During this supermarket tour other changes become obvious. Among them is the number of new companies marketing tea in new and unique forms. Traditional packers of black tea now offer herbal blends as well as specialty teas and traditional herbal packers now offer new black and green tea blends. Bottled water and soft drink companies have expanded their product lines to include ready-to-drink tea and new startup companies are pouring into the marketplace. Green tea once nearly impossible to find in conventional supermarkets is now in widespread distribution, and even Oolong and White tea is occasionally found.
Additionally, Specialty Teas have also found their way into supermarkets in a greater variety than ever before and are available from large packers as well as from smaller regional tea companies and even imported brands from European and Asian countries. New shapes, sizes, and flavors abound as well as new consumer interest in the tea category. Even the tea bag has jumped the barrier from Traditional to Specialty Tea in new materials and new shapes. Also the long banned Pu-erh tea (under the Tea Importation Act of 1896) is finding its way into the American market.
Look for the emergence of a new category of tea products. Tea infused waters and tea energy drinks. In addition look for new versions of tea infused alcoholic and malt beverage specialties such as Hard Tea.
Venturing outside of the supermarket environment, the casual observer continues to be bombarded with changes taking place within the Tea Industry. Thanks, in large part, to the ready-to-drink version of tea, the availability of tea in non-traditional outlets has increased dramatically. Today tea may be found in warehouse clubs, mass merchandisers, gas marts, drug stores, and convenience stores. Also, the availability of tea has benefited from large distribution increases in the vending sector and in the foodservice sector.
Even if you don't shop in supermarkets, mass merchandisers, convenience stores, or use vending machines, you're probably still exposed to the changes taking place within the Tea Industry. Evidence of tea’s many contributions to health can be found on television in the form of increased advertising and publicity and even endorsements from TV personalities such as Oprah and Dr. Oz; in newspapers and magazines through paid advertising, on radio through famous spokespeople endorsements, news announcements and interviews, and published in medical journals in ever-increasing numbers.
Even if you're a coffee lover, there is no escaping the fact that tea’s popularity is ever-increasing. One only has to note the growing availability of Specialty Teas in the thousands of coffee shops across the country. Even for confirmed coffee lovers, tea has a new appeal in the form of a product called Chai - a blend of tea, spices, and milk. And for a new generation of tea drinkers, or simply the young at heart, bubble tea outlets are popping up in major metropolitan areas across the United States. Today, there are over 4,000 specialty tea rooms and retail shops in big cities and small towns across America with an ever increasing number in Canada as well. In addition, nearly all upscale hotels offer an Afternoon Tea service. Just recently Starbucks has announced their intention to open up a tea shop under the TAZO name.
Of dubious value is even the emergence of a new political party called the Tea Party. While this political movement has virtually nothing to do with consuming tea, it still serves to keep the “tea” name on consumers’ minds.
Obviously, most Tea Industry insiders view all of these changes positively because they are serving to make tea more readily available and convenient to millions of potential consumers. More importantly, these changes are useful in raising top-of-mind awareness among consumers. As any marketer will tell you, top-of-mind awareness is critical to future growth.
Why, after so many years, is change so rampant in the Tea Industry? What has occurred to cause a beverage that has been commonly available for hundreds of years in the United States to behave as if it were introduced yesterday? These answers are found by examining the changes, by questioning the trade, by reviewing overall food and beverage trends, and by understanding consumer motivation.
A predominant force driving tea’s new popularity is its convenience. Ready-to-drink tea in bottles, cans, aseptic packaging, plastic containers, or any other packaging configuration brings the ultimate in convenience to consumers. Ease of preparation has never been a strong selling point for tea and, in a nation that demands convenience, has served to act as a constraint on sales until now. It was this same demand for convenience that caused the Tea Industry to introduce the tea bag in 1904 and to create instant tea and iced tea mixes in the 40s and 50s.