Fair and Balanced
By Bridget Goldschmidt
As consumers increasingly seek out the superior flavor and peerless blends of premium coffee and tea, issues like sustainable production and packaging move to the forefront.
U.S. consumers are developing a taste for the finer things in life — and that includes such items as premium tea and coffee.
"The gap between mainstream and super-premium coffee is closing," affirms Santina Stankevich, spokeswoman for the Montvale, N.J.-based Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. Inc. (A&P), where one would imagine such beverages to be particularly popular. "Consumers are making a move from traditional, mainstream tea and coffee to premium brands, or bagged arabica."
"Consumers view coffee as an affordable luxury, and consumption among coffee drinkers has remained steady despite the recession," notes Sandy Yusen, director of public relations for the specialty coffee business unit of Waterbury, Vt.-based Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc. (GMCR). "What has changed is that consumers are spending more time at home, and also re-evaluating their purchase decisions, and the opportunity for home-brewed coffee is expanding as a result."
Indeed, as awareness of quality attributes continues to intensify, so, too, do price thresholds for consumers, who "are willing to pay a premium price for a premium product," says George Jage, founder and president of World Tea Expo, an annual industry event set for June 24-26 in Las Vegas. "All grocers have seen a significant increase in both shelf space and number of SKUs for tea in their stores over the past five years."
One reason for this increase is a rising preoccupation with the wholesomeness and healthfulness of food and beverage ingredients. "I know from my environmental activities — including monitoring the use of pesticides in my community — that American consumers are increasingly concerned about the purity of the food they buy," observes Wendy McPhee, who founded Ross, Calif.-based Longevité Tea in 2007. "And they are paying close attention to studies that underscore what I've known for years: that tea is good for you."
Additionally, shoppers' predilection for premium coffee and tea has been growing in tandem with the consumer movement to learn more about the origins of foods and beverages offered at retail. "Tea is grown in some of the most beautiful and exotic regions of the world — Kenya, China, India, Taiwan and Japan, to name a few," explains Jage. "People's interest in tea extends to their understanding of where the tea was grown and how."
Tricks of the Trade
"[One] area of focus is on the continued expansion of our Fair Trade organic coffees, which taps into consumer desire for education about coffee origins and understanding where their food comes from," says GMCR's Yusen. "Supporting Fair Trade is one way we help small-scale coffee farmers invest in the quality of their coffee and the quality of life in their communities. Green Mountain Coffee offers one of the largest selections of double-certified Fair Trade organic coffees in the country, and Green Mountain Coffee branded products (which also include Newman's Own Organics coffee) hold the leading Fair Trade coffee dollar and volume share in grocery," she adds, citing Nielsen figures.
"Companies like Rishi Tea, who effectively communicate the origin the tea came from and the care that was taken in producing it, have been extremely successful," notes Jage of World Tea Expo. "Fair Trade continues to make gains, along with higher demand for organic teas."
At retail, 207 Bi-Lo stores in South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia in January began offering The Rogers Family Co.'s flagship Fairly Traded gourmet coffee brands. The 12-ounce pre-ground bags in Rogers' San Francisco Bay and Organic Coffee Co. (OCC) product lines come in such varieties as Breakfast Blend, Java Love, San Francisco Bay French Roast, Colombian Supremo and Hazelnut. Other Rogers items under the OCC and Black Mountain Gold coffee brands can also be found in select stores operated by the Mauldin, S.C.-based grocer.
"Bi-Lo customers can help make a direct, permanent difference for the people who fill their cup, and protect nature at coffee farms from Central America to Rwanda," says Jon B. Rogers, president of Lincoln, Calif.-based Rogers, a producer of "Responsibly Grown/Fairly Traded" premium, whole bean and pre-ground gourmet coffee and tea products available worldwide at wholesale and retail outlets, as well as online.
