NATC delves into sustainability and the millennial mindset

Fall for Tea, North American Tea Conference, which took place 20-22 September, was a true global affair bringing together importers, producers, and tea companies in over 19 countries including Kenya, China, Argentina and Malawi. Set in the beautiful backdrop of Niagara Falls, Canada, over 100 attendees came together to share their concerns, develop new insights and ensure that the future of tea is sustained.

After a day of exploring the beauty of the Niagara region, Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy, Brown, Brothers Harriman shared insights on the North American economic landscape including the impact of low interest rates and the upcoming election. While, Ian Gibbs, chairman, International Tea Committee, provided a global perspective on the world of tea, focusing on both the production and consumption trends and that current production levels currently exceed consumption levels. Increasing consumption, shared Gibbs, was not insurmountable, in fact, it was a simple as increasing 80 percent of North Americans consumption by one cup a day. The challenge was how to bring in both newer customers, while encouraging current ones to increase consumption.

A challenge, that the next speaker Marion Chan, principal, Trendspotter Consultant, addressed with her talk Teaing up for the Future. Emphasizing the importance of developing tea as a brand, Chan identified the significance of the millennial cohort, who will increase their spending by 107 percent by 2020, and that 73 percent are willing to pay more for a brand that they see as both authentic and sustainable. Chan’s talk set the foundation for the upcoming days, where she identified the two hot points of the conference, sustainability and millennials, with both issues discussed at great length in the proceeding days.

The following day was filled with dialogue, debates and discussion, addressing controversial issues and key industry challenges including the viability of the tea industry and identifying the significance of sustainability. Attendees were challenged to identify both teas assets and risks with the end goal being to ensure that tea is kept relevant for today’s consumers. In the speaker session, Louise Pollock, Pollock Communications, identified on the multiple opportunities for tea beginning with capitalizing on the current food trends including clean ingredients, honoring its global heritage and transparency. The key, stated Pollock, is to be authentic, true to the tea heritage and transparent, by doing so tea companies will begin to be build brand loyalty which could then be elevated through sharing their sustainable practices.

During the evening, the winners were announced for both the Gold Medal Tea Competition and Sustainability Award, celebrating both high quality tea across the globe and the positive impact of both environmental and social sustainability. The gold award winner for social sustainability was Emrok Tea, with their Emrok Ngererit World School Reader. The Metropolitan Tea Company received the gold award for environmental sustainability with their environmental action program.

The conference wrapped up with updates on government regulations, insights of the herbal tea industry in Europe and what could be done in North America, presented by Katie Donnelly, TATA Global Beverages, and a presentation from Sarah Roberts, Ethical Tea Partnership, on both some of the pressing social issues and the sustainable actions that are currently taking place. As a final note, Joel Gregoire of market research firm, The Mintel Group, shared how the industry could revitalize tea by expanding the focus from health to capitalizing on the emotional well being that tea fulfills including relaxation, comfort and revitalization.

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