Trends and Challenges in RTD Tea Packaging and Labelling

The trend towards using healthier ingredients and natural products in ready-to-drink teas presents challenges from a packaging and labelling perspective.
By Sean Riley

The premium and ultra-premium beverage segments have experienced robust growth in recent years with none more so than in the non-alcoholic ready-to-drink (RTD) area. Because of increasing consumer demand, packaging for RTD beverages is expected to grow at about 40 percent or more over the 2018 to 2028 period, according to the 2018 Beverage Trends in Packaging and Processing Operations Report from PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.

Demand is exceptionally high for teas made from actual tea leaves, with consumers believing this type of tea is more desirable than concentrate. From a processing and packaging standpoint, actual tea-leaf teas require new equipment and processes that some large beverage companies can’t accommodate due to space constraints. As a result, co-packers receive much of the new beverage tea production and are building not only new lines but entire new facilities to handle this volume. Smaller beverage companies face challenges in getting the materials and the production time they require at co-packers due to a lack of capacity or availability at North American companies. These companies seek overseas co-packers to fulfill their needs.

The growth of tea from tea leaves also mirrors the trend towards clean labelling seen in many other food and beverage segments. Consumers want healthy ingredients that they recognize on a label, versus additives and preservatives they can’t pronounce. This causes some difficulty for packagers, however, as many additives are specifically used to make beverage processing and packaging easier.

Removing these ingredients leaves production lines in need of adjustment with new equipment or different processes. For example, anti-foaming agents are often used to reduce foaming during the filling process or to help keep beverages homogeneous. Removing these agents may mean that filling machinery must be adapted to slow down filling time for each bottle, and new agitation equipment must be installed to minimize separation.

The increasing desire for natural and organic products has driven the increased use of glass bottles and cartons — two containers with a healthier and environmentally friendly image among most consumers. Consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of beverage packaging, especially in secondary plastic ring packaging, which is traditionally used to hold six- or twelve-packs of cans or bottles together. Currently, paperboard cartons often replace plastic ring packaging. Many respondents in PMMI’s report believe traditional plastic ring packaging will be phased out entirely in five to seven years and replaced with new photodegradable packaging.

Photodegradable HDPE plastic ring packaging is available and degrades in direct sunlight over a one- to two-month period. Smaller beverage makers of premium teas with beneficial ingredients, such as turmeric and ginger, and fermented products, like kombucha, are expected to be the early adopters of this new material. Large beverage manufacturers, on the other hand, are not expected to adopt this new material until the marketplace proves it will accept it and will likely wait two to three years before utilizing this technology.

Pack Expo International, which takes place 14-17 October in Chicago, Illinois, will offer RTD beverage packaging innovation, technology and education. To learn more or register, visit

Sean Riley is senior director, media and industry communications at PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies.

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