3Qs with Dilhan C. Fernando

With consumers today becoming more discerning, the food and beverage industry is also constantly changing. Ahead of his keynote address at FIA Food for the Future Summit 2019, we speak to Dilhan C. Fernando, Chief Executive Officer of fine tea brand, Dilmah Tea, on the trends and challenges that the international company is seeing today, and the importance of innovation at a time when the industry is experiencing tremendous change.

Dilmah has been in the industry for over 30 years, and has no doubt seen many changes in the industry. How is Dilmah responding to some of the key industry trends we are seeing today, for example, consumers taking more interest in their wellness and the sustainability efforts of brands?

The challenges we face as a family business today are different from what my father had experienced 30 years ago when he was still establishing the Dilmah brand. Despite that, we recognise the importance of remaining focused on our values and commitment to quality, and to continue delivering on our principles of taste, goodness and purpose.

Today, we are seeing a growing consumer awareness on wellness, sustainability and an appreciation for nature, which is refreshing and satisfying for a tea producer like Dilmah. Responding to this awareness, we remain committed to ensure the purity of origin in our products, in addition to the quality, freshness, taste and natural goodness of our tea. We keep our products in its natural and fresh form as much as possible without putting in any additives so as to showcase the therapeutic benefits of tea as a unique antioxidant.

With more consumers becoming more aware and interested in tea, we are also focused on highlighting what lies beyond the cup of tea – and that is the natural and sustainable luxury of tea which interestingly, is crafted by the influence of wind, sunshine and soil.

What do you think are key challenges that food and beverage brands like Dilmah have to face today?

In my opinion, some of the key challenges that food and beverage brands today have to face are those we increasingly encounter as a global community – in particular, environmental and humanitarian challenges.

As tea producers, ensuring the natural goodness of our products is key as it speaks to the overall wellness of tea. This is why environmental challenges such as climate change is of concern to us. To overcome such challenges, we are actively engaged in understanding and adapting to climate change while also researching on the topic, testing solutions for wider farming community, and working with small- and medium-sized agricultural entrepreneurs to help them convert to a new climate reality.

Through our many initiatives with bodies such as the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) Sri Lanka Network, we also aim to deliver direct and positive environmental interventions in a multiplicity of areas including environmental education, ecosystem restoration and species conservation.

Separately, we are also seeing an increasingly relentless discount culture which are, to some extent, impacting food and beverage brands. I believe the underlying causes of issues such as deforestation, inequality, exploitation and food safety are driven largely by the pressure that is price, and the demand for cheaper products. The challenge food and beverage brands like Dilmah then lies in overcoming such difficult circumstances through a combination of consumer education and the uncompromising commitment to doing what is right.

How important is innovation and thinking out of the box in the industry? What is Dilmah’s approach to innovation?

In today’s ever-changing industry landscape where the needs and demands of our consumers are evolving at a faster pace than ever, I believe it is safe to say that innovation can no longer equate to thinking out-of-the-box – it is now as much of an adaptation process to a new reality as it is the creation of something new. Businesses today, regardless of their sizes, that do not have a focus on innovation to adapt to consumers’ expectations will become increasingly irrelevant.

At Dilmah, innovation continues to be a key driver of growth, and we are focused on innovation in three key areas – taste, goodness and purpose. These were also the principles my father committed to when he first founded Dilmah. Our tea gastronomy and tea mixology efforts, along with other Dilmah innovative initiatives that we have introduced over the years, have all kept to our core commitment of quality and respect for tea, the natural goodness of tea and the ethical purposes of our brand.

Increasingly today, in a bid to meet the growing appreciation that consumers have for the quality, variety, freshness and genuine ethics in tea, our innovation efforts are geared towards customer experience and presenting different experiences in tea.

Our Real High Tea Challenge is one example. Seeking to take the traditional afternoon tea session beyond just scones, cucumber sandwiches and weak tea, we invite tea and culinary enthusiasts to innovate and use tea gastronomy and mixology skills to brew the perfect tea to not only emphasise its quality but to also create tea-inspired drinks that pair well with food and can be presented uniquely.

Dilhan C. Fernando will be present as the keynote speaker at FIA Food for the Future Summit. Join us on 25 April by securing your seat.


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