Indonesia is the seventh-largest tea producer in the world with an output of over 140,000 tonnes according to a report by the country’s statistics agency (BPS) in 2017. The tea tradition in Indonesia was introduced during the Dutch colonial era, but the type that ordinary people consumed was what was left over from the good tea cultivation. The leaves no longer had their own natural sweet scent and flavor, so people blended them with jasmine and added sugar, thus creating the tea that is now consumed nationwide. However, founder and CEO of Savis Tea (PT Ara Savis Sejahtera) Lily Gunawan wants to introduce the goodness—as its name suggests—of Indonesian premium tea to local people and the world.
Growing up in a family that ran a giant tea business in Indonesia, consuming tea was pretty much an inseparable part of Lily’s life. Lily’s grandfather was the founder of Kepala Djenggot (PT Gunung Subur Sejahtera) a traditional tea brand dating back to 1951. The business was continued by her father until he passed away in 2010, which was also a turning point for Lily, who had been a dentist up until then, to take over the almost seven-decades old company as the CEO.
Her appreciation for Indonesia’s boundless culture and her attention to health and art led to her taking a new step in spreading the tea culture in the country. In 2015, Lily founded Savis Tea, a premium tea brand under separate management from Kepala Djenggot. The brand is manufactured in Solo.
“Savis presents a combination of tradition, art, and innovation, from the local tea culture and the art of blending and mixing tea, to five-sense pleasing packaging. Moreover, tea is a healthy drink, so why not start something premium about it?” says Lily.
Savis does not manage its own plantation. Instead, it prefers to source ingredients locally from the best plantations all over Indonesia—leaves, flowers and spices, some then mixed with imported ingredients such as chamomile and mint. Currently Savis has 38 variants, ranging from classics like black and oolong tea to the unique, like its Bunaken Blue Tea – which is mostly used for cocktail bases, the chocolate-flavored tea Papua Choco Delight, and Pomegranate White Tea.
The market characteristics of traditional tea and premium tea are a contrast: one for the older generation, and millennials and young adults opting for the latter—both on the consumer and producer sides. However, the values passed down from Kepala Djenggot were a strong foundation as Savis’ starting point.
“Although we were starting something completely new, we were already experienced in the tea industry and this distinguishes us from other players that have followed in our footsteps in making premium tea,” says Lily.
Establishing the market was the biggest challenge for Savis, especially because of the negative sentiment and distrust toward Indonesian products. Lily recalls that when people saw their products at exhibitions, they were interested because of the attractive packaging, but lost interest quickly when they learned they were Indonesian. But after one exhibition and another, a supermarket contacted Savis to retail the product, and more people began coming after Savis began working with hotels, restaurants, and cafés in Jakarta and Bali. She believes that consistency in maintaining quality is important in order to continue building this trust, and this will be proven by time. Therefore, she also sets people who are aware and educated about the consumption of quality ingredients in their lifestyle as her target market.
Lily explains that in the first two years it was particularly di!cult for Savis’ sales to grow more than 10%, but last year its sales increased by 200%. She adds that Savis has become the best-selling premium tea brand in the outlets where it retails: Kemchicks, AlunAlun Indonesia, and AEON. She believes this good start is a sign that what the company is doing is on the right track. Lily stresses, however, that although Savis has been able to make a profit, the revenue is still below that of traditional tea. Currently about 80% of Savis is sold on the local market, while the rest is exported to Japan and several countries in the Middle East, as well as in America, where it has only recently begun to work with a distribution partner.
“For now, we still want to focus on Indonesia and grab the large market here, but for sure in the future we want to grow our presence overseas as well. After all, our purpose is to take our local pride into the international market,” she says.