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Supply Chain
Tazo’s Transition to Regenerative Organic a Linchpin of Tea Industry’s Sustainability Ambitions

The tea brand’s ‘Regenerative Roadmap’ aims to completely reimagine the way Tazo creates its teas, and plays a key role in industry giant ekaterra’s overarching sustainability strategy.

In the world of tea, brand groups don’t get much bigger than ekaterra — the world’s largest tea company. Its portfolio represents 34 individual brands responsible for more than 100 billion cups of tea annually, according to the company. Earlier this year, Unilever sold ekaterra (its entire tea business) to a private equity group, marking a significant shift for one of the key drivers of the global tea market.

“We would like to call ourselves a corporate startup, despite our size and leadership position in the tea category,” Zbigniew Lewicki, ekaterra’s chief R&D and sustainability officer, told Sustainable Brands™.

ekaterra recently announced that one of its largest brands, TAZO, is embarking on a full transition to a regenerative organic approach; a shift of this scale could mean significant change for an industry grappling with climate-related changes in agriculture.

“We’ve been doing (some of this work) for years and this is a fantastic moment for us,” says Jami Lewchik, head of Tazo & portfolio sustainability at ekaterra Americas.

Narrowly defined, regenerative agriculture includes shifting away from soil-depleting practices such as monoculture toward practices that restore soil health — such as cover cropping and no tillage. More broadly, it also encompasses biodiversity, flourishing farmer livelihoods, and recognition of diverse voices and rights. It requires fundamentally transforming the goals of agriculture — from focusing on maximizing yield and profit to fostering equitable prosperity and diets, allowing people and planet to flourish long term — and has been cited as key to the health and longevity of industries far beyond food and beverage.

Tazo’s “Regenerative Roadmap” is a seven-pillar approach centered around a range of goals that touch each part of the company:

1. Human rights & Fair Trade: Respecting the ingredients and those who grow them

  • By 2026: Ensure 100 percent of ingredients meet Tazo’s responsible sourcing and fair-trade standards
  • By 2029: Ensure that direct suppliers and farm workers throughout the supply chain receive a living wage or income

2. Empowerment in agriculture: Investing in the lives of tea growers and trailblazers

  • By 2026: Support training and programs to improve livelihoods for a minimum of 250,000 smallholder farmers

3. Nature: Nourishing our natural resources

  • By 2023: Ensure priority materials (e.g., tree fiber, sugar, tea) are sourced from suppliers that have eliminated deforestation from their supply chains
  • By 2026: Protect, enhance or regenerate more land, forests, and oceans than needed for the business
  • By 2029: Ensure tea and key ingredients, together comprising at least 80 percent of Tazo’s ingredient volume, meet company’s regenerative agriculture standards

4. Justice, equity, diversity and inclusion: Steeping our business in justice

  • By the end of 2022: Fully examine the business and set measurable targets to improve diversity, equity and inclusion across its workforce and direct suppliers (new goals to be developed after this interim target is met)

5. Packaging: Taking out the trash

  • By 2025: 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging
  • By 2026: 100 percent of packaging to be made from recycled content or sustainably sourced renewable material
  • By 2026: 30 percent reduction in use of packaging materials

6. Climate: Racing to zero

  • Tazo has committed to setting and submitting science-based targets for GHG emission reductions for validation by the SBTi
  • By 2026: Achieve carbon-neutral operations and be on the path to net-zero emissions
  • By 2030: 45 percent absolute reduction of scopes 1, 2, and 3 GHG emissions as compared to the 2020 base year

7. Mission: Giving to those who get it

  • At least 1 percent of sales donated to mission-aligned organizations each year (1% for the Planet member)

Lewchik says the regenerative strategy is the result of years of work to determine how and where Tazo could begin making this transition. All goals are set between 2023 and 2030.

Diving deeper into the work

Another of Tazo’s goals is to support training and programs that improve the livelihoods of a minimum of 250,000 smallholder farmers by 2026. Much of the world’s tea comes from developing regions; and Lewchik says that, as Tazo is trying to improve its supply chain through the larger pillars, it is working to ensure more sustainable livelihoods in Africa, India and the United States, among other areas.

“We’re also changing the way we source materials through procurement,” she adds.

The ultimate goal is to achieve Regenerative Organic certification across the entire Tazo product line — which will require major changes at the source, as well as throughout the supply chain. Underneath that benchmark, Tazo is working toward goals around its packaging and ingredients; while ekaterra recently committed to the Science Based Targets initiative with a plan to unveil a “cradle-to-shelf” roadmap.

Part of a bigger plan

Lewicki notes that although Tazo’s work is wide-ranging and important, it’s just one piece of “ekaterra’s wider sustainability strategy and mission of creating the world of wellbeing through the regenerative power of plants.”

A good example of this ambition is ekaterra’s largest brand, Lipton — which sustainably sources 100 percent of its tea (from Rainforest Alliance-certified tea growers) and 99 percent for its cardboard and paper, with 75 percent of all its tea bags being plant-based and compostable.

Helen Saini, ekaterra’s global sustainable agriculture lead, explains that Lipton was the first tea company to adopt Rainforest Alliance certification in 2007, with its tea estates in Kenya. Through the years, ekaterra’s sheer scale has paved the way for continued improvement across its global tea business and sets the stage for this next phase as Tazo maps out its regenerative plan.

Saini also says that the regenerative business model is an “essential” part of ekaterra’s overarching sustainability strategy — which focuses on soil health, biodiversity, climate change resilience, farmer livelihoods and achieving net-zero emissions by 2030.

Taking this work to market

Earlier this month, Tazo launched regenerative organic versions of four of its most popular varieties — as its first USDA Organic certified teas made with Rainforest Alliance Certified and Fair Trade USA Certified™ ingredients, and grown with verified regenerative agriculture practices. Seeing that certification front and center on the grocery store tea shelf is important to give consumers an easy choice to help educate and guide their decisions, especially around a popular agricultural product.

As Tazo continues following its roadmap, the influence of these practices across ekaterra’s sizable tea presence should only serve to push the industry in a more climate-resilient direction.

“It is extremely difficult to model and predict the exact impact, but it is estimated that between 25-40 percent of current tea gardens will be outside of optimal growing conditions within a generation,” Lewicki says. “As the largest tea company, we have the responsibility to contribute to industry transformation through collaboration and partnerships — from improving the livelihoods of the people who pick the tea leaves, to how we blend and package our products while keeping our environmental footprint as small as we can.”