By Aaron Kiel, World Tea News
World Tea News recently chatted with Rona Tison, executive VP of corporate relations for ITO EN (North America) INC., the innovator of award-winning tea lines, including Matcha LOVE, TEAS’ TEA Organic and Oi Ocha.
Tison will speak at the upcoming World Tea Virtual Summit, which will feature insightful educational sessions, a New Product Showcase, the World Tea Best of Awards, a virtual happy hour and opportunities to connect with the industry.
Tison is widely recognized for her significant support of the tea industry’s growth, innovation and education, and she’s a 2017 recipient of the prestigious John Harney Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Tea Expo Conference + Expo.
With extensive experience in the tea and beverage industry, Tison is known as a tea expert with a refined approach to U.S.-Japan culture and innovative marketing. At ITO EN, she’s responsible for maintaining and developing ITO EN’s corporate image through branding, public relations and promotional events, while educating both the public and businesses about tea.
Tison has been with ITO EN since its inception in 2002 in the United States as ITO EN (North America) INC. The company has been recognized as one of “50 Companies Changing the World” by Fortune magazine for its sustainable farming practices and initiatives in nurturing the next generation, in addition to numerous other accolades.
World Tea News spoke with Tison about ITO EN and its nomination for a World Tea Best of Award, the popularity and future of matcha, and the upcoming World Tea Virtual Summit, among other topics.
Question: Congratulations to ITO EN on being a nominee for the World Tea Best of Awards. ITO EN is nominated in the category of “Best Tea Video Content” for its “Matcha Art” video. Tell us about the video. What’s the concept and what is ITO EN trying to convey?
Answer: Thank you, as it really is an honor to be recognized for this. I have seen it a million times and it still takes my breath way. As a global leader in green tea, we wanted to capture the essence and beauty of the Japanese tea culture and the refinement of matcha. The artistry and meticulous attention given to the tea leaf in making the finely milled matcha powder and its inherent relation to nature and its seasonality. We hope Matcha Art takes you to a tranquil place and conveys our respect and ITO EN’s expertise in matcha. Even as we innovate with new and modern products, there is a time-honored legacy that we take pride in and will always honor. Even as we pioneered the first unsweetened ready to drink green tea, Oi Ocha, over 30 years ago, honoring the fresh taste and aroma of the tea leaf was important in its development.
Question: In addition to the video, how are consumers discovering matcha?
Answer: We are seeing matcha being discovered in so many ways – whether through e-commerce, social media or even through national restaurant chains that are now incorporating matcha into their menus. What was once a specialty niche item, has now become mainstream as we are seeing more demand from our retail and food service partners. Our matcha LOVE line offers an array of matcha offerings – whether a ceremonial powder, a convenient ready to drink or an easy barista blend, All made with authentic 100 percent Japanese matcha. There is quite a bit of faux matcha out on the market, so it is important to buy from a reputable source. I like to say that’s where we come in, as ITO EN stands by the integrity and quality of our products. And of course, at the heart of our business is our commitment to long term sustainability.
Question: How popular is matcha, Japanese tea and tea culture in North America? Is there a strong interest?
Answer: There has been tremendous interest in the Japanese green tea culture with loose leaf and matcha taking on a life of its own in North America. There is more awareness of its many attributes for its health benefits as a superfood and its immunity boosting properties with catechins & EGCG, along with the amino acid L-theanine component of keeping you in a relaxed state with mental clarity and focus. We are seeing our matcha LOVE line become increasingly popular for its naturally invigorating boost of energy while helping you “Stay Grounded.” I think we can all benefit from this in these trying times.
Question: What does the future look like for matcha in North America
Answer: I think the future of matcha is bright and opportunities endless in so many ways. I see it as a staple in every household – whether whisking a bowl of matcha as a morning ritual or cooking or baking with it. I see it integrated in various channels – whether in food service, nutrition or beauty. Not only in North America, but worldwide. It’s delicious umami flavor will be embraced globally and in innovative ways.
Question: What’s new for ITO EN?
Answer: We continue to explore new innovations and new channels to introduce our teas. We just launched AOJIRU, a ready-to-drink barley grass and matcha shot. We also have partnered with a Brooklyn’s oldest distillery, Kings Distillery, to craft another batch of Barrel Aged Hojicha tea leaves, out of popular demand. And as part of our environmentally sustainable initiatives, we have also expanded our line of ready to drink teas in cans giving new options to our customers. Bringing innovations that embody our five guiding principles of natural, healthy, delicious, safe and well designed.
Question: The winners of the World Tea Best of Awards will be announced during the World Tea Virtual Summit in October, which ITO EN is participating in as a sponsor. What are you looking forward to the most about the event?
Answer: There is a sense of camaraderie in the tea community, so it will be good to share and celebrate all that we do and bring inspiration to the industry. We all have had to adjust during this pandemic, dealing with challenging times that no one would have ever imagined. Being together virtually will be a new experience but can be an interesting chapter in our respective tea journey.
Question: This has been a challenging year for people and businesses all around the world. What issues and topics should the specialty tea industry be focused on now?
Answer: A reminder that tea has been around for centuries and was first introduced as a medicine. It is the most consumed beverage after water, so it is here to stay and will continue to bring goodness in our lives. It is the original plant-based food, so timely as we see more people embracing mindful and healthy living. To focus on celebrating the intrinsic tastes of tea – its history, flavor, aroma and rituals from the many origins. These have been difficult and uncertain times, but what is certain is the nourishing benefits of tea on the mind, body and soul.
Question: Thank you for your time. What’s your message to the global tea industry in 2020, or advice or words of encouragement for the tea community?
Answer: All of us know that tea brings goodness in so many ways. To stay positive and focused in knowing that we work with the most amazing commodity – the tea leaf – and that it will continue to adapt to the changing times. That there will be continued growth and greater appreciation for this expansive world of tea we are all in,
Hear more from ITO EN’s Rona Tison at the World Tea Virtual Summit, Oct. 12-14, 2020. Registration and the full conference program are available now at WorldTeaExpo.com/VirtualSummit.