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Tea Packaging and Slogan Trends

by Randy Altman

Packaging is the unsung hero of the global tea business. Tea estates grow lovely verdant bushes on picturesque terrain, but then rely on tea packaging to sell their output. Every ounce of tea at some point between harvest and consumption exists in a container, and retail point-of-purchase laws often make it necessary for packaging to display net weight, nation of origin, and company address. In fact, throughout the entire Western world almost all tea bought for home consumption is in labeled packaging.

The broadest trend in retail tea is the expansion of cardboard packaging. Other packaging trends exist, but are more narrowly focused. On the lowest demographic end, plastic packets are expanding market territory among the rural indigent; on the most upscale end, the materials used for packaging include brass, ceramic, porcelain, fine hardwoods, and micro-engineered tins. While such prestigious packaging elevates the status of the entire tea trade, this top line contains only a fraction of a single percent of the tea sold world-wide by net weight. The most popular mid-range packaging format, cardboard, captures the major market share.

Countless millions of cardboard tea boxes sit on store shelves throughout the world. These boxes are the primary vehicle for tea brands and company slogans to reach consumer awareness. The alternative to entering consumer consciousness is failure. Companies in this competitive business are now allocating additional money for more attractive packaging. Graphic designers and advertising experts are among the highest paid professionals now hired by successful tea companies. Even lawyers enter the packaging picture, advising on proper labeling of trademark, copyright, nation-of-origin, net weight, contents, and health or purity claims.

Customer perception of a package creates brand equity and purchaser loyalty. The image presented by the package largely determines success or failure of a tea line. Appearance stimulates memories and emotions inside the purchaser, who oftentimes is female, often buying for an entire family. Color, imagery, and slogans all combine to facilitate customer allegiance.

Tea executives are routinely sophisticated in production, tax avoidance, labor management, and a hundred other business topics. Yet they rarely understand packaging design. The executives, almost always men, who authorize final decisions on packaging generally lack artistic design knowledge. Good tea packaged in a dull box can earn a profit, but will sell below potential.

Executives who hold ultimate approval over packaging decisions tend to attain their senior positions after working in areas of the tea business unrelated to the topic of stylistic point-of-purchase image. I notice that these executives do not know the names for the colors on their company's packaging, even if they decided upon the packaging themselves; and precise hues, tints, and shadings do influence consumer choice, as market research consistently demonstrates.

Blue is the best example. For household products bought by women, blue packaging generates more sales. The tea industry remains behind many consumer goods sectors in performing market research about packaging. If you are interested in an education in the power of integrating blue into packaging, walk down a laundry product aisle.

Tea companies that are subsidiaries of larger corporations tend to enjoy packaging and branding advantages. The world's most widely distributed branded tea, Lipton, is a relatively small component of Unilever, a leader in the entire household goods category and one of the most powerful corporations in existence. Unilever owns the newest tea product with the potential to substantively change consumer habits: Lipton's Cold Brew Blend. This brand's box top and upper front are cyan blue with a soft, deep red banner. The main color of front and sides is a sunny yellow.

Both yellow and red can attract a shopper, helping the tea package to stand out from the many other brands sharing shelf space. Blue is one of the least intimidating colors, rarely generating a negative impression, and often conveying positive emotions, like security and relaxation in specific hues like "baby blue," "sky blue," "powder blue," and "robin's egg blue." All are friendly, safe, modestly charming images, with the air of calm family lifestyle. Unilever protects its brand names, slogans, and packaging innovations with trademark and copyright. One package of Cold Brew Blend displays the registration mark six times and the copyright notice once. Skillfully reinforcing the brand name in the public mind, the word "Lipton" appears 21 times, in various sizes, on the 48-count teabag retail cardboard box. These 21 brand-name "hits" are accomplished without ostentation, and represent modern use of packaging to entrench brand equity.

Lipton knows a cardboard box is more than just a container for the tea inside, serving double duty as potent publicity. Packaging labels send signals not just to consumers, but to other tea companies, proclaiming legally protected status for brand names, slogans, logos, design and text, warning competitors against duplicating their use.

Complexity arises with truly global branding. Unilever does control many companies, in different nations, that use the name "Lipton," including Hindustan Lever Ltd, itself a huge, powerful, diversified company that markets Lipton-branded packaging.

Whether a middle-class buyer of Lipton is in the Asian subcontinent or the U.S., he or she is exposed to the same red and yellow packaging colors. Multi-national tea companies maintain an advantage by marketing consistent colors across national boundaries, reinforcing global branding. The color of currency (and the color of human skin) may vary among regions of the world, but a truly global corporation can create a uniformity of appearance impossible for any other entity, even a government.

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