NEW YORK -- Specialty teas may be the next big luxury food item, according to experts at the "Brewing a Strong Bottom Line" seminar at the Fancy Foods Show here last week. "Tea today is a long way from your mother's afternoon tea," said Joe Simrany, president of the Tea Council of the USA, the education and public relations branch of the Tea Association of the USA. "What's changed about tea now is that it's appealing to a much broader audience."
The tea category in general has seen sales grow about 150% since 1990 to become a $4.8 billion category, he said. The relatively new ready-to-drink tea segment is currently the largest at $1.75 billion in sales. Traditional tea sales in supermarkets have grown from less than $1 billion a decade ago to $1.7 billion today.
And, Simrany estimated that the specialty tea segment now accounts for about $500 million in sales.
"Specialty tea has the potential to become one of the most important segments in the tea industry," he said, adding that it could experience a wave similar to the specialty coffee trend of recent years.
Gerry Vandergrift, president of the Metropolitan Tea Co., Buffalo, N.Y., drew the same parallel. "In 1978 this sector of the market was less than 5% of the business. Today, 23 years later, it is more than 35% of the market -- and a larger market to boot."