Project to develop natural tea varieties and secure supply for the future

Unilever today announced it is embarking on a tea research and development program aimed at safeguarding future tea supply using 21st century plant breeding methods that will lead to improved and sustainable tea varieties of tomorrow.

By broadening the natural diversity of tea plants to enhance their productivity, drugs quality and overall sustainability, the project will help ‘future proof’ supply of the world’s most popular beverage for generations. The project will also help arrest any decline in tea crop diversity that could limit the crop’s ability to withstand drought, disease and pests in the future.

Clive Gristwood, Senior Vice President, R&D Refreshment, Unilever, said:

“This project is part of Unilever’s commitment to delivering real sustainability in the production and procurement of tea. It is critical that we act now in developing tea varieties that can thrive in the face of the challenges of tomorrow. Using cutting edge plant breeding we hope to naturally meet growing global demand whilst ensuring tea can continue to provide vital economic benefits to communities that rely on the crop for their income.
The ability to grow more tea on less land, reduce further the need for agrochemicals while boosting tolerance to drought and climate change are integral to this project and in line with our sustainable sourcing aims under the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.
In doing so, this will directly benefit all those touched by our favourite beverage, from those that grow it to those that enjoy the unique refreshment of tea.” added Clive.

Sally Uren, CEO, Forum for the Future said:

“Unilever understands that the future sustainability of the global tea sector isn’t guaranteed. Unilever also understands that a range of changes are needed to secure the future of tea, and acting alone won’t be enough. That’s why it’s so encouraging to see Unilever drawing on its strong R&D capabilities to work with others in the sector to develop more sustainable tea varieties that will have a better chance of withstanding predicted changes in the climate of key tea-producing regions. Changes in agricultural practice alone are unlikely to secure the future of tea, technological innovation also has a key role to play.”

The project, which is in partnership with Nature Source Genetics, will be initiated within Unilever’s tea gardens in Kenya, complementing the existing agronomy program already housed there.