Tea Regions Recognized in Gold Medal Competition


Canada’s Tea Association last week hosted “Tea Connections” the 3rd Annual North American Tea Conference with an expanded program that includes the first tea competition.

“It was a great conference,” said Louise Roberge, president of the Tea Association of Canada, who organized this year’s event.

“We made sure that attendees had a good business meeting,” she said. “The success of the conference is if it makes business sense. Many people told me they made good contacts and find it a good place to meet the market.

Our goal is to bring industry executives in consuming and producing countries together to better understand each other and the North American market and to establish better business relationships,” she said.

The Gold Medal competition was divided by region, with many styles of tea represented. Organizer Louise Roberge, president of the Tea Association of Canada invited growers in several regions to simply forward the best of their crop without regard to style.

A distinguished panel of tasters then scored the teas.

“The contest was important to me because it showcases producing countries,” said Roberge. “The competition demonstrates the quality teas available to the North American market. I think the quality of these teas surprised some of our packers and retailers,” she said. The competition is an annual event that will grow, she predicted.

Tea Connections is a joint effort of the Tea Association of Canada and the Tea Association of the USA. Delegates travel from around the world to take part. The world’s largest teas manufacturers, Unilever (Lipton), Finlays, Tata Global Beverages (Tetley) and Twinings mingle with founders of Bigelow Teas, Harney & Sons, STASH and Tazo.

Exporters also make the trip along with representatives of the governments of producing countries. In attendance this were MGVK Bhanu who chairs the Tea Board of India, Sicily K. Kariuki who manages the Tea Board of Kenya, Rachmat Badruddin of the Indonesia Tea Board, Kotaro Tanimoto with the Japan Tea Exporters’ Association and Cai Jun who heads the China Chamber of Commerce.

While most discussions are private over dinner and during breaks that include tours and golf, the group shares an interest in global economics, import/export regulations and retail innovations. These topics are addressed during educational sessions.

Here is a quick glimpse:

Marc Chandler, an economist with Brown Brothers Harriman, called his presentation “Shifting Sands of World Economy.” Here are some bullet points.

  • In the U.S. economic recovery is like to continue in the 1.5% to 2.5% growth range.
  • The existential crisis continues. Recessionary conditions persist.
  • In the UK monetary policy stimulus is likely.
  • In Japan fading reconstruction stimulus will see economy return to near stagnation.
  • China will most likely experience a bumpy but soft landing.
  • Emerging countries will experience food and energy shocks coupled with the disappointing growth.

Keith Hutjens the head tea buyer for TAZO/Starbucks made a very strong case for the continued growth of single-serve machines in the home and office. "We are at the tipping point of single-serve in the United States," he said. Single-serve is clearly an opportunity for tea manufacturers, one that TAZO is seizing.

  • Single-serve is fresh, fast and leaves no mess.
  • Ownership of single-cup brewers has increased from 1% in 2005 to 7.5% in 2011
  • Homes that contain automatic drip also own single-serve brewers
  • 8% of Americans currently drink coffee prepared in single-serve machines or single pack

Robert Carter submitted a presentation on NPD Group's recent CREST studies of foodservice. The segment holds many opportunities for the tea industry. Foodservice is showing signs of a sustain recovery with adult visits growing. Family visits "have a way to go." Here are some bullets.

  • 6.5 billion restaurant servings annually in the U.S. with 88% iced tea and 12% hot tea. Iced tea servings have risen over time, hot tea servings continue to skid.
  • 600 million restaurant servings annually in Canada with 35% iced tea and 65% hot tea. Long-term trend for hot tea is positive, while iced tea servings are down
  • Specialty coffee and smoothies are the fastest growing beverages
  • Restaurant consumers respond well to new product introductions in beverage.