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Herbal tea packaging: a slave to fashion.

Two of the most important trends in the U.S. consumer market today are environmental considerations, and health and fitness - and herbal tea producers are suitably positioned to cater to both. Only packages and products that recognize both those concerns have the best chance of succeeding in the U.S., which has the world's highest level of marketing

According to Bob Kelly, director of marketing for R.C. Bigelow, the two key goals of herbal tea packaging are to indicate the flavor and type of tea and to communicate a feeling of relaxation to which the consumer can relate. Bigelow uses both in-house and external design sources for its herbal tea packaging, although the Bigelow family is also closely involved in all product packaging and design. Each of Bigelow's tea lines - whether flavored, decaffeinated, or herbal - has distinctive design elements. The flavored tea is more traditional in appearance, whereas the herbal line is more fanciful and conveys mainly moods and feelings.

Bigelow's herbal tea bags are overwrapped to preserve the freshness of the ingredients, a major concern in this market. Other materials don't protect flavor adequately, in Kelly's view.

The most important consideration in herbal tea packaging is the right choice of barrier materials. In contrast to black tea, which tends to absorb flavors, herbs tend to exude flavor. As the ingredients in herbal tea blends get more varied and exotic, the need for flavor barriers is becoming more important. Herbals also need a long shelf life, since they're not consumed at the same rates as black teas. Consumers generally buy several herbal teas at the same time, using different blends for different moods, occasions, or times of the day.

The best barrier, however, isn't the most environmentally friendly one. Foils are a total aroma block, but they are not biodegradable and there is no easy way to recycle them. Although any company that wishes to be successful should choose the most environmentally responsible option, some compromises may have to be made to satisfy the consumer. One choice is to use only one liner instead of individual wrappings.

According to Peter Gould, president of Aldine Technologies Inc, some herbals that are subject to becoming stale because of oxygenation need to be packaged with a special barrier, with the oxygen content below 5%. Some ingredients also need to be packed in very fine paper so that no "dust" escapes into the box or remains as residue in the consumer's cup.

Currently, Aldine packages only coffee and black tea, but third-quarter 1993 will have the capacity to package 10 varieties of herbals at the same time. Gould, however, doesn't see long-term growth for the herbal tea market: "I don't want to say it's a fad, but it has been brought about mainly by good marketing."

He has similar views about environmental awareness, noting that recyclable products were being manufactured long before public attention came to be focused on them. "You can recycle anything if you don't care what it costs you," he notes. Cost is a pivotal factor: Most people wouldn't mind paying 5- 10% more for an environmentally friendly product, but even the most militant green activists would balk at a price tag higher than that.

In the next few years, Gould expects to see many more herbal blends, larger individual tea bags (to make a pot of tea, for example), more overwrapping to preserve flavor and more mint flavors. The dominant herbal tea packaging will be a heat-sealable bag with a biodegradable tag and string. Most herbals will be packed in recyclable boxes, which will generally announce that fact.

"Packaging design is the key to impulse buying," states Gould. He believes that "most of it is mundane" and that "much more can be done with mechanics and graphics." Although imaginative packaging design is a great opportunity for market share growth, it is a costly process and most manufacturers don't think splurging in that area is justified. But in a market where distinctiveness is everything, the expense may be worth it. "The size and shape of the packaging are also factors," says Gould. "Why not have star-shaped or triangular or octagonal boxes? Cost is only one aspect. Resale is the other." He notes that Tetley Inc.'s recent introduction of round tea bags (a marketing gimmick) upped the company's market share 7.2% in 16 months.

Larry Saint, vice president of sales and marketing for Vitex Packaging Inc., the largest supplier of tags and envelopes to the tea industry in the U.S., predicts a trend toward more highly decorated, prettier packages and fewer multi-layered structures for herbal tea. He says that herbals, which are a major part of Vitex's business, are only slightly different from black tea in their packaging requirements. For herbals, Vitex uses a sealed envelope to maintain freshness and sometimes a different kind of paper. All of the company's packaging meets FDA guidelines and is printed with water-based inks.

A recent report on packaging published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) notes that the following factors have combined to produce a vast variety of packaging materials and forms: the health and fitness movement, lifestyle changes that necessitate convenience products, increasing home medical care, supermarkets, "warehouse" stores that need bulk packaging, a growing ethnic market and increasing environmental awareness. As product lines expand, store areas increase and labor costs soar, supermarkets are always on the lookout for new packaging and stocking systems. Consumers can therefore expect more concentrates, more packaging engineered for shelf efficiency, more bulk packs designed for easy placement on shelves, and more self-contained units.

Packaging has also evolved considerably from its original function of protecting the product. It now includes directions, advertising, warnings, ingredient quantities, protection against tampering, coding for accounting purposes, help in dispensing the product or in its preparation or use, a 'sell by' date and sometimes even an indication of the condition of the contents. Packaging has now become an integral part of marketing.

In 1990 the total level of packaging expenditure was estimated at $70.8 billion, of which 34% was for food packaging, 19% for beverages, and 9% for drugs, soaps, and toiletries. By the largest segment of rigid packaging by value is paperboard (49% in 1991), followed by metal (27%), plastics (13%), glass (8%), and wood (4%).

Environmental considerations will largely determine growth of the packaging market in the future. High public awareness of the issue and a mass of pending legislation have fueled a new wave of packaging research and development. Source reduction, degradability, changes in inks and adhesives, and the use of recycled materials for packaging are all being used with various degrees of success. But it is clear that "green" packaging is here to stay and is the newest growth area for the industry.

Studies have shown, however, that while consumers want this type of packaging, they're not willing to pay extra for it. So in addition to all the other functions of the package, it has to be both environmentally friendly and competitively priced. This requirement has been an obstacle to many new developments.

Paperboard is environmentally friendly, but currently the demand for recycling is greater than capacity. Recycling plants are under attack due to toxic emissions and waste products.

Changing governmental regulations on emissions are causing some on-line plants to close and cause cost concerns for proposed new facilities. This tends to make the cost of recycled paperboard higher than virgin material.

Flexible packaging shipments were $13.5 billion in value in 1991. Flexible packaging involves the use of paper, plastic films, foil, or textiles, alone or in various combinations. These materials are made by materials producers and mainly sold to converters and fabricators. The converters may add value by coating, printing, laminating, metallizing, sheeting, slitting, diecutting, or embossing. Some converters also extrude mono or multi-layer films.

The converted material can then be made into bags, pouches, liners and wraps by the converter or by fabrication into packages by independent companies or end users. Gravure and flexographic printing are the main printing processes. There is a trend toward water-based inks, which reduce solvent emissions.

Converted flexible packaging shipments are estimated at about $6 billion for 1990. This dynamic segment of the industry has been spurred by changing customer requirements: single portion servings, product protection, and increased shelf life.

Another development is that of controlled atmosphere in packages, which involves gas flushing with a mixture of nitrogen or carbon dioxide to inhibit spoilage and discoloration.

The EIU predicts the following trends for the future:

* Those packaging companies will be most successful that can cater to constantly changing consumer needs, while at the same time taking advantage of evolving environmental opportunities.

* Any and all forms of recycled materials used for packaging will enjoy success.

* Any packaging materials which can be replaced by recycled materials will face problems.

* Foams and expanded materials will decrease in usage.

* High barrier materials will continue to increase in usage due to the increase in usage of prepared foods.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Ramaswami, Rama
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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