Suley Muratoglu, VP, marketing and product management at Tetra Pak US & Canada says natural brewed tea – leaves plus hot water – is very different from standard US product seen on the shelves of grocery stores.
Tea is naturally a low-acid beverage, but most of it is produced at high-acid plants catering for soft drinks, where manufacturers must satisfy Federal regulations for product manufacture.
“In its purest form, tea’s acidity ranges from neutral to strongly alkaline. But to meet federal regulations for bottling in the more prevalent high-acid plants alongside sodas and juices, manufacturers must first alter the pH of the naturally alkaline tea, which most do by adding ascorbic acid,” he writes.
“To reduce the bitterness caused by this acid, companies commonly add sugar or artificial sweeteners – which alleviate the harsh taste but can change tea’s flavour,” he adds.
Mainstream tea sales stew
So much for ‘mainstream’ grocery stores teas, which Muratoglu says sales of which will be flat through to 2015 at least (IRI) contrasting with robust growth for premium and super-premium teas in the US and Canada.
Innovative varieties are ranging beyond green, white and black, with the incorporation of nutraceuticals such as flowers, herbs and roots.
IRI predicts that the super-premium volume share of a $3.5bn US RTD tea market will rise from 6.8% in 2010 to 9.8% in 2015 – despite a higher price point – and Muratoglu notes tea’s natural antioxidant benefits that attract consumers – research suggesting tea boost stamina, protects against cancers and heart disease, etc.
He says industry can tap this premium trend by (1) adopting aseptic processing and cartons – flash heat treatment renders tea shelf stable and retains ‘original brewed’ quality without the need for preservatives.
“Japanese tea giant Ito En – which uses aseptic cartons for some of its higher-end tea, is moving into the US market, and could be a trendsetter,” Muratoglu says.
‘Selling a cultural experience’
(2) Selling a cultural experience. He adds that perceived health benefits are one reason consumers are hunting down ‘cleaner-label’ premium teas, but brands should also tap the millennial desire to feel worldly and cultured.
“These tea drinkers know their oolong from their Darjeeling, and packaging and marketing should be short on ingredients and long on history and culture to connect with this aspiration,” Muratoglu writes.
Finally, the Tetra Pak VP says the value- added products such as Kombucha and Jun are two fermented drinks “that hold a health allure even beyond regular tea”.
Non-tea steeped drinks such as rooibos, ginseng and elderflower are growing sales in the tea space, while fruit-tea hybrids are emerging far beyond standard lemonade-black tea blends, “though companies should innovate while minimizing added sugars to stay on trend”, Muratoglu adds.