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Selling tea to China: six unlikely trading relationships

Business · 4 min read

Selling tea to China

Some countries are famous for producing certain items. Think watches from Switzerland or smartphones made in China. However, with the relentless rise in globalization, exceptional markets are now developing in the unlikeliest of places, presenting new partnerships for a huge variety of goods. Take a look at these examples and you may be inspired to find opportunities for your brand, if you're not afraid to swim upstream.

Selling tea to China

As the birthplace of tea, China exports leaves to the value of US$1.6bn worldwide, according to trade magazine World Tea News. However, evolving consumer tastes and a desire to sample stronger flavored varieties that are drunk with milk mean China is actually tea’s fastest growing import market, up 98.5% since 2013. For India in particular, China is now the 10th largest tea export destination following lowered tariffs, according to China's own figures. With black teas proving most popular, 2017 saw sales from India grow 29% as Chinese customers imported 9 million kilograms worth.

The UK is also proving an unlikely trade partner, owing to its premium and high-quality cultural associations. Driven by the rise in television shows such as Downton Abbey, dedicated venues have been set up in some Chinese cities to offer an authentic afternoon tea experience. British tea blends are also seen as safer by some consumers, due to the high levels of pesticides found in various well-known Chinese brands.

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Whittard of Chelsea even partnered with Alibaba’s Tmall, a Chinese website for buying branded products from around the world, to satisfy consumer thirst. Hosted on Tmall, the company sold more tea on China’s Single’s Day, according to one London paper, than its best-performing British high street store manages in two weeks. Tregothnan are another tea brand who grow their product on English soil and have also become an exporter to China, where the tea drinkers are attracted to its quintessentially English values.

Brits are getting Europe to say cheese 

You might think that the UK would be a massive importer of cheese from Europe, especially France, with nothing going in the other direction. But you'd be wrong. Despite importing specialist cheeses from countries such as Germany and Italy, export sales of British cheese climbed 23% to total US$791m in 2017 according to the main UK farming journal. This was due to rising demand for cottage cheese and classic Stilton, among others. Ireland took a fifth of this total while the French themselves bought 14% of the UK's cheese export total.

Driven by the world's enduring love for pizza, sales of British mozzarella in particular are up 14% in volume (according to The Guardian), making noticeable gains in Denmark and Poland. Chinese consumers also demonstrated a particular preference for powdered and grated cheddar to use in ready meals, with this staple cheese commanding 40% of the UK's total cheese exports worldwide. Sold under a wide variety of brands, British cheese exports show that in-demand commodities can provide opportunity for enterprising entrepreneurs. For instance, Wensleydale Creamery attended a trade conference in Dubai and is now embarking on a healthy export drive. 

Dog sitting with owner

Albanian shoes travel far

High-quality leather goods are synonymous with Italy. But Albania’s longstanding relationships with various Italian brands have made them a key footwear manufacturer. Leather shoes in particular make up 14% of Albania's total outgoing trade, with more than half of that going to Italy. One Albanian business doing particularly well from this trade is Donianna, who make shoes for Italian designers as well as under their own brand names.

Composed of over one hundred companies nationally, Albanian workers produce more than 1.2 million pairs of shoes per month, with their unique geographical positioning and just-in-time manufacturing process making Albania a prime manufacturing location for European buyers. Albania's location helps, as the goods can be swiftly shipped by sea, road or rail across the continent. Italian firm Adelchi even uses Albania as its global hub to access the US and Canada.

Making dairy in the desert

If you spot an industry growing in an unusual place, think of the support that industry might need. For instance, when Qatar’s closest neighbors imposed a trade boycott in June 2017, they lost all access to dairy products among other items. This prompted Baladna Farms, located north of Doha, to import 3000 cows from countries including Australia, Budapest and Germany, thereby kickstarting the Qatari dairy industry. March 2018 saw another 3000 cows join the herd, now 10,000 strong, flown in from California, Arizona and Wisconsin. Once reliant on Saudi Arabia for 90% of their milk-based products, this firm has single-handedly overcome the ban, making Qatar self-sufficient in providing for its 2.7 million citizens.

With the facility now equipped to house double its current number, the owners are looking to export their excess products worldwide, eventually producing 500 tons of milk and yogurt each day and earmarking the farm as an influential future trader. Geopolitical upheaval can provide opportunity to the enterprising entrepreneur, so keep an eye on the news for openings for your business. 

Cheese, crackers and grapes board

Canadians helping dogs go gluten free

With gluten-free diets on the increase globally, as well as vegetarianism, if your business is relevant to global dietary trends, it's well worth looking beyond obvious domestic markets. For instance, Canada exported 40,000 tons of yellow peas, red lentils and chickpeas to the US in 2017, but these weren’t for human consumption – they were sent to be processed in gluten-free pet food. As an emerging, rapidly growing market, dog owners are increasingly concerned over the diets of their precious pooches, considering it with as much care as they do their own.

This has led to a surge in demand for such grain-free staples, which can then be ground into flours or else separated to extract the protein. Across five years, the use of pea ingredients in pet food rose 10% each year in a pattern that is expected to continue – especially given the crop’s attractively low price.

It looks like Canada is set to keep up with this newfound interest as well, with the amount of acres devoted purely to lentils doubling in the last decade. And with demand for pet accessories on the rise globally it's worth keeping up with opportunities outside your home market.

Tea on table with leaves

Romantic wedding venues import their romance

Sometimes a reputation for an abundance of something will be lacking in reality, creating an opportunity for commerce. For instance, American and European wedding venues with publicity material full of beautiful wildlife have had to indulge in some surprising trades to fulfill expectations. And, sometimes this trade will chime with local needs elsewhere – in a bid to reduce deforestation and provide local farmers with a sustainable income, countries across East Africa are exporting butterflies through local breeding programs.

In Tanzania’s East Usambara Mountains, farmers collect butterfly pupae as part of the Amani Butterfly Project. After being classified, the specimens get shipped abroad to clients around the US and Europe for between US$1-$2.50 each. Here they are then used in museums, displays and even special events such as weddings, becoming the latest must-have accessory that keen western romantics are importing from abroad. 

In Kenya, a similar conservation program works to reduce the local dependence on exports such as sugar and bananas, as well as suppress the practice of illegal logging. Known as the Kipepeo Butterfly Project, it provides citizens with an alternative source of income as they too harvest pupae, allowing over 800 families to earn a livelihood.

Although DHL Express is unable to transport live animals or pupae, if you get in touch, someone from DHL will be happy to try and accommodate your needs. 

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