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Tea Promotion & Branding


Randy Altman finds there is a radical increase in the number of tea brands. Companies, from large to small, are promoting more brands than ever before. Launching new brands creates excitement, but market saturation is possible. Altman reports on the proper steps some companies are taking with advertising and formed bonds with consumers to link toward product loyalty.

At the wholesale level, bulk segments are starting to move into the market as branded, such as by estate name. A very different type of expansion is the entry into an existing branded line of a new flavor or blend. Large companies may add entire new lines, such as Celestial Seasonings recent flavored black-tea line of seven items, requiring seven new names and labels to integrate into the overall Celestial Seasonings image of 80 different retail tea products. Modern tea promotion pays attention to the consistency of product image across all the items from the same company, to build loyalty to both the brand and the company.

A new product from a tea company will have an advantage when the customer already identifies with the company. This may sound obvious, but in the world of tea, promoting even your company name or insignia can get you into trouble. One of the oldest and most prestigious tea corporate brands and insignia is “WM,” going back to the 1800’s and still strong today. Both Williamson Magor & Co. Ltd and Williamson & Magor Ltd have claim to this insignia. These companies are true competitors:

Williamson Magor & Co. Ltd is an Indian (Calcutta) company, whose most prominent figure is B. M. Khaitan, and Williamson & Magor Ltd is a UK (London) company, whose most prominent figure is Philip Magor. The complexity only begins with the similarity of the names, which arises from their shared histories. In tea promotion, the logo, especially an old one, is valuable, and these two very different companies have been struggling with how to separate not only the “WM” but also an elephant logo they both have used.

Ron Knell, managing director of Williamson & Magor Ltd, told me, with good British dry humor, “the ‘and’ is important.” In fact, the precise location of this tiny monosyllabic word is the main identifying mark between these big companies, whose relationship is incredibly complex, including minority cross-investments in other corporations. Yes, some of these additional companies also contain the names Magor or Williamson. Packaging, like the logo, is a variable much manipulated in branding battles, and Honest Tea recently changed from cardboard box for teabags to the canister. Tea promotion today must regard every aspect of a product as a potential for market share growth. Canisters tend to build consumer loyalty, as they are likely kept in the home for decorative uses, holding paper clips, pencils, etc. The canister becomes a daily, month-after-month reminder in the home of the tea brand. Such enduring promotional activity remains rare in the tea trade.

The old-fashioned promotional method of coupons remains valuable to attracting attention to products, especially from crucial first-time buyers. Honest Tea combines cutting edge new flavors with the use of coupons. Coupons can serve as advertisements, as do Honest Tea’s, which show both the company slogan and the web site. Their two new RTD’s speak to youth, health and fun: Peach Oo-La-Long and Green Dragon Tea.

Honest Tea has recently passed the significant hurdle from small company to medium-sized. Spending money to promote the brand is essential to growth, and most small companies must expand sales or die. The well-established medium-sized tea companies often have larger parent corporations for support, such as Tazo and Stash. In good news for the global tea business, promotional powerhouse Starbucks quietly reports, at time of this writing, plans for a major expansion of tea component Tazo, possibly doubling staff, with perhaps a rare, new tea vice presidency within Starbucks.

Stash’s marketing coordinator Konnie Turney reports three new excitingly named items, Double Spice Chai, Sushi Bar Mild Green Tea, and Decaf Creme Caramel. The names resound with flavor. Even Stash’s best-selling black tea is scented, Earl Grey. Stash is toward the larger end of the medium-sized spectrum, and markets over 200 tea items. Stash proves the power of flavor and scenting to sell tea.

Twinings has come out with not one, but two new lines. Twinings now has a flavored black tea series, which they term “Aromatic” black, and also an herbal line. The Sunset Rose herbal blend is unique to the U.S., not available in other Twinings territories. The name “Sunset Rose” is certainly an intelligent brand name selection, in this case oriented towards women. These two Twinings lines are further evidence of the increasing promotional utility of flavored teas.

Every year, many hundreds of individual new tea items are launched. All these products undergo slogan development and image planning, yet these steps may not adequately reach consumer consciousness. Advertising is now essential to keeping in the public eye any new tea product (or new logo promotion). Advertising also separates and distinguishes the new item from the pre-existing competition already on the store shelves. Modern tea promotion involves branding beyond even the corporate level, with producer-nations pushing for more bulk tea becoming marketed as branded. This modern bulk-branding must be coupled with advertising, or else these large-volume exports will wallow in confusing, murky identities.

Both India and Sri Lanka are promoting branding for the export market. Advertising must occur in globally circulating media, and with TV too expensive, print remains the option. Also increasingly important is participation in trade shows, conventions and exhibitions. Some new ideas for promotion are among the most complex that have ever come from Asia, where most tea is grown. Anil Cooke, senior vice president of Asia Siyaka of Ceylon, recently states, “Sri Lanka is promoting teas not just on a single estate concept, but also on the taste unique to valleys and districts.” So, in addition to the main districts in Ceylon, individual valleys may now enter competition as marketing brands.

