June 9 2022  |  Food & Beverage

Spilling the tea with Dilmah CEO Dilhan C. Fernando

By Rachel Debling

This is a special feature from PAX International's 2022 WTCE Hamburg edition, on page 46.

Dilhan C. Fernando, CEO, Dilmah Tea

Founded by Merrill J. Fernando in 1985, Dilmah Tea has for decades represented the proud heritage of Sri Lanka. Now, under the direction of CEO Dilhan C. Fernando, Merrill’s son, the company is looking to bring its products to an international audience through the hospitality, airline, and airport sectors.

The pedigree of Sri Lankan teas is a point of pride for Fernando. “Tea from Sri Lanka, known as Ceylon tea, is blessed by the unique and diverse topography of Sri Lanka’s central tea-growing region,” he explains. “The rich biodiversity of our island contributes to the terroir of our teas, while our emphasis on traditional, artisanal manufacturing nurtures the influence of nature on each tea.”

Elixir of Ceylon Tea is an extract made from Dilmah’s handpicked Ceylon Single Estate tea that is perfect for airlines or hospitality

He concedes that while taste is subjective, it is the authenticity of Ceylon tea that makes it so attractive to consumers. And as Fernando notes, tea in general is a fantastic addition to any inflight experience, for a number of reasons.

“Tea is a natural beverage with enough variety to suit every preference,” says Fernando. “It is also luxurious and convenient – it only requires hot water and a little care to brew individually in premium classes or in bulk.” In fact, tea elevates both savory and sweet meals served inflight and in lounges, as evidenced by Dilmah’s partnerships with several Asian and Middle Eastern airlines.

“Dilmah is celebrating a 30-year, tea-inspired partnership with Emirates Airline where we have together presented guests with the combination of taste and wellness in tea,” says Fernando. “We also work with several other airlines, including Qantas and JAL, among others.”

But it’s not just the hot stuff that satisfies Dilmah’s customers. The company is venturing into new beverage territories with the introduction of its new iced tea line.

Dilmah Iced Tea was launched in Singapore in collaboration with BPI, Dilmah’s beverage partner

“We recently launched our Dilmah Iced Tea in Singapore in collaboration with BPI, our beverage partner,” he says. “While our distribution will grow from the Singapore launch to several Asian and Middle Eastern territories, our focus is on authenticity and quality, and these products form a luxury segment in a very commoditized iced tea category.”

Other products are equally suited for inflight consumption. Dilmah’s Elixir of Ceylon Tea, a natural concentrate which can be diluted to make iced tea, tea sodas, mocktails, and cocktails, can be leveraged for inflight service due to its potency and small footprint.

Above all, Dilmah Tea is striving to ensure that the beautiful environment in which its products are grown is maintained and sustained well into the future. Fernando and his team are achieving this through endeavors such as the Genesis Project, which was inaugurated on his father’s 92nd birthday. Dilmah’s former head office complex was transformed into a center for nature-based solutions which will collaborate with universities, agencies, the private sector, and the Sri Lankan government with the goal of developing nature-based solutions in areas such as urban infrastructure and agricultural entrepreneurship.

As Fernando describes, “It is said that tea is blessed with the combined influence of heaven and earth, nurtured by the men or women teamakers who follow a traditional, orthodox method to honor and preserve what nature has done in the leaf. A healthy environment is therefore critical to our business and to our country.”

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