of the elderly. Dilmah spread the idea of “tea is a food product” through the event, and shake people’s prejudice by making tea fashionable.
(3) Offline physical store, immersive experience
The offline experience store t-lounge is a high-end tea club under Dilmah, providing various tea-related experience services, aiming to lead the “tea art renaissance” in the millennial generation. There are many ways to drink tea, which can be made into hot or cold drinks, bubbling or mixed with cocktails and alcohol-free cocktails. The t-style lounge also provides refreshments such as salad, cake, pancake and waffles. Some refreshments are made of tea as raw materials and are matched with specific tea, reflecting Dilmah’s commitment to nutrition, health and sustainable food. At the same time, it is also a place for members to receive tea education and conduct tea appreciation. A separate area is set in the club for tea retail, where consumers can buy t series gourmet tea and tea gift box. Through the creation of atmosphere and immersive experience, Dilmah not only drives the consumption of tea drinks in the store, but also drives the sales of tea gift boxes.
4. Product series: Covering multiple price ranges to meet the consumption needs of different groups
Dilmah’s products include basic models, t series, EXCEPTIONAL special triangle bag series, VIVID colorful series, and WATTE Watt series, with a wide price range, which can meet the needs of people who pursue cost-effective and luxury consumers at the same time.
(1) Basic Model
Under the basic model, the selected series of original black tea, single origin series, pure natural green tea series, herbal and flavor series are all tea bags. The outer package is a paper square box, which is the most affordable one in all series.
Each type of single local tea comes from a specific production area. For example, Earl’s black tea comes from the Ratnaple tea garden in the southern plain of Sri Lanka, and English breakfast tea comes from the Tarawakole tea garden in the Tingpura production area.
(2) EXCEPTIONAL Special Series
The E series combines the traditional tea making technology with the unique style of the 21st century. The packaging is color carton, and each tea has its unique bright theme color. This series of tea bags adopts triangular cone cube tea bags, which can fully soak the tea in the brewing process.
(3) T Series
The t series is medium can loose tea, the product packaging is exquisite, and it is tinned. It is distinguished by stickers of different colors on the can body. The color is bright, full of fashion and youthful vitality. The center of the sticker is printed with a large silver-gray handwritten letter t, representing tea. This series also provides a variety of gift boxes, exquisite and high-end, which are good gifts.
(4) VIVID Colorful Series
The package is a barrel round can with a large capacity of 200g. The shape of tea seedling is covered with metal can body in relief form, full of texture. An oval depression is set on the can body to place stickers to distinguish different kinds of tea. The watercolor painting on the sticker gives the tea a distinct first impression, and vividly displays the “soul” of each tea.
(5) WATTE Series
The WATTE series originated from the creativity of the founder Merlin, and is specially designed for tea lovers with keen taste. Watt means “manor” in Sinhalese. In order to bring customers more high-quality Ceylon black tea, this series subdivides the origin of tea into a certain region or even a certain manor. This concept is similar to the concept of red wine winery. Like wine, tea quality is affected by climate, soil and altitude. The four tea plantations in Ceylon tea planting areas are located in Ran Watte (the highest altitude), Uda Watte (the high altitude), Meda Watte (the middle altitude), and Yata Watte (the low altitude). The tea produced in different production areas retains the unique flavor and color of each production area.
Each of the four types of tea has the style of wine. Ran Watte black tea is produced in the area of 6000 feet above sea level. It has a delicate taste and low bitterness, just like French champagne style; Uda Watte black tea is grown at an altitude of 4000-5000 feet. The taste of tea is soft and round, and the degree of bitterness is just right. It has a similar style to Pinot Noir; Meda Watte black tea is produced in the area of 3000 feet above sea level. The tea soup is bright orange and brown, with rich fragrance and rich taste, just like Shiraz wine; Yata Watte black tea is grown at an altitude of 1000 feet. It has a thick taste and strong fragrance, just like the style of Cabernet Sauvignon.
This series of can bodies are all black, supplemented by gilded words, which are calm, thick and dignified.
To sum up, Dilmah adheres to the tea making concept of “making the best Ceylon black tea in the world”, insists on the single origin of tea, refuses to mix tea, insists on manual picking and strict quality control, and is responsible for the healthy development of the ecological environment, the country and the tea industry as well as for the consumers. As a national enterprise, Dilmah strives to change the situation of Sri Lanka’s tea industry being squeezed, and stands out among many tea brands in the world by virtue of its high quality. In order to change the stereotype of the young generation on tea, Dilmah developed tea-related tourism and tea clubs, and hosted tea creative contests, which achieved good results. In addition, Dilmah has never stopped on the road of innovation, introducing the concept of “manor” into tea products, offering Watt series Ceylon black tea to those who are sensitive to taste, meeting consumer demand and creating a premium for the brand.
Meilin once said, “I have devoted more than 60 years of my life to tea. I am deeply familiar with the art of tea and develop and expand my family business with heart, pride and passion. This is a belief that cannot be changed.” I hope that the generation after generation of Dilmah tea people can adhere to the original intention of the establishment of the enterprise and continuously produce high-quality and creative tea products for tea customers in the world.