Climbing up into the mountains of central Sri Lanka near the historic city of Kandy, one sees the vibrancy and natural resources for what has made this country a much loved and important trading partner. The microclimatic conditions create a near perfect environment to make some of the finest teas and spices in the world. It’s here, where I found myself and Walters Bay, a longstanding Coca-Cola supplier and pioneer of value-added tea.  

As a Coca-Cola associate based in Atlanta, I was pleased to take a day from my two-week trip in Sri Lanka working with our bottler, Coca-Cola Sri Lanka, to see tea production first-hand. 

It takes us nearly four hours to travel the 110 km from the capital, Colombo, to the Nildalukanda tea factory. Built in 1891 by the British, the Nildalukanda factory, which Walters Bay now occupies, is hardly a historical relic. Inside, I see the significant infrastructure investments they have made to create a wide variety of hand-plucked teas that meet the refined and changing palate of consumers across Asia, Europe and North America. I am reminded by my hosts, Angelo Wickramasuriya, managing director, and Chinthaka Ubeyratne, VP of operations, of the rigorous quality standards in place, as well as through signs across the complex reminding employees “Never Compromise on Quality.”


I am engrossed by the story of Walters Bay’s beginnings, and I listen intently as Angelo and Chinthaka describe the business details and the company’s commitment to making an economic and social impact across the communities where they operate. It’s business, but also clear to me that it’s personal, fueled by a passion for Ceylon tea and a desire for the world to enjoy.

Started in 2001 under the vision of Chairman and CEO, Sanje Widyaratne, Walters Bay sought to bring Ceylon tea to western markets for broader, commercial consumption. I learn that after much research, they realized that the iced tea market was an area of considerable growth and opportunity in the U.S. and worked over a period of several years to develop the right quality and taste standards to meet the demand. Uncharacteristic for the Sri Lankan tea industry, they gained full control of the tea supply chain to better meet and adapt to customer expectations. This also enabled them to remove the middlemen, adding much needed economic value for its tea growers and significantly reduce the overall time from harvest to market in just 45 days.

The results have paid off. The company now has four tea producing factories, a packaging factory, two plantations, numerous tea gardens and approximately 10,000 growers across the country, 70 percent of whom are women. Walters Bay has won more than 50 different tea awards, which I see proudly displayed in the factory office. The relationship with Coca-Cola has been central to this growth, and Walters Bay is currently being sourced for Gold Peak Fresh Brewed Iced Tea in North America and Coca-Cola’s Japan tea market. I am energized by what’s been accomplished and the optimism for future growth expressed by all from Walters Bay I meet that day.

Sri Lanka

Sustainability and community are shared passions between Coca-Cola and Walters Bay, which we have outlined through our Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles. And, I am inspired by the high level of commitment to community and sustainability that Walters Bay makes central to its mission. Walters Bay’s flagship initiative is the Grower Empowerment Program that supports the economic development of Walters Bay workers and thousands of growers. Agronomic training, education and scholarships for growers’ children, new and improved material supplies, including use of lightweight baskets, and water and sanitation improvements are just some of the programs underway. These investments in people and their welfare also important to help ensure a high level of care and protection of the tea fields. 

Although I spent just one day in Sri Lankan tea country, I feel a personal connection to the work and the people I meet. I am also moved by the power of agriculture and the economic and social impact that can make a lasting difference in people’s lives.

Jennifer Ragland is director of international government relations and public affairs at The Coca-Cola Company.