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Lifestyle changes spur interest in herbal & spiced infusions.

The ongoing trend for healthier lifestyles coupled with a renewed interest in traditional plant remedies and a desire for discovering new tastes from botanicals has generated a booming market. The existing vast choice of colourful and highly beneficial cups continues to expand with more discoveries in the pipeline.

The fast pace of urbanisation all over the world makes millions of people dependent on industrial food, no more kitchen gardens and less and less farmers selling their crop on the city market. The imperative of urban lifestyle is convenience, ready to eat food and ready to drink cups. Cooking a nice meal and preparing a delicious brew have become lifestyle moments for the rare leisure time. Furthermore, the daily stress, industrial food and long hours spent in front of various screens have resulted in a huge public health concern, with millions of people today suffering from obesity, diabetes and bad cardiovascular conditions stemming from unbalanced nutrition and lack of body movement.

All market reports agree, the turnaround in the Western world has been initiated by millennials who have decided to improve their lifestyles by returning to more natural and more traditional eating and drinking habits. This trend is encouraged by the presence of many ethnic foods introduced from the other continents--Asia, Africa and South America--where small farmers still cultivate huge areas, growing not only staple food crops but also many healthy herbs and spices.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, European scientists identified most of the active molecules that were contained in the available botanicals and kitchen plants, be they peppermint, chamomile, rosemary, pepper or vanilla. They also isolated and named the caffeine, contained in the exotic cups of cocoa, coffee and tea brought to Europe from far away in the 17th century, generating a true craze for their stimulating brews. This scientific knowledge has developed in to a powerful pharma industry, bringing enormous progress to public health during the 20th century. Consequently, the knowledge about and usage of ancient herbal wisdom did almost disappear in Europe, with the exception of the German market, which has remained a stronghold for natural plant-based healing methods.

On the Lookout for Exotic Botanicals

With post-hippie era pioneers creating the Celestial Seasonings brand in 1969, collecting herbs from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and the big German companies Wollenhaupt and Mount Everest continuing to specialise in European and exotic herbals for over half a century, herbs and spices have again become a major trend. The introduction of flavoured teas in the 1980s also paved the way for tea and herbal blends, with mint, rosehip, lemon and bergamot ranking high.

Having a range of herbal cups and herbal tea blends has become key for all brands today. For example, Teavana introduced seven wellness teas (loose leaf) in January 2016, Tetley launched its Super Teas line in October 2016, and Argo Teas debuted its five-tea Wellness Collection (premium loose leaf) in February of this year.

Many consumers will not make a distinction between a cup of lime and peppermint and a cup of camellia sinensis, one being an herbal infusion, also called tisane, the other being a cup of tea. Many still consider that any hot brew with plant material, which does them good, is a tea. The great variety of available herbals and blends does not necessarily help with clarifying the issue, although the product label does normally state the cup identity. However, consumption of both categories continues to grow, and the market booms for all the old and new cups.

With the world having become truly global, the traditional herbs grown in the cool climates of Europe and North America have reconquered many consumers' interest but are now also having to compete with exotic rivals, brought in from other regions of the world, such as rooibos from South Africa; tulsi, or royal basil, from India; as well as mate leaf and lapacho tree bark from South America. There are also many spices that have been introduced from tropical regions in the other continents. Spices such as ginger, pepper, ginseng, turmeric, cardamom, star anise, lemon grass, nutmeg, cinnamon, liquorice and many more, have been customised as cup ingredients for herbals and tea and herbal blends.

Arlette Rohmer, the founder of Les Jardins de Gaia, in Alsace, France, is a pioneer in the field. She has been selling premium organic origin teas for more than 20 years and in order to create new blends and flavoured recipes, she started to source some herbs and spices from the small tea producers in Sri Lanka and India. Her goal to include a range of premium spices within her product portfolio was realized in 2011, when she took over the distribution of Terra Madre, a small French company, also located in Alsace, France, specialising in premium organic spices. With more spices blended into herbal infusion and tea and herbal blends every year, this cooperation is a true cross fertilisation.

During her frequent travels to origin countries, to encourage state of the art growing and manufacturing, and to maintain a dose contact with the farming communities, Rohmer is always on the lookout for novelty ingredients. She has been instrumental in relaunching the harvesting of wild rooibos in the South African community of Wupperthal, and is now investigating lesser known botanicals that display prominent medicinal properties. Among such small traditional crops is the moringa tree (moringa oleifera) with a huge range of medicinal beneficial effects, which is grown and harvested by a coop of 150 village women on a six-hectare plantation in Burkina Faso, a small country in West Africa. Hence, a moringa infusion may well be launched by the company in the near future, and is likely to attract attention.

Rohmer, who is convinced that Western consumers are keen to continue exploring these new herbals, said, "The ailments of our urban and highly stressed populations are increasing fast, more and more they turn back to nature to see whether they can find relief without pharmaceuticals and industrial molecules."

A similar approach materialised last fall when a new concept store named Aequis, meaning balance of body and mind, launched in the heart of Paris, France. The store, run by four young trained nutritionists and naturopaths, targets millennial who are often lost in a maze of contradictory dietary directives. With the stress of urban life and no basic eating education, some will become vegan and switch to veggies and herbal juices, depriving their bodies of essential nutrients. "Our aim is to teach the fundamentals of a balanced nutrition. We run workshops for simple and healthy cooking and we also insist on healthy fluid intake," Laetitia Collin, who heads Aequis, told T&CTJ, adding, "our favourite option is green tea together with a wide choice of herbal infusions."

The new super herbal cups and super teas will remain in the focus in 2017. In Europe and North America, recent large food and drink expositions demonstrate that healthy and functional teas and herbal blends continue to attract strong consumer attention. According to global market research firm, The Mintel Group's outlook for 2017, "power to the plants" and "teas with a purpose" are among the seven major food and drink trends.

More new plant extracts are in preparation, like aronia or choke berry, with coconut sap sweeteners keeping the sugar levels low, and there will always be the choice between various caffeine levels and caffeine free formulations. High added-value cups with new exotic organic ingredients will target the more affluent and highly sophisticated customers, whilst the current huge choice in the mainstream market will allow any consumer to quench his thirst for healthy hydration.

In order to properly cater to the ever-growing demand for natural and healthy cup qualities, there is a strong preference for using mainly organic herbs and spices. These will be sourced from small farmers and coop structures, whilst most majors will have their own herbal productions, harvested from gardens in secluded areas. Given the increased need for quality supply this provides a perfect domain for building up development aid projects, also targeting sustainable agriculture, anti-climate change protocols and ethical trade. The trend towards more herbals is also strongly expanding in the East, with India, South Korea and China on the forefront. Their recipes and blends are based on Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine principles, containing ancient and uninterrupted wisdom about the many health properties of a large range of local botanicals.

With continued growth, both in the West and in the East, herb- and spice-infused cups benefit from a truly auspicious forecast.

Barbara Dufrene is the former secretary general of the European Tea Committee and editor of La Nouvelte du The. She may be reached at:

Caption: Laetitia Collin heads Aequis, a new mind and body concept store in Paris, France.

Caption: Arlette Rohmer, founder and CEO of Jardins de Gaia, a premium tea purveyor in Alsace, France.
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Title Annotation:HERBS & SPICES
Comment:Lifestyle changes spur interest in herbal & spiced infusions.(HERBS & SPICES)
Author:Dufrene, Barbara
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2017
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