“Sri Lankan families don’t even have gas cylinders, so they can cook and put food on the table,” he said.
“Inflation is heading towards 30%, which puts all the talk about the cost of living and interest rates into perspective.”
Sri Lanka is on the verge of bankruptcy and people have taken to the streets to demand the resignation of the president, whom they hold responsible for the economic crisis.
A drop in tourism means the South Asian country is desperately short of foreign currency reserves and struggling to import fuel, medical supplies and raw materials.
On top of extra costs for diesel at the factory, pandemic-related supply chain issues mean Origin Tea has to pay $6,000 for every shipping container it brings to Australia, six times as much. than the $1,000 he was paying before COVID-19.
But the Seaton brothers refuse to give up their Sri Lankan operation.
Chris made an urgent trip to Colombo last month to establish new suppliers as local manufacturers could no longer import what they needed, including packaging.
Many Sri Lankans spend their days fighting over limited supplies of fuel. Origin Tea therefore had to organize a shuttle for the employees to get to work.
“My role has changed to focus on how to get dollars into the country because the people who make our paperboard and tea bags can’t pay their suppliers,” Seaton said.
“We want the money to keep flowing into the economy and into the pockets of the people.”
Origin Tea was established in 2012 when Chris and Lawrence were fresh out of college and in their early twenties.
Their vision was to “make tea cool”.
“We have seen a gap in the single-origin tea market as single-origin coffee has become the latest buzzword,” Chris said. “Origin Tea is one of the few to offer traceability of high quality Ceylon tea from a single origin in Sri Lanka.”
Unlike blends, single-origin products guarantee provenance.
Until the pandemic, Origin Tea was largely a wholesale business, with products stocked in 1,000 cafes nationwide.
COVID-19 made it clear to the Seaton brothers that they needed to sell direct to consumers, and their Origin Sticky Chai will be available in supermarkets from next month.
Agribusiness is in their blood. Their grandfather, Donald Seaton, was the founder of the Gardner Smith oilseed crushing business, which was run by dad Gary until it was sold to GrainCorp in 2011.
“We have always sought to make tea fun and cool, but with the situation in Sri Lanka becoming more serious day by day, the manufacture and export of our tea has become essential to help locals feed their families. “, said Chris.
Australian National University economist Sriram Shankar said Sri Lanka’s crisis was caused by many factors, including a heavy reliance on China for domestic investment, external debt and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Tourism at a standstill
Tourism had also come to a halt, with the government accused of political corruption.
“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has made major tax cuts which have affected government revenue and fiscal policies, causing budget deficits to soar,” Dr Shankar said.
“I think Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy as it recently announced the suspension of payment of its external debt.
“For the recovery, in the short term, it must be bailed out by the IMF. He is currently negotiating an agreement with the IMF. However, in the medium term, it must undertake serious economic reforms to overcome the crisis.