The many facades of tea.
Everyone is fascinated with the countless new tea products--hot, cold, flavored, herbal, square, round, tagged, and tagless--all produced at speeds of up to 3,000 per minute. The tea industry has offered the public a wide range of new flavorful, convenient tea-based drinks, and everyone from teens to octogenarians are enjoying them. Even stock brokers are keeping a watchful eye on the innovation in these tasty beverages that not only affect their palates but their portfolios well.
What is the latest news from the world of tea? What new products, new concepts, new shapes, new packaging are happening now and what will happen in one year or the next five years? To find out more of what is new in the tea industry, we talked to 16 tea packers, contacted some research sources and here is what we found.
The 1992 tea consumption figures show the use of 15.5 billion teabags, 19.5 million gallons of loose tea and 5.7 billion glasses of iced tea mix. "U.S. Tea Sales Top $1 Billion for the Second Consecutive Year" is the headline from the Tea Council of the U.S.A., Inc. On any given day, a record 127 million Americans, almost half of the population, are drinking tea, consuming more than 48 billion six oz. servings annually, according to a report by the Nielsen Marketing Research and Price Waterhouse.
And, according to Joseph P. Simrany, executive director of the Tea Council of the U.S.A., who engaged Price Waterhouse to independently tabulate and summarize the confidential data for the Tea Council, tea sales are growing in restaurants and other foodservice outlets increasing by almost 20% in two years. Consumer supermarket purchases of tea were more than $1 billion for the second year.
The consumption of ready-to-drink liquid tea in bottles, cans and aseptically-packaged containers is growing very fast. In 1992, liquid tea sales in supermarkets alone, accounted for 16.7 million gallons or 357.7 million 6-oz. servings. This represents a 44% dollar increase from 58.9 million in 1991 to $84.8 million in 1992.
Consumers are purchasing tea from a variety of retail outlets such as supermarkets, small food stores, convenience stores, warehouse clubs, mass merchandisers, drug stores and vending machines. The Nielsen report presents a picture of tea sales in supermarkets.
In 1991, supermarket sales exceeded $1 billion, the largest jump in a decade. The Nielsen report indicates that consumer demand is mainly in teabags, decaffeinated teas, herbal teas and ice tea mixes. Teabags account for 60% of all tea in terms of pound sales, posting a 2% increase in the East and South. Decaffeinated teabags increased 4% to $106 million. Iced tea mixes increased 3% or $295 million in sales. Herbal teas posted a 5% increase for $104 million in sales.
And, according to the Tea Council, this strong growth is expected to continue over the next five years.
More and more people are coming to believe that tea is good for you, something that has been talked about for thousands of years. In May of this year, the Tea Associations of the U.S., the U.K. and Canada announced that the first cooperative multi-national tea industry effort will be undertaken to encourage and fund scientific and medical research on the health benefits of tea.
In process, is the establishment of a steering committee with representatives from all three countries to determine the funding for the multimillion dollar project.
The agreement evolved out of the first international scientific conference on the potential health benefits of tea "Physiological and Pharmacological Effects of Camellia Sinensis |(tea)', conducted in 1991 which was to raise professional awareness of the potential protective effects of tea in inhibiting cancer and cardiovascular disease and to encourage additional research.
And now to the field, to find out what tea packers have to say about trends, tea production, sales, growth, innovation, packaging and health benefits of tea.
Barrows Tea Co., New Bedford, Massachusetts
Sam Barrows sings the praises of the round tea bag and quality tea like nobody you've ever heard. How he came to produce his line of the innovative round tea bag is an interesting story.
Barrows Tea Co. packages single estate Darjeeling in a loose tea line and a range of tea products in round teabags.
The company's line of round, unbleached teabags include three types of teas. Single Estate Darjeeling is an unblended product, although most Darjeeling teas are blended. Barrows' American Breakfast Tea is a blend of Assam and Ceylon that is similar to an Irish Breakfast blend. The third, and most popular seller, is a Japanese Green tea.
In addition to these established lines, Barrows will be introducing an Earl Grey variety before year-end and continue to bring other new teas in a round tea configuration to market.
The focus of the company is in the upper end of the "real tea" market. Barrows is looking at teas from Nepal and other areas. The company is planning to come out with unique teas, now not widely available in the U.S. Barrows has done extensive research into tea origins, quality and production which guides his quality tea marketing efforts.
Barrows feels that the round tea bag is the only innovation in tea packaging since the |Flow-thru[R]' tea bag-type. He followed the development of the round bag in the U.K. and felt that the round bag makes a better cup of tea. According to Barrows, it allows more unobstructed steeping-room for leaves to expand during the short steeping time.
"Although the |Flo-thru[R]'-type bag has a broad surface area, it has nooks
and crannies and is folded tightly, so that the leaves can't expand as well as they do in the round tea bag, which blows up like a pillow. With the same amount of water and steeping time, the round bag makes a better cup of tea," Barrows said. "Other bags restrict the expansion of the tea leaves and restrict the flavor accordingly," he said.
