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A Review of
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World Cup’s Tea Symposium 2001

Our fourth World Cup tea symposium was attended by a diverse audience of over 80 tea professionals, including those in tea retail, production and trading. Delegates convened in Amsterdam from all over the world. Some flew in from countries as far as Israel, Burundi, and Saudi Arabia, while a number of European neighbors also joined in on the fun - proving that there is indeed a desire for a global meeting place for industry members. Companies that sent representatives ranged from small tea blenders to international tea distributors.

The first day of the conference, the tea symposium room at the RAI was filled with members of the tea industry, eager to join in on the discussion with a panel of key tea professionals. Chairman of the Day, Merrill J. Fernando of Dilmah Tea in Sri Lanka, moderated the discussions. Among topics broached (and sometimes heatedly so) were leaf quality and its relevance to cost and the good of the industry, global tea trends including RTD and the growing or declining popularity of tea in different locations, and how to reduce production costs while increasing productivity at the same time. The panel was made up of important tea producers, importers and packers from around the world, including Nick Hedges from eteatrade.com in the U.K., Suraj Vaidya, Guranse Tea Estate in Nepal, Ashoke Jayaram of the Solai Group in Kenya, Sergey Kassianenko of Orimi Trade in Russia, and Steve Smith of Tazo Tea in the U.S.

After a relaxing tea break, a second forum was held, in which the speakers delved into topics including the pros and cons of pesticide use, marketing strategies, and the place organic has in our world today. The panel was made up of Gerhard Klar of H&S Teegesellschaft of Germany, H. de Alwis of the Sri Lanka Tea Board, Lubna Huq (former) member of Tea Board India, and Gerry Vandergrift of Metropolitan Tea Company in Canada.

Between Steve Smith’s 30 years of experience in tea, van Overbruggen’s research and development background, and Gerry Vandergrift’s extensive knowledge in importing and management, the forum proved to once again to touch on hot topics that today’s tea industry wants to talk about. Questions from the audience again fueled the fire.

The second day, hosted by Peter Kühn of Gebruder Wollenhaupt in Germany, was chock full of information for anyone interested in the marketing of tea. Tea continues to carve out a niche for itself in both the hot and cold beverage industries - and some of the leading people making this happen brought their wisdom with them that day. Dr. Sheila Wiseman, a biochemist who works for the Tea and Health research program at Unilever in the Netherlands delivered a very in-depth, technical speech, brimming with information about tea and health, to an enrapt audience. Without getting too far above the layman’s head. She attempted to shed light on the rumors and speculation about tea’s health benefits and/or risks: fact or fiction? Among claims discussed were whether tea is a good source of antioxidants, whether green tea is healthier than black tea, if milk added to tea makes it less healthy, if tea inhibits iron absorption, and if tea is good for the heart. It seems the verdict was that some of these claims have been exaggerated, some have been underrated, and scientists are still getting ambiguous results about others. So the debate continues. Labeling regulations when it comes to health claims for the U.S. and Europe were also discussed.

More directly relating to marketing, our own Jane Pettigrew, writer and editor for the Tea International section of Tea and Coffee Trade Journal, took to the podium. She spoke about the promotion of tea to the world. Tea has always had a positive health message, and she spoke to the best ways to bring this message to the consumer.

She summarized research that showed clearly that the use of the health message in promotional activities can increase consumption (testing went on in Indonesia, Prague, Zimbabwe and Barcelona). Three possible approaches to using the health message that she explored were: leaving the scientists to speak for us; actively using scientists and medical professionals to spread the message; and direct promotion to the consuming public. She went on to explain that in the third approach, care is needed in conveying the message in a way that consumers relate to, react to, connect to, etc. It is most important, she said, to stick with the truth, keep it simple, know the market intimately, and devise ideas and images that use the scientific information in a way that speaks intelligently to the target audience. The audience was very interested in her insight on what works and what doesn’t in the marketing world. Jane is immersed in the tea world, writing books, speaking on tea on radio and television, helping entrepreneurs start up tea rooms and much more. If you missed Sheila Wiseman’s or Jane Pettigrew’s lecture, or just want to refresh your memory, keep an eye out for an article in a future issue of Tea & Coffee, recapping the revelations of the day.

After the day’s tea break, Steve Smith from Tazo Tea, a very successful tea company in the U.S. which is distributed in Starbucks retail shops and other food markets and used in foodservice, spoke about branding for tea. He was an obvious choice to speak on this topic, as the Tazo brand is a unique and visually appealing one. Smith used other examples of good tea graphics and packaging, which have brought tea higher up the ladder from a small specialty niche market, to the larger, trendy health market, and on up to the mainstream. He gave examples of many companies that have been making headway and breaking new ground such as Republic of Tea, and its unique cylindrical packaging design, which has inspired other companies. Smith’s speech was insightful and humorous all at once, leaving attendees with smiles on their faces and questions to be asked from people trying to get a tea brand off the ground, to others who are looking to revamp their brand in order to appeal to a wider consumer audience.

On Thursday, the last day of the symposium, Dietmar Scheffler, managing director of Haelssen & Lyon and Board Member of the German Tea Association, was chairman of the day. He introduced Suzanne Brown, senior marketing consultant of Hope-Beckham and regular contributor to Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. Brown, who has 20 years of experience marketing and promoting tea and coffee, gave a speech that really piqued the delegates’ interest. She spoke about how to define your tea product in a saturated ready-to-drink market. She began by identifying RTD tea competitors as “anything that comes in a single serving bottle or can” (e.g. juices, colas, health drinks, energy drinks, coffees, etc.) She brought up some interesting statistics, such as the number of new beverage products by category. New tea products far surpassed all the other drinks in terms of number of new SKU’s. Current tea trends were discussed, including interest in herbal additives, bubble tea and Yerba Mate, tea lattes, chai lattes, those that participate in social causes, and flavored teas. How can your product stand out among the many? Brown presented examples of companies that have established a niche for themselves, such as Honest Tea with its organic, “less-sweet” appeal. Another way to stand out is with direct marketing, and methods (distribution, positioning, creating a brand name, and communication/special events) and their proper budgeting were discussed. An example of type of event that appeals to the sought-after young drinker was a Pepsi brand’s hosting of athletic events across the U.S. called Pepsi Ball, a game they created specifically for the promotion.

After the tea break, Thomas Schmitt, owner of Orbit Networking, his constancy firm in the foodservice field and Karel Thieme, owner of Thieme’s Echte Thee, both in the Netherlands, spoke to tea’s very promising place in foodservice. Schmidt spoke about some do’s and don’t’s of the restaurant biz. Karel Thieme spoke more specifically on the service of tea, for instance, the importance of using good water, and the importance of a knowledgeable and well-trained staff. Discussions led into the importance of the educated consumer, and the education they can received from well-trained staff, so that page-long wine menus no longer accompany a menu which may only have one, nondescript, choice for the restaurant patron when they want to have a cup of tea. It is the exchanging of ideas on these topics important to the future of tea that make forums like the symposium necessary.

Tea & Coffee - September/October 2001


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