Cooke states, “Knowledge of the range of Ceylon teas has too long been a secret of the blender and the packer.” The timing is perfect for promoting to retailers and consumers all these new brands, because the unique “umbrella” private-sector trade body created just this year holds new power. Other heavy-weight export nations, like India, China, Kenya, Indonesia or Viet Nam, have no comparable re-structuring and re-funding. Starting this year, all tea in Sri Lanka is under the Tea Association of Sri Lanka. This unprecedented approach calls for comprehensive promotion, to demonstrate logos and slogans and to show intention to protect their product, almost all of which is exported.

Anywhere in the world, tea promotion modernization in 2003 involves web sites. Even small retail outlets can expand market share by a relatively low-cost web site. However, just as unadvertised brands may be over-proliferating, web sites are very numerous, and the first order of business is creating a good eye-catching name. Asia Siyaka has the pleasantly attractive web name www.mygourmettea.com, and the orange-yellow-red motif is beautiful, with informative text content. Generally, tea web sites are not making maximally effective use of color. Companies, small retail to large enterprise, must devote more creativity to visually pleasing and distinctive internet colors.

Too many web sites seem complacent with color, satisfied just to show some green tea field and perhaps another color. Many of these dull web sites really do an excellent job with text content, but as more and more webs ites pop into existence, they need memorable, distinctive color patterns. Loyalty to the site is the goal.

Research into consumer loyalty continues. Specialty Food Magazine reports recently “those who buy organic are extremely loyal customers” and “of the 1/3 of consumers who have purchased organic food or beverage products in the past six months, 85% plan to continue purchasing organic.” Better health is often given as the reason. A potentially bigger benefit to tea is the same magazine’s report “Kosher foods are a $6 billion market in the U.S.” Kosher has great implications for tea because Kosher designation is relatively simple for tea to attain, and is a hugely expanding market. This is a diverse market, Specialty Food Magazine reports “about 35% of the kosher market is made up of health-conscious consumers,” not those following kosher for religion. Growing organic is always vastly complex, while getting Kosher certification for a non-food item processed on machinery that never touches animal products is relatively easy. Some of the largest tea companies display the Kosher symbol on their tea.

The general public increasingly sees an anxiety-filled world, with Kosher as a reassuring “quality-control” symbol alleviating international worries like “Mad Cow” disease and anthrax. Kosher designation really serves as double duty indicating “cleanliness” and “cared for,” and this image of safety leads to emotional feelings of security. This trend of an anxious world is permanent; the modern world appears less safe than before, and any tea promotion that signifies feelings of security will play well with women, the demographic that buys the most tea. More generally, the trend toward floral flavorings seems also a desire for a calming refuge from a troubled world.

Modern tea promotion is supported by numerous positive developments. The U.S. Supreme Court expanded intellectual Property rights this year, and the WTO wields immense power. Sophisticated tea companies and regional associations with trademarks and copyrights can enjoy more protection than ever. Brands deserve protection, but they also must sell. Youth is being reached by the flavors. One particular flavor with great progress is chai without milk, the most convenient form and a more recent development. This form is a fat-free, newer version of chai, better for health. I was pleased to just yesterday sample another new chai in tea bag, Honest Tea’s Kashmiri Chai, using organic black tea, and, in order of listed additional ingredient, cardamom, black pepper, cloves, orange peel, cinnamon and ginger. (And yes, ginger should come as last ingredient in my evaluation: it is far too often overused in chai.)

With chai, many flavors are combined. This is significant beyond merely this one tea type. A trend for several years has been to double flavors, such as Celestial Seasonings’ new Vanilla Maple, plus the trend to add a flavor where not usually expected, like their new Golden Honey Darjeeling. Chai probably does strongest in providing a complete performance, a special event, sought after not just by youth, but also by adults in this crazy world, removing the imbiber, for some short time, from the stress of the hectic day.

Pure black tea will always be highly prized, especially by connoisseurs, and will always have a large market, such as for instant, but I see tea diversifying successfully, if slowly. Modernization of branding will allow for myriad models, if backed by sufficient marketing and advertising. One problem with more brands is the need for faster tracking of slow selling items, to free valuable store shelf space. Even if in a warehouse, the laggard tea is losing freshness. The computer again can help, by keeping real-time track of tea anywhere in the world. The computer is modernization under control. The modern source of anxiety is lack of control over worldly events and daily life, but computers can allow control over the proliferation of exciting new brands of tea. The world is receptive to the increasing branding of tea, and the trade has the technological and promotional tools to fulfill this receptivity.

Randy Altman has advised the United Nations and other transnational organizations, and has held directorships and offerships at various non-profit corporations. He also holds several adjunct academic appointments.

Tea & Coffee - April/May, 2003

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