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Tea Products and the Changing Consumer

By Brian Milgate

Brian Milgate, managing director of Australian Native Foods Management Ltd., produces Lemon Myrtle tea products. In this article, he suggests that tea companies need to take heed of increasing consumer interest in quality and flavor.

The evolution of tea products now available on the shelves of retail outlets has continued to lift tea from its undeserved "undervalued" status. Categories including green tea, herbal, and flavored, as well as organic and chemical free tea products are at the forefront of the changing trend. Traditional tea categories have also benefited from improvements in packaging.

This change in consumer demand appears to be multi-faceted. Quality remains the primary issue. However, the average consumer is now more influenced by the quality of the flavor and packaging, and less influenced by the origin of the tea. This is good news for the blenders, tea packers, and marketers, although some of the bigger tea estates - particularly those who are now selling tea at cost or below cost - may find themselves in a situation where they continue to be disadvantaged by this trend.

Manufacturing and Marketing Options
In order to maintain viability, tea producers are increasingly looking to for ways to participate in this growth area of the market. Suppliers of tea bag machines continue to report the sale of machines to companies which are newly participating in tea manufacturing. They also report that tea manufacturing companies who were part of the considerable expansion in recent years are becoming more sophisticated in their product concepts. The expansion of the operations of tea manufacturers is evidenced by collectors of tea bag envelopes who can boast 10,000 separate envelopes in their collections.

Further evidence of the changing trends can be seen in the re-emergence of specialty tea shops in the U.K., the U.S., and in areas such as Germany, as well as the introduction of specialty teas into international coffee house chains. This marketing of tea, and the availability of specialty teas, sets a price equivalent for tea and coffee beverages. The emerging teashop developers appear to have a preference for strongly aromatic teas, as well as traditional high quality teas.

Medicinal Developments
However, real change in tea trends and perhaps a strong insight into the future can be seen in countries like Malaysia, where the number one herbal tea category and the fastest growing beverage product has been the range of Australian manufactured Lemon Myrtle tea products, including black tea and green tea blends. These products are successfully marketed through pharmacies, a very clear indication that consumers have broadened their acceptance of the health benefits of teas and herbals, and are buying tea for both taste and health reasons. As teas such as the lemon myrtle gain therapeutic registration, the general recognition of tea as a healthy beverage will be further enhanced.

Perhaps in the future we will see tea products being used as a drug delivery system. For example, unpalatable drugs may be blended into citral rich tea blends (verbena, lemongrass, lemon myrtle), thus ensuring the delivery of the targeted pharmaceutical along with a tea beverage known to remedy gastro discomfort.

Certainly the very positive trends to provide consumers with new products, higher quality as well as organic certified products, and better quality packaging is rewarding those companies taking bold steps in this direction. However with such heavy competition in the beverage market, it may not in itself bring relief to those large-scale traditional tea plantations now on the borderline of viability.

As well as scientific background, Brian Milgate is skilled in international marketing policy. He recently attended the Tea & Coffee World Cup held in Amsterdam. He can be contacted at sailor@whitsunday.net.au.

Tea & Coffee - November/December 2001


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