Shabnam Weber is the newly appointed president of the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada (THAC). Before accepting the position, she resigned from her role as president and chief executive of Tea Emporium, a tea retail and wholesale company she cofounded in 2000. Weber served the past decade as a director of the Tea Association of Canada, later known as THAC after its mission expanded to include herbals. During these years she chaired several committees including education and retail and helped organize annual conferences jointly hosted with the Tea Association of the U.S.A. Weber was instrumental in establishing tea education as a priority for the association, and in 2016 she established the Academy of Tea, which provides THAC third-party support for the accredited TAC Tea Sommelier program. A political science graduate with honors from the University of Toronto, Weber is widely praised for her teaching skills and knowledge of tea. She begins her duties June 1.
World Tea News invited Weber to share her thoughts with readers.
WTN: What do you consider the top three challenges facing the tea and herbal industry in Canada?
Weber: Defining ourselves as relevant to a changing marketplace has to be top of mind for everyone. We have multiple generations that are incredibly important consumers: the baby boomers, the millennials, and the newly appointed Generation Z—a generation that is larger than both boomers and millennials. These post-boomer generations speak, live, and act differently than anything we’ve been used to before. We must adjust or be left behind.
WTN: In leading the association, how will you apply your rich background as a tea retailer, your travels to origin, and expertise in tea education to meet these challenges?
Weber: I have been a retailer and wholesaler on the specialty side for 18 years. I have also been a Director on the board of THAC for almost 10 years. That means that I have been exposed to multiple sides of the tea industry and that, I believe, is one of my greatest strengths. We have a multidimensional industry with varying needs and definitions of value. Working with all these areas and having an understanding of their challenges gives me a unique angle to meet those needs through THAC.
WTN: The Tea and Herbal Association of Canada is part of a global network of tea associations, government bodies, and NGOs that support the industry. Describe your vision of THAC’s contribution/role in that network.
Weber: THAC has a strong and solid reputation within the international community as well as here in Canada with the various government bodies that impact us. We have gained and will continue to grow that reputation through listening and co-operating with the concerns of our various partners. We are part of a larger picture, and remembering that is always critical.
WTN: What are the benchmarks of a healthy trade association?
Weber: All trade associations need to look at new ways of doing things. We are in a changing world; we are marketing differently to our customers. Membership in associations should be no different. Value is key. We have a lot in the pipeline regarding membership goals, events, and increasing the value people see in membership. To give you a glimpse of some of the projects I have planned, you can expect to see the following: a benefits package that will include discounts on credit card transactions, courier fees, etc., particularly of value to independent retailers; mini events beyond our yearly conference; updated website with value-added front end, for the consumer, back end, for members; engagement from members including involvement on association subcommittees; easy to navigate resources in regards to all government issues and compliance; fully integrating herbals into every aspect of our programs. These are just a few things in the works. A healthy trade association has members that STAY, members that SAY great things about you, and members that STRIVE to recruit others to join. We will have an association that people can’t afford not to be a part of.
WTN: THAC’s educational outreach is well established. What’s next?
Weber: We have now taken on an herbal mandate into the association, so that means herbal education modules, and these launch this year. We’re looking at three modules: HI101–HI103. These will be open to anyone that is interested in them—you do not have to take them as part of the Sommelier certification. As herbs and infusions are an enormous subject, our focus will be strictly on herbs and infusions regarding how they apply to tea.