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Known as the blue jewel of Armenia, Lake Sevan boasts a huge variety of flora and fauna. Located only 200 metres away, at 1,920 m above sea level, is the village of Tsovazard. Translated from Armenian as “Sea Ornament,” the village is home to a variety of tea herbs known for their healthful properties.

Even as a pharmacy student at Yerevan State Medical University, Tsovazard native Anton Galstyan was travelling extensively to Armenian villages to collect folk recipes for homemade herbal blends. The ambitious young pharmacist would then use the knowledge gained at university to bring a new quality to those recipes. Taking his passion to the next level, in 1989 Anton established Antaram — Armenian for “evergreen” —, a tea-producing cooperative that went on to conquer both local and international markets.

Once he graduated, Anton could not think of a better place than Tsovazard to establish the cooperative — for many reasons. Most importantly, he was driven by a desire to contribute to the economic well-being of his native village. Also, being home to an impressive variety of herbs, the village was a great site for growing new species. And last, but not least, Tsovazard was conveniently situated at the intersection of Armenia’s northern and southern regions making it a perfect location for managing the logistics and exports.

Antaram tea blends: A winning recipe

With over 40 years of experience, Anton is now one of the most seasoned professionals in Armenia’s tea production sector. What’s more, he has proudly passed down his invaluable knowledge and expertise to his two sons, Areg and Narek.

“First, we treat tea production as a profession and only then as a business,” says Areg, who has inherited his father’s passion for coming up with exceptional tea blends and marketing them to different countries around the world. “More than 40 types of tea herbs from across Armenia are used in the production of the Antaram brand. We work hard to come up with blends that deliver unique flavours and excitement to meet the ever-changing needs of the consumer.”

For the Galstyans, hard work, continuous improvement in the value chain, new solutions to existing problems, and corporate values are a winning recipe for staying ahead of the game.

“Since 2014 we have been exporting our teas to different countries in Europe — France, Germany and Austria,” Areg adds. “It’s tough to access these markets, but it brings long-term benefits once you succeed.”

One of the major initiatives that greatly supported the company with exports is the Ready to Trade project, which is being implemented by the International Trade Centre (ITC) and supported by the European Union under its EU4Business initiative.

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Despite the pandemic, 2020 was quite productive for the Antaram cooperative. The team had more time to focus on strengthening its production and making the brand more attractive for exports. The cooperative embarked on the construction of a new production unit that will meet stricter safety standards. With the support of the EU4Business Ready to Trade project, the cooperative is currently introducing the HACCP food safety system. This will pave the way for the application of the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification scheme, which ensures added value for international markets.

“Having a strong vision is more essential than technical details,” notes Areg.“As part of the Ready to Trade project, we have worked closely with highly qualified international experts who helped us identify our strengths, package them into a compelling story and market it oversees. For example, Angela Pryce, an international tea expert from the UK, has provided valuable advice on tea blends, packaging, branding and overall marketing. Branding is extremely vital for exports. With the support of the project we now have an internationally competitive brand, called Toorm.”

The cooperative has found most of its partners at international trade shows. As part of the project, Antaram participated in top trade shows in Europe: BIOFACH, the world’s leading trade fair for organic food, and Anuga, the leading global trade fair for the food and beverage industry. This October, Antaram and a number of other producers from Armenia participated in Anuga 2021, the largest trade fair in Europe, after the re-start of the trade fair industry.

Steady steps to conquering new markets

Areg notes that continuously improving the value chain and introducing new solutions are key to promoting Armenian tea brands abroad. For example, Antaram is planning to increase its sown areas and make a gradual shift from wild harvesting to growing its own tea herbs. According to Areg, the advantages of growing tea themselves ensure consistency in quality and composition, which is vital for entering major markets.

During the most active days of the pandemic in 2020, Antaram planted an orchard with 1,000 hawthorn and linden trees. The cooperative is currently expanding its orchard further.

In order to be recognisable and competitive on international markets, local brands need to, first of all, focus on the quality of their products, and maintain international best standards and practices. For example, Antaram produces certified organic teas, which is an added value for exports. Environmentally friendly practices and the employee-centric culture that the company adheres to not only improve the working environment and bring economic benefits, but also offer a competitive edge in international markets.

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