Expo Floor Crowded With Enthused Retailers

World Tea Expo welcomed several thousand attendees to the show Friday at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The day began in earnest with educational sessions meant to edify, alert and inspire retailers.

Inspiration came early for those who attended Dan Bolton's Top Tea Retail Trends session, where he shared the good news with the packed room. Letting retailers know that "it's a wonderful business to be in," set the tone for the talk and the day. With a stack of stats to back up his positive pronouncement, Bolton regaled the group with tales of growth. Led by big gains in the ready-to-drink category, sales of all tea in the U.S. zoomed up to $8.5 billion in tea retail and foodservice, a happy number to report.

Tea now represents a 5.4 share of the nation's liquid refreshment market and per capita consumption is 157 cups, a long way from the 730 cups that Asians enjoy annually.

Bolton let retailers know they had lots of room to grow as the U.S. which represents a modest 9% of the global tea market. Curious about his audience, Bolton then instructed the retailers to get out their cell phones and text in codes corresponding to their transaction numbers and amounts. All in an effort to gauge retail size and stature, and from here, nudge retailers to think bigger.

Linda Clifford, a Hudson, Quebec, tearoom owner, raved about the talk. "He motivated me beyond belief and gave me a million and one ideas," she enthused. "He blew me away."

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Next door, Babette Donaldson coached retailers on finding their unique "voice" as it relates to their teahouse brand. In her talk, Unique Settings, Not Your Traditional Tea Room, Donaldson capitalizes on the expansion of the teashop beyond the traditional "grandmotherly" stodgy, for-women-only, teahouse. A slide show of teashops, teahouses and salons from around the country offered up one-of-a-kind, thematic, and quirky, but accessible, teashop ideas.

The show floor bustled with iced and brewed teas on every corner. Bamboo tea, brewed from the ubiquitous plant, joins the list of new products to sample as you walk the floor. Taiwan Oolong commanded a big space in the middle of the showfloor with a three-person panel discussion and samples of oolongs forming a welcoming boundary around the booth. Rishi Tea landscaped their booth with prettily displayed tea blends that looked good enough to eat out of the sample dish. New iced tea blends including a violet-colored libation drew in a line of samplers. Runa sampled its Amazonian guyasa for the second year in a row, riding the wave of new kid on the block.

Pavan Chandra, of Deckan Tea and Coffee in the Detroit area, was enjoying his first show, looking for vendors and suppliers for his on-the-go business selling brewed tea at events and farmers markets. Among the many things to catch his eye on the show floor were travel tumblers, just the thing to take on the road. "These will get more people into drinking tea more frequently," he says. "Always a good thing."

Upstairs, attendees were treated to a Royal Tea of Kenya tea tasting and a glimpse into the historical and social justice implications of tea-growing in Kenya. Fiercely protecting a farmers' right to farm, the Royal Tea of Kenya brings hard-fought tea to market.

Colleen Shipler, of Pearl's Tea, is developing a shop that will find its home in the East Bay area of San Francisco this year, walked the aisles soaking in the atmosphere. Her fourth go-round at World Tea Expo, she has absorbed a lot of information over the years, readying her for opening day. She is most excited about the Chuck Underwood generational markerting break-outs, curious about how to best market to the younger set. "I want to know more about connecting with the younger demographic and get away from tea being associated with old ladies," she says. "I am striving for a contemporary feel."