Tea brands make a social, economic and environmental statement by aligning with Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Non-GMO and other organizations
Despite the advent of tea pods and other competition, traditional tea bag sales are holding their own, aided in part by sustainable-sourcing efforts.
Retail tea sales grew 2% last year to $2.15 billion, according to the Tea Association of the USA, New York.
While that's not huge growth, it's impressive in light of these recessionary times and new tea evolutions, like ready-to-drink tea, tea drinks at foodservice establishments, and new delivery methods like single-serve pods used to brew tea in home brewing systems, said Tea Association President Joe Simrany.
“Traditional tea has hung in there,” he told SN.
Part of the appeal, Simrany said, is its price point: A box of about 100 bags of mainstream tea costs $3 or less.
“It's one of the least expensive forms of beverage that you can consume,” he said.
At the same time, both mainstream and specialty brands are catering to consumers concerned about improving the economic, social and environmental quality of the areas where tea is sourced.
Seattle-based PCC Natural Markets carries about 300 bagged tea stockkeeping units, the majority of which are Fair Trade Certified. Some of the top-selling brands are Traditional Medicinals, Choice Organic Tea, Numi Tea, Yogi Tea, Stash Tea, Organic India, Celestial Tea, Equal Exchange and Tazo Tea.
The Fair Trade business model provides assurances that producers are fairly treated and compensated, and that sustainable agricultural practices are followed, said Diana Crane, PCC's sustainability director.
“These assurances are important to our customers and important to us,” said Crane.
Choice Organic Teas donates a percentage of sales of five new teas to the Jane Goodall Institute, which seeks to preserve the apes and the environments in which they live.
Packaging for the tea carries the Jane Goodall “Good for All” logo on the packaging, a brand created in 2007 by JGI to recognize companies and environmentally conscious products that reflect Goodall's core values.
“The five teas were developed especially for this project to celebrate the universal passion for tea while supporting JGI and Choice Organic Teas' continued leadership in social and environmental sustainability,” said Anne-Marie Phillips, head of sales and marketing for Choice Organic Teas.
The line includes unique offerings like Wild Forest Black, a rare, wild tea from ancient tea trees growing deep in the forests of Southeast Asia. The trees are about 500 years old and stand at about 20-30 feet. Workers forage through the forest and climb the trees to harvest the tea leaves and process the tea by hand.
“These trees have been a source of tea for the locals for centuries, but only recently available to the rest of the world due to recent efforts by NGOs to develop a positive alternative economy for the region as an alternative to the illegal drug market,” said Phillips.
Another variety is Oothu Garden Green, a single-estate tea from one of the oldest tea gardens in India. It was one of the first organic tea gardens in India as well as one of the first to become Fair Trade Certified.
“Consumer sophistication appears to be growing as demonstrated by increased interest in single-estate teas, tea pyramids and rare sources such as the ancient tea trees,” said Phillips.
Along with the JGI teas, Choice Organic Teas' flagship product line of 29 teas carries the Non-GMO Project Verified seal. The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization promoting organic and natural products that are produced without genetic engineering or recombinant DNA technologies.
Traditional brands are also building their environmental and social programs. Lipton, for instance, has partnered with the Rainforest Alliance as part of the brand's long-term commitment to sustainability, according to Mike Faherty, Lipton's vice president of Center Store.
The Rainforest Alliance is an independent NGO that works with individuals, communities and companies whose livelihoods depend on the land to reduce environmental impacts and increase social and economic benefits.
By 2015, all Lipton Tea bags sold globally will carry the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal, meaning they were sourced from sustainable tea estates.
Along with on-package seals like these, manufacturers are getting the word out about their efforts with photos on packaging. Numi Organic Tea, for instance, just rolled out new packaging to promote its sustainable values and business practices. The back panels of its packages now feature farmer photographs and narrative that detail Numi's farming partners and sourcing practices.
“Numi believes that Fair Trade tea is essential for health of the people and planet and directly working with the gardens is a key to ensuring consistent quality and a steady supply,” said Lara Dickinson, Numi's vice president of marketing. “Numi works directly with the gardens to ensure fair trade practices rather than buying on the secondary market.”
Along with its support of Fair Trade, Numi also gets the word out about its waste-reduction efforts. The bottom panel of Numi's box features an Eco-Audit that reflects the waste reduced due to the company's eco-responsibility efforts. The manufacturer uses natural, biodegradable filter-paper tea bags and recyclable boxes, which are made of 85% post-consumer waste and printed with soy-based inks.
Along with sustainable-sourcing efforts, the health benefits of tea continue to help the category.
Tetley just launched a new “teasplashing” campaign that encourages parents to add fruit juice to decaffeinated tea for a healthier alternative to beverages like hot cocoa. Drinking tea can help kids fight colds because it contains antioxidants, according to Tetley.
As for flavor trends, Choice Organic Teas has seen an increase in oolong teas, which it attributes to publicity on the Dr. Oz show, in which it was recommended for weight loss.
There's also strong interest in superfruits, fruits that are high in nutrients and antioxidants.
Lipton, for instance, introduced Lipton Superfruits, a Green tea subbrand that includes such flavors as Purple Açai and Blueberry, Red Goji and Raspberry, and White Mangosteen and Peach.
To help keep its tea products stay top of mind during the cold weather season, Lipton will introduce a new wire rack display next month. The rack will showcase green tea and other products for the hot tea season. The assortment will switch during the iced tea season.
TEA PARTY AT PRICE CHOPPER
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Price Chopper Supermarkets teamed with Bigelow Tea for a hot tea promotion this month.
Shoppers are automatically entered in “Bigelow Tea / Price Chopper Hot Tea Month” sweepstakes each time they purchase any Bigelow tea product with their loyalty card.
Two grand-prize winners will each get a $500 Price Chopper gift card and a Bigelow tea chest worth $550. Additionally, eight other winners will each get a $250 Price Chopper gift card and a box of Bigelow tea worth about $250.
The promotion kicked off Jan. 30 and ran through Feb. 26.
Winners will be selected in a random drawing.