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Innovative Solutions in Packaging
(Part 2)

By Serena Norr

The packaging industry is experiencing an influx of design and functional options for the tea and coffee industry. This upsurge is expanding options on the market and making for some interesting new selling tools in the industry.

Tea Packaging Options
Developing the right tea packaging for a product can be a rigorous process that begins with defining your concept and then creating and evaluating various packaging options that will connect to the consumer. Tea estates may be able to grow lovely verdant bushes on picturesque terrain, but then rely on tea packaging to sell their output. Every ounce of tea at some point between harvest and consumption exists in a container, and retail point-of-purchase laws often make it necessary for packaging to display net weight, nation of origin and company address.

Tea companies have recently begun to focus on the actual construction of the retail packaging pushing their marketing efforts beyond the typical tea tins or cardboard boxes. According to Gebruder Wollenhaupt, a tea importing and packing company based in Germany, “Our current range of accessories intends to give fresh impetus on sales by offering a diversity of new creations in exclusive packaging. Often enough it is already the packaging design that involves the decision to buy an item. Thus the gift-boxes do not only serve as noble ‘wrapping’ but also as an attention-attracting shop display where novel packaging options such as tins, cups and tea sets can catch customers’ eyes.”

The broadest trend in retail tea is the expansion of cardboard packaging. On the lowest demographic end, plastic packets are expanding market territory among the rural indigent; on the most upscale end, the materials used for packaging include brass, ceramic, porcelain, fine hardwoods and micro-engineered tins. While such prestigious packaging elevates the status of the entire tea trade, this top line contains only a fraction of a single percent of the tea sold worldwide by net weight. The most popular mid-range packaging format, cardboard, captures the major market share.

Countless millions of cardboard tea boxes sit on store shelves that are the primary vehicle for tea brands and company slogans to reach consumer awareness. Some new trends with tea companies have been seen through the utilization of wooden boxes, capsules, tins, cardboard, ceramic, to name a few.

Wood packaging has several benefits in a market saturated with tins and brightly designed cardboard boxes. According to AB Packaging, “Many retailers utilize wood-based packaging for its natural appearance as it provides a comforting feel.” The image of wood remains attractive to tea companies, as wood packaging has become more common and the options more diverse. Many believe that wood packaging upholds an image of quality and craftsmanship that are beautiful pieces of art that can be utilized in the home after the tea is completed for storage purposes. Many designs are also silk-screened with the companies name or constructed with an acrylic window. The design options are limitless.”

Tins are also popular on the market. Since there is little difference in quality among the growing numbers of mass-market retail teas, unique and unusual tin container shapes and materials are a way to differentiate. Tins can be formatted to numerous sizes including oval, canister and boxed. Tin packaging enhances the buying experience by giving your customer a lasting reminder of your brand. Tins are ideal for whole leaf teas as well as bagged teas. They offer a unique shelf presence in an exceptional, consistent quality food-grade container, a variety of sizes and styles and easy labeling. According to Marshall Malone, president of Portsmouth Tea Co., located in New Hampshire, (www.portsmouthtea.com), “Portsmouth Tea offers loose tea in two size tins that are elegantly designed for simplicity, but sturdy - with an interior seal to keep in freshness. We designed our teas so that they would also be stackable, attractive on the shelf and store tea for maximum shelf life.”

Loose tea has also seen some innovative packaging options. According to Malone, “Packaging designs in the tea industry are many and varied. I would say that the chief trend is away from tradition (the ‘proverbial pinky’) and moving more towards design that splits in two categories; bagged and loose. Bagged tea companies (specialty), such as Harney & Sons and Tea Forte are both leaning on two varieties of the pyramid bag.”

Malone added, “This trend has caught on wildly and has now been picked up by Lipton. The attempt is to get loose tea with the convenience of the bag. It is my theory that this offers convenience, but a tea bag is a tea bag. By nature of the motion of steeping and throwing away, bags do not instill loyalty. Loose tea requires a lifestyle change that is small enough to be interesting, but not so big that it is a hindrance. People who discover loose tea are very loyal to the brand that takes them there. Loose tea companies cannot design around a teabag, so it is important that their packaging fit the lives of the consumer, while still maintaining the integrity of the tea.”

Refreshing Old Packaging
Though the pure tea box has seen some recent shifts there are many advantages to sticking with this perennial favorite. Tea cardboard boxes supply a material that is environmentally friendly and formatted for numerous customized printing techniques for your design, logo, etc.

Many companies are opting for the cardboard box while revamping their existing image. The model from Good Earth Teas, a manufacturer and marketer of specialty herbal and tea blends based in California, demonstrates how the company refreshed its brand and consumer product line with new packaging graphics and five new consumer-preferred tea products. “Recent market research indicated that our current packaging graphics needed updating and was not as relevant for today’s consumers,” stated Roberto Avila, senior product manger. Adding, “The new package design system unifies the Good Earth Teas product line, which is now anchored by a new Good Earth Teas logo.” The new Good Earth logo design features an illustration that captures the essence and origin of each particular flavor providing consumers with a “billboard” effect, making the shopping experience more convenient.

Private Label Packaging
Most small businesses do not have abundant resources to spend on large marketing and advertising campaigns like their national competitors. Having a proprietary private label tea or coffee packaging can set your company apart as well as add a profitable and premium product.

Small and mid-size businesses are finding success with their own version of packaging. Originally perceived as an affordable substitute to the national brand, the generic brand is stepping aside to the new concept in private label - the premium private label brand. Premium, specialty and gourmet product sales are surging, as the seller’s own tea and coffee brand evolves and expands into new market segments building company and product awareness.

In using a private label, roasters and retailers have several advantages over larger manufacturers. While national brands have recognition in their favor, your product can also become well branded and recognized through effective distribution networks as you attain complete control over quality, whereas national brands can, by necessity, buy lower quality products due to high volume requirements. Further, private labeled products allow for more individualized creativity in implementing your visual identity; in an attempt to catch the customer’s eye, whereas larger brands often fall into repetitive design patterns.

With all the options on the market it is certain that the ever-expanding packaging industry has options for every roaster/ retailer. It is crucial to define your niche and brand image that will correlate with the numerous packaging choices in the industry. As Walters stated, “For coffee and tea the package serves as the vital link between the roaster/retailer and the customer by protecting and preserving the flavor and freshness of the product. A roaster, for example, may travel the world and traipse through jungles to find the best quality green coffee beans and then roast the coffee as a fine chef would prepare a gourmet dish. If she then puts the coffee into a package that does not protect the coffee it is like letting the gourmet meal sit out on the counter overnight and serving it the next day cold, on a paper plate.”

Tea & Coffee - April, 2008

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