Tea 2030: Engaging Consumers

NIAGARA FALLS, ON

The London-based nonprofit Forum for the Future, recognizing the unique nature of tea in the U.S. and Canada, has launched a North American work stream to identify opportunities and address concerns specific to this market.

Tea2030 Director Mark Driscoll

Tea2030 Director Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll, the Forum’s head of food, said that the collaborative Tea 2030 project is entering its fourth phase. Tea2030 is a private-public initiative that brings together NGOs, multinationals and government to address concerns that are bigger than any single organization can resolve, said Driscoll.

The Forum conducted its third Tea 2030 U.S. and Canadian workshop last week at the North American Tea Conference. Working groups convened to discuss three topics: sustainability risks in sourcing tea from Argentina; sustainability risks involved in sourcing Chinese tea; and “engaging consumers,” a broadly defined effort to connect everyday consumers with the origin and processing of tea.

Following the workshop, Driscoll, who heads up Tea2030, said he is on the hunt for a few key stakeholders for two potential projects in North America: engaging North American consumers and mapping and mitigating sustainability risk in Argentina.

“We are exploring the potential for a consumer engagement campaign (targeting millennials and others to be determined) to encourage the consumption of more sustainable teas and closing the production and consumption gap,” said Driscoll. “This will better tell the story of tea to consumers and link with messages around health and sustainability. We will be working up the detail in the next few weeks.”

John Snell, Director Tea Procurement and Development at Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee in Toronto, told the group that tea should be the out-of-home No. 1 beverage of choice. He urged participants to focus on increasing sales of black tea. Ideas included “popup” tea retail and large-scale sampling at public events such as concerts and fairs.

Michael Caraway, partner at Caraway Tea Company in Highland, New York, presented the case for consumer engagement: “It’s through the story of tea, which we already know is varied and amazing, that we draw in consumer’s interest. By first capturing the attention of consumers through the wonderful tastes and nuances of tea we can introduce them to the concept of sustainability,” he said.

“As we’ve seen in other industries, once the consumer is emotionally involved, they will naturally become curious about where tea comes from, how it’s made, and the conditions of the plantation workers. Then we can tell the wonderful stories of what tea companies across the globe are already doing and the challenges we are still facing,” said Caraway.

Sustainability was a topic of conversation throughout the week-long activities hosted by the Tea Association of Canada, which alternates with the Tea Association of the USA to present the annual conference. This year’s event introduced the first tea sustainability awards along with prizes for tea and discussions on the state of the industry.

Sarah Roberts with the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) outlined sourcing risks in several countries including India, China, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and Argentina. Risks include low wages, poor agrochemical management, child labor, sanitation, and health and safety concerns.

Among the producers, the 60 workshop participants singled out Argentina as a key exporter to the North American market, said Driscoll. Argentina “confronts a number of environmental and social challenges over the next 10 to 20 years. If there is interest from key partners, we plan to map and develop a risk register, prioritize key risks, and identify ways to manage these risks,” he said.

Forum staff will next review the prioritized actions with the North America Tea 2030 group and develop an implementation plan for moving forward with these actions, said Driscoll, adding the outcomes of this workshop and a full list of prioritized actions will be circulated by the end of the year.

The process is in its “early days yet,” said Driscoll, “the conference talked a lot about the need for collaboration so we will see if these projects have legs!”

Learn more: Tea2030