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2010 Tea Market Forecast

By Joseph Simrany and Pearl Dexter

How does one filter through all the information in the IT (Information Technology) world to evaluate the trends for the tea industry? Who can forecast the future? Not us. But maybe there’s something in those tea leaves. Tea is a natural product that is still hot even when it is on ice.

Tea is IT. Tea is in, it is trendy, relevant and continually attracting an ever-expanding group of avid and knowledgeable consumers, most of who are gaining that knowledge via the Internet. Tea companies of course are still using traditional advertising vehicles including TV, radio, print and direct marketing but they are increasingly turning to non-traditional marketing vehicles such as; websites, blogs, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and now the iPhone. Tea companies sophisticated websites not only sell their product, but also educate the consumer. An educated buyer is a smart buyer. The soaring interest in this beverage has produced a plethora of blogs from tea enthusiasts around the globe. Some are an educational, entertaining and a refreshing read. Two blogs of notable interest are www.teareviewblog.com and www.teaviews.com. In both cases they evaluate various teas and provide insight into the nuances of flavor and aroma and frequently draw comparisons to established norms. A website dedicated to the appreciation of tea and which invites visitor input is; www.steepster.com. Not only are these sites entertaining but they are on the vanguard of a new way of communicating with one another about virtually anything of interest. The knowledge gained through these sites is perceived to be more credible than knowledge gained through traditional forms of marketing vehicles because it is based on personal experience and presumably less biased. As a marketer of tea, these vehicles must not be ignored even if the value of participation is not immediately recognized.

In the Western world, we are still attracted to the inherent health benefits that tea offers. It is anticipated that marrying flavors with teas will be even more popular in 2010 than last year. Pomegranate and blueberry are at the top of the list for not just their flavor but also their antioxidant properties. Although tea on its own is flavorful, diversity is still a constant trend. Wellness is on the minds of consumers making healthy choices. Tea is a great asset to a well-designed diet. Conscious of the health-minded consumer, Simpson & Vail recently came out with a line of herbal teas paired with yoga practices. Bigelow has a new line of herbal teas also, as do many other companies. In Chicago The Food Channel listed tea as one of the products that provided insight into the top flavors, biggest foods, food influences and top food stories of the past 10 years. Tea is consistently cited by a great many other influential and credible sources as one of the easiest and effective beverages to add to your diet if you are interested in adopting a healthy lifestyle. While many of the food choices du jour will be remembered only until they are replaced tomorrow, interest in the health benefits of tea will endure forever. Tea traces its health credentials back thousands of years as opposed to many of today’s super foods whose claim to fame is measured by months. Organic is considered a niche market yet almost every tea company offers a line of organic tea to appeal to those consumers who are rebellious of processed foods and are seeking a natural alternative free of chemical additives to enhance their health. These consumers have become skeptical of the health claims that constantly bombard them via traditional marketing vehicles and increasingly turn to the Internet via independent websites and blogs for “accurate” information about products of interest.

Tea is ecologically friendly. What grows from the earth is returned to the earth. The growers are good stewards of the land. From China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, the U.S. and all of the other three dozen countries that commercially produce tea. In many countries, inferior teas are not sold but added to the compost pile to further enrich the soil. Similarly, the clippings from the pruning of the tea bushes often are left where they fall to help the soil retain moisture, prevent soil erosion and control the growth of undesirable weeds. The remaining branches from the heavy pruning are given to the workers for their own heating and food preparation needs. Nothing goes to waste on the tea estate. Sustainability is key to being kind to mother earth. Long before the entrance of outside certifying agencies, the tea producing countries were acutely aware of their responsibility to the environment, to their workers and to their customers to produce tea in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible fashion as their very livelihood depended upon the sustainability of their actions. To their credit the tea producing countries have embraced the various certifying bodies because they understand the value of independent reporting as a means of providing consumers with assurances that their purchase is in tune with their desire to be earth friendly. More and more tea estates are becoming Rainforest Certified. Recently we were at the Glendale Estate in Nilgiri, India soon after they became certified. By 2015 Lipton plans to have all their tea estates certified. The social and ecological needs are forefront in the minds of growers.

Going green is quite popular even in packaging of tea. There’s the natural look used by several tea retailers in the U.S. Simpson & Vail and SerendipiTea have always had eco-friendly packaging of their teas. Packaging and labeling invariably allure the consumer.

Hopefully, we are all climbing out of the economic crisis of 2009. Paris tea merchant Mariage Fréres opened two shops in Germany in the last quarter of 2009 in Hamburg and Munich, and has plans to open in London, New York and China in 2010. A newer tea company, TWG out of Singapore now has shelf space at Dean & DeLuca and plans opening shops in Japan and the Middle East in 2010. Both traditional and specialty tea merchants in the U.S. are seeing a return to normal pre-recession sales levels and several report that their businesses have held up surprisingly well. The Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO), a United Nations department concerned with the growth of developing countries, expects continued growth in sales for both black and green tea for 2010

Tea is both an ancient commodity as well as a commodity on the cutting edge of technology. Tea is IT. Information Technology has computerized many of the tea auctions in India and Sri Lanka. Routing tea from 14 countries through Dubai has changed traditional ways of selling tea to the Middle East and Europe.

The future for tea is hotter than ever. From playing a (big) role in the Boston Tea Party of 1773 to American politics today where the grassroots organization the “American Tea Party Movement” contributed to the election of a Republican Senator from Massachusetts for the first time in nearly four decades.

But perhaps the most enduring quality of tea is the unique affect it has on all that come in contact with it with the ultimate attraction of tea being taste. The sooner we get the tea from the garden to the cup, the fresher the taste we will enjoy. We applaud the efforts of all involved in bringing tea to our tables: the growers, manufacturers, auctioneers, packers, shippers, the companies that put tea on the shelves and tables of grocery stores, gourmet stores, hotels and restaurants and the innovative creators of IT. Finally when tea arrives at our table, de gustibus, non est disputantum — concerning taste there is no dispute.


Tea & Coffee - January, 2010
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