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Interest in “functionality” remains high

I recently attended the ERCM Coffee, Tea & Cocoa EPPS in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I was a presenter and moderated a panel discussion. The two-day conference featured pre-scheduled 20- and/or 10-minute meetings in which suppliers of coffee, tea and cocoa had the opportunity to present new items and promotional opportunities to buyers across a variety of retail channels. Prior to joining Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, I spent the bulk of my career covering the retail industry, but this was my first true retail conference in five years—it was fun to return.

The retailers were a mix of large- and medium-sized US national chains, while the suppliers were, for the most part, medium- and small-sized companies. No matter the size, one thing was evident—functional or wellness teas are still driving retail sales. A recent study from market research firm The Mintel Group found that 29% of respondents want health benefits in their ready-to-drink (RTD) tea, while 23% specifically looked for functional benefits in their RTD tea. (More than 85% of the US tea market is iced tea, which comes in the form of RTD or refrigerated teas.)

At the ECRM Coffee, Tea & Cocoa EPPS, several companies displayed their functional tea assortments. For example, Hyleys Tea offers a line of natural teas with health benefits ranging from weight loss, cleansing, immunity boosting and detox, which was a mint tea. Hyleys markets its products—including its functional/wellness line—in 28 countries. Aloha Tea’s product line features organic, “goal-based” functional teas in nine varieties such as Clean, Sleep, Protect, Calm, Soothe and Focus. The teas come in biodegradable sachets.

The “functional” aspect is even working its way into coffee. Another study from Mintel found that a majority of consumers are interested in coffee with additional health and wellness benefits or functionalities. The added benefits that most interest consumers range from energy and metabolism boosting to antioxidants to heart and digestive health benefits to immunity support. Furthermore, many of these consumers are willing to pay more for coffees with added benefits.

At the conference, Coffee Blenders was highlighting its single serve (Keurig compatible) functional coffee as well as gourmet single serve pour over coffee. According to the company, their functional coffee contains a “therapeutic dose of an all-natural, clinically proven ingredient to improve well-being.” Thus, Lean Cup is for weight wellness, Think Cup is for cognitive performance, Relax Cup is for stress and anxiety, and Nude Cup is specialty, organic coffee. As coffee with functional benefits is still an emerging category, it will be a “wait and see” to determine how consumers respond, despite many saying they want benefits in coffee.

But in every cup of coffee and tea—not just those with functional benefits—it all comes down to taste. As long as their coffee or tea has a great taste, consumers will buy it. However, if the product does not taste good, the consumer will not support it, no matter what the health benefits may be.

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