Tea Magazine Evolves…

PHILADELPHIA, Penn. — Tea Magazine® a 20-year-old consumer publication for tea enthusiasts is replacing its bi-monthly print edition with a combined print +online content package for its readers, including a new book-style softcover guide to tea published annually.

In mid-April ITEM Media will launch The Daily Tea (www.thedailytea.com) a subscription-based tea portal replacing www.teamag.com. Visitors to the site will see a mix of free and paid content, along with new articles each month, and some previously published in Tea Magazine. Subscribers have their choice of several different newsletters — for example, newsletters targeted to those interested in cooking with tea; Yoga and tea; tea travel and terroir.

Chief Media Officer Graham Kilshaw

Chief Media Officer Graham Kilshaw

Subscribers will get at least three new feature articles a month, “…the articles will be accompanied by video, behind-the-scenes interviews and picture galleries, which is a lot more than we could do in print,” said Chief Media Officer Graham Kilshaw.

Since acquiring the magazine in January 2012, “we have built the audience from just a couple of thousand to more than 30,000. Most of this growth has come from our digital platforms, and very little has come from our print media,” said Kilshaw.

“We now see an opportunity to grow our audience significantly beyond its current 30,000 people – digitally. Consequently we are going to make several changes starting in May 2014,” he said.

The 150-page book-style magazine, often referred to as a “bookazine” will have longer in-depth feature articles on science, geography and history and “great photography,” said Kilshaw. There will also be a catalog of tea products, said Kilshaw. The publication will be mailed to all subscribers and sold nationally in bookstores and by grocers including Whole Foods Market.

Annual subscriptions are $24.99 and include the new $9.99 “Tea Magazine 2015 Tea Guide” mailed annually in September.
Kilshaw was upbeat about the new direction which he described as “evolving from predominately print with a little bit of digital to becoming predominately digital with a little bit of print.”

“This is all about aligning our goals and strategy with our resources. Producing the print magazine required us to spend 80 percent of our resources on 20 percent of the content. During the past 24 months print subscriptions increased by a couple of thousand while our digital audience has grown by five times,” he said.

LOGO_TeaMagazine_400px“The change in the mix of media is driven by our readers,” said Kilshaw. “Print generally-speaking attracts an older demographic and we want to reach a broad audience. Younger tea drinkers are forming their tea habits now, experimenting widely and trying out lots of different teas. They represent the future customers of our media clients,” he said, adding , “We want to build a very large audience for the tea community.”

The company expects to soon announce a new content manager to replace Kate Sullivan who left in December.

Learn more: www.thedailytea.com

Service and Innovation

Service and innovation differentiate tea retailers. At its core, specialty tea is a commodity since most blends use similarly sourced mid-grade green or black tea enhanced with ingredients and flavor.

The lowest tier in the sector consists of tea-only blends that are bagged and retail for less than $300 a kilo. The entry point is $5 for 200 grams (equivalent to a 100 ct. box of 2-gram teabags) or $25 per kilo with many supermarket teas selling for $7 to $8 per box ($35-$40 per kilo). This tea costs $2 per kilo at origin and is blended with similarly priced teas for consistency. It costs $1 to ship a kilo to the U.S. and less than $1 to fill, tag and box 100 tea bags. Marketing established blends is a rising cost. Store-brand competitors pressure national brands but there will always be a place for bottom-shelf tagless tea bags selling around a nickel to a dime.

The upper tier is loose leaf with fruit, spice and floral inclusions, pyramid bagged, gift boxed or in tins. A 25-gram pouch of specialty blend sells for $15, earning retailers $300 per kilo. Retailers get only 5-cents a tea bag selling Lipton but they sell a lot of Lipton. Nearly every home in the country has a nationally branded tea in the pantry. Fewer than one in ten are willing to pay $1 a tea bag for a foil-wrapped Tea Forté pyramid (with 4 to 6 grams of tea) but grocers selling Adagio, Rishi, Numi and Republic of Tea are getting $250 a kilo a ten-fold premium.

The core component of these teas arrives in shipping containers warehoused and blended by a few gateway importers with entrenched (often family) supply chains originating in China, Taiwan, Japan, Sri Lanka, Kenya and India. Raw materials for blending are very similarly sourced and priced with tea often the least expensive component. There are an infinite number of blends and taste sensations but remarkably little variance in a warehouse stacked to the ceiling with four million pounds of tea.

This is why service and innovation are critical to retail success. Service is the key point of differentiation. It begins with that first impression, the cold-call presentation that gives buyers a reason to believe that working with you as a wholesaler will benefit their business. There are often two or three wholesalers with identical price points pitching a retailer whose first concern must be to meet the needs (within limitations) of his or her customers. The fact that sales of these similar teas are growing is due to the nearly continuous introduction of new formulations and experimental blends and the presence of color, texture (chunks and leaves, not dust) and intense flavor (often added).

This suggests the path forward is to innovate with taste and convenience foremost. Cultivate in those who show interest a more sophisticated appreciation of the profitable, highest quality teas. Tell the story, let them taste the tea. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Retailer and customer advance in step with sellers bringing ever-larger numbers of specialty tea drinkers into the tent where a growing percentage of newly-converted tea lovers share and spread the joy of discovery after readily paying the always-reasonable price for the pleasure of a fine cup of tea.

LinkedIN: Share you thoughts on the importance of service and innovation.

—- Dan Bolton

Need to Know (Aug. 19, 2013)

What you need to know to start the week.