The Barrows Tea Co. was established in 1984 when its first products came to market. "I felt that tea consumption was increasing at that time. People were cutting down on coffee for health reasons. Originally, I had planned to bring in someone else's tea. But I had tea samples coming in from Darjeeling and a broker in London and found samples that were superior to teas in the U.S. So, I decided to import and package in the U.S., and started my own company," he said.
Barrows feels that his competition is R. Twinnings & Co., Fortnum & Mason, and Jacksons of Picadilly, Ltd. He feels that there are other quality tea companies such as Grace Tea Co. Ltd. and the Republic of Tea. Barrows' goal is to offer quality teas, remain price competitive and be main-streamed.
Barrows also offers a line of packaged loose tea. However, he feels that the loose tea market is so small, less than 2% of the U.S. tea market which he attributes to the convenience factor. "We drink a lot of our tea at work. We use teabags there. Even a purist will use teabags at work," he said.
"Our company sells to gourmet and tea and coffee shops and fancy supermarkets. "We are in the process of signing up good specialty food distributors nationwide to sell to gourmet stores. By fall, we are planning to expand distribution to hotels, restaurants and other quality establishments where customers would care for a fine cup of tea," he said.
When asked how he would expand his packaging capability, Barrows said he would continually automate his plant.
"The tea market is a brand-loyal business. If your product is consistent and of good quality and you get a customer, you'll have a customer for life. And, it will snowball, and that's where we're at now," Barrows said.
R.C. Bigelow, Inc., Fairfield, Connecticut
Forty years ago, Ruth Bigelow, a New York interior designer, dissatisfied with the astringent taste of most teas and realizing there might be a market for a gentler flavored tea, blended what is today the popular orange-flavored Constant Comment[R].
The business grew in a New York City brownstone and remains a family business today with Ruth's son David, his wife Eunice and daughters involved in the family business.
Major growth and expansion occurred for the company in the early 70's, 10 years after David and Eunice moved the company to Norwalk, Connecticut. At that time the company pioneered the idea of wrapping individual teabags in foil to assure freshness and expanded the line adding Earl Grey, Plantation Mint and Cinnamon Stick blends. In the late 70's, herbal teas were added and in the 80's, a decaffeinated tea line.
The company has plants in Connecticut, Idaho, and Kentucky, packaging with close to 30 tea blends, decaffeinated teas, herbal teas and variety packs.
We spoke with Robert Crawford, executive vice president and ceo of the company. When asked about the trends he sees for the next one and five year periods, he felt that the tea industry would see continued growth.
"Certain segments of the tea market will continue to grow over the next five years, with a flat picture for black tea," Crawford said.
Crawford felt that there will be continued growth in herb, flavored and other specialty teas with new competitors from afar as well as domestically. I think there will be some foreign competition that will become involved in trying to enter the U.S. tea market," Crawford said.
When asked about innovation in tea shapes and construction such as the round tea bag, Crawford chose to take a wait-and-see attitude. "I don't know if something like the round teabag will be the savior of the tea industry in the
I don't see that it will make the tea business grow by 5 or 6% or that the overall U.S. tea business will be significantly affected by it. You might have a competitor take some business with the round bag as in the U.K. The competition who introduced the round bags in the U.K. took a portion of the market share there. If it works in the U.S., I think it will happen like that," he said.
Copack International, Carlstadt, New Jersey
With rapid growth of this market segment and the innovation of pro-duct and package, there appears to be an increased need for modernized and flexible copacking operations which, in fact, seem to be the "the wave of the future." Such innovations as the Tetley and round bags as well as other new product innovations require the ability for quick changes in product packaging design and production.
We spoke with Bob Golder, president of Copack International, specialists in high-speed copacking with its new Super 5000 packaging line.,
"Our Super 5000 high-speed modular packaging line is very easily adaptable to various new products and new configurations. The packaging equipment that can produce up to 3,000 packages per minute is based on a single line controlled by a central computer console that requires only one employee to run," Golder said.
"Because it is modular, the Super 5000 can easily be adapted to package products in round, square, rectangular, triangular and other shapes, according to a customer's customized requirements. Package size is determined by a cassette. All that is required to change the size is to insert a new cassette into the system. Size changes can be made in less than one-half hour. The modular approach allows a customer to utilize the elements needed to package a specific product," he said.
According to Golder, the technologies used in the equipment differ radically from the basic, stop-and-go, form-and-fill machines, which are mainly mechanical in design and operation.
It features electronic line shafts, electronic camming, computerized electronic filling, precision controls, complete telemetering and a simple user-friendly interface. The line offers a closed loop automatic on-line weight control and checking with a weight accuracy to plus or minus half of 1%.
The Copack Super 5000 is available to companies internationally for copacking.