DARJEELING, India – An economic blockade of tea will expand this week to include timber as the Gorkhaland Joint Action Committee (GJAC) seeks official recognition of a state to be carved from Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts. The five-day protest that began Aug. 19 will slow processing and transport but the bulk of high-quality second-flush tea was exported in June and early July. The first- and second-flush represent 40 percent of the estimated 9-10 million kilos harvested this season but 80 percent of revenue. Autumnal teas and the great majority of lower-grade tea from small holders will bear the brunt of the disruption. The dispute has been ongoing for 25 years. Gorkha are Nepali-speaking citizens of India. There are an estimated 10 million living in northern India. Learn more.

Retail News
LONDON, England – A blend of Tetley original black tea and green tea reflects marketers’ desire to promote tea’s functional benefits to younger drinkers, according to Mintel International.
Beverage Daily noted that convenience is the key consumption driver for a core soft drink target group with consumption expected to rise 9.4% through 2017. The report, Tea and Other Hot Drinks disclosed 20 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds find many herbal teas tasteless but one third indicated herbal teas are healthier than standard varieties. The U.K. survey of 1333 tea drinkers 16 and older was conducted in Feb. 2013. Learn more.

DURHAM, N. Carolina – There is no effective treatment for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease which affects nearly 70 percent of the obese and diabetics. But researchers at Duke University of Medicine and Graduate Medical School reveal “mounting evidence” that caffeine in tea and coffee triggers lipids in liver cells to metabolize which lowers the amount of fat. Tests were done on mice. The findings are to be published in the journal Hepatology. Learn more.◊

NEW DELHI, India – India’s small tea growers do not have ready access to market data to guide pricing. Most rely on agents who currently purchase about 60 percent of tea at the village level or direct. These leaves are then delivered to “bought leaf factories.”  To remedy potential inequities in pricing the Tea Board of India in each tea-producing district announced it will publish the average price of tea along with production statistics, quantity of made tea and the rate it was auctioned. The District Price Monitoring Committees, which include small growers, will establish a useful benchmark but do not require agents to disclose to growers which factory bought the individual grower’s leaf. Learn more.

NEW YORK, New York – Miriam Novalle, founder & CEO of T Salon, a 5th Avenue retailer founded in 1992 phoned with word that Oprah Winfrey considers her tea a “must have for the summer.” T Salon’s selection of 12 oz. glass mason jars are recyclable with six 8-gram bags inside, enough to make a quart each of fresh brewed tea, said Novalle. Oprah picked a sencha green tea infused with coconut and pineapple. Learn more.

BEDFORD, England – In the 1840s, Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, was the first to serve afternoon tea, but the 1920s marked the height of the craze, complete with lots of guests, pageantry, servants, silver teapots, fine linens, musicians, elegant teacups, and the best tea money could buy, according to etiquette expert Lisa Mirza Grotts. The Huffington Post offers her concise history and lists The Do’s and Don’ts of Afternoon Tea. Learn more.

Unraveling the Fibers of Silken Tea Bags

TWEET: Nylon versus corn-based PLA – Which tea sachet material will become the fiber of choice?

In April 2013 The Atlantic published a story entitled “Are Tea Bags Turning Us Plastic?” examining the materials used in the increasingly popular “silken” tea sachets and pouches. It raised questions about the safety of these products for consumers.

I first looked at this topic back in 2009 when I examined a wide variety of packaging materials for tea bags as well as for loose and ready-to-drink teas for Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. At that time Helsinki, Finland-based Ahlstrom had recently started promoting a new filter material made of PLA (polylactic acid.) It was appealing for making tea bags because it would keep its shape, while also allowing tea drinkers to see what was inside. It was considered an improvement on the other “silken” products on the market which were made of nylon.

Very few of the companies using “silken” or “mesh” materials in their pouch construction had been communicating that the “silk” was actually nylon. Nylon had been used as a synthetic replacement for silk since World War II. In recent decades, however, consumers have become increasingly attuned to concerns about plastics in food packaging. In a product like a tea bag, which is then immersed in hot water, the worries reached a higher level for some tea drinkers. Nylon is also produced from petroleum which raised environmental concerns for people focusing on being more green in their purchasing. PLA offered an alternative.

PLA was considered a more environmentally-friendly option because it is made from cornstarch instead of petroleum products. Corn is converted into an industrial resin that can be shaped into a mesh form. These products were first introduced in the 1980s but they were far too expensive for regular use. Years of fine-tuning improved the process so instead of costing $200/pound to manufacture, it now costs less than $1/pound. The other advantage commonly cited is that PLA bags are biodegradable and compostable. However, PLA has its own challenges.

Because corn is the primary ingredient of the process and much of the corn supply is genetically modified, PLA loses some of its standing as a more environmentally friendly option. Further research into its compostability raises a few other flags. PLA pouches and sacs will not biodegrade in your backyard compost heap. They can only be broken down in industrial and municipal composting facilities. Since most consumers do not have access to these programs, most PLA tea packaging will end up in a landfill, just like the nylon sacs.

Because of their physically attractive qualities and their association with luxury tea products, it is unlikely that the nylon or the PLA tea pouches and sachets are going away soon. It does seem likely, however, that customers will be asking more questions about their safety and the impact of their use and savvy tea companies should be sure to be equipped with those answers.

— Katrina Ávila Munichiello

©Mystic Media 2013

LinkedIn: In an effort to reduce the use of petroleum-based nylons, some companies have turned to corn-based PLA (polylactic acid) for their tea sachets and pouches. But are they really better for the environment and for our health?