Purchases of the coffee support Rogers' "Coffee Community Aid" program, which establishes a fixed price for farmers based on the farmer's cost plus a reasonable return, pays the farmer more than the average market price and exceeds other organizations' standards. The program also preserves wildlife, rainforest and plants at farms in Mexico, Rwanda, Panama, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Colombia, Nicaragua, Sumatra, Honduras and Papua New Guinea, in addition to providing modern houses, medical facilities, schools, day care centers, doctors, nurses, teachers, food, clothing and clean drinking water.
Peet's Pours On Uzuri
Available in more than 8,500 grocery stores, Peet's Uzuri African Blend retails for $8.99 to $9.99 for a 12-ounce bag, depending on retail location. "While most premium coffee drinkers today enjoy mostly Latin American coffees, we at Peet's believe East Africa is on the horizon as the next coffee terroir to embrace," says Shirin Moayyad, Peet's director of coffee buying. "It is so gratifying to see what was just a seed idea of ours — to bring these amazing coffee flavors back home while helping to create a sustainable model for coffee farmers in east Africa — now become a reality."
While most products aren't available in banana-leaf packaging, more coffee and tea purveyors are endeavoring to provide green containers for their items, while pointing up their other activities in the realm of conservation and sustainability. Oakland, Calif.-based Numi Organic Tea's fresh new look, unveiled in January a the NASFT Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, showcases the company's commitment to 100 percent real ingredients, as well as its sustainable values and business practices, through the continued use of natural, biodegradable filter-paper tea bags and recyclable boxes made of 85 percent post-consumer waste and printed with soy-based inks. Additionally, the bottom panels of Numi's boxes feature an Eco-Audit reflecting the company's environmental efforts. The revamped packaging began shipping to distributors last month.
Another recipient of a packaging makeover — this one highlighting the brand's dedication to a range of certifications and causes including the Non-GMO Project, wind power and the Jane Goodall Institute — is Choice Organic Teas, a brand of Seattle-based Granum Inc., which still offers biodegradable, 100 percent recycled paperboard boxes, paper envelopes, and natural-fiber, staple-free tea bags.
Rishi Tea's environmentally sensitive packaging includes a line of packaged retail tins featuring an easy-peel label that allows them to be reused and recycled, according to the Milwaukee-based purveyor.
New to retail is Longevité Tea, once only available in fine restaurants. The line of 15 black, green and specialty flavored teas and tisanes now comes in reusable tins with minimal labeling, as well as in bulk, as ways to reduce the need for wasteful additional packaging.
Convenience Still Rules
The chief motive behind GMCR's venture into K-Cups, however, is shoppers' ongoing need for ease and quickness of preparation. "Consumers have become accustomed to a higher-quality, more convenient coffee experience, and frankly, many have a tough time getting that in their home," explains Yusen. "This has created a nice opportunity for us to stress how convenient and cost-effective it is to get a great cup of coffee at the touch of a button."
GMCR currently offers 29 varieties of 12-count K-Cups in a space-efficient option designed specifically for grocers' shelves. "The 12-count box is only available in supermarkets, and is geared to consumer frequency of purchase at grocery, and their desire to buy in smaller packages so they can try more varieties," notes Yusen, adding that the company currently provides grocers with a 4-foot dedicated Single-Cup coffee merchandising set.
This spring and summer, GMCR is pushing its Brew Over Ice K-Cups, which enable consumers to brew tea or coffee directly over ice in less than a minute using any Keurig Single-Cup Brewer. "In grocery stores, we will be featuring Green Mountain Coffee Nantucket Blend and French Vanilla Iced Coffee in Brew Over Ice K-Cups, each with up to 40 percent more coffee than their hot-coffee versions," says Yusen. "For those who prefer iced tea, we also offer a selection of Celestial Seasonings Perfect Iced Teas."
In mid-March, the company is rolling out the Brew Over Ice K-Cups at grocery, backed by a national advertising campaign, a multifaceted marketing initiative, and a national shipper program highlighting an offer to get a free Brew Over Ice tumbler with a Brew Over Ice 12-count box of K-Cups, among other activities. Next month will see the launch of a consumer sweepstakes in store and at PerfectKCup.com, promoted with FSIs and in-store shelf signage.
Convenience is also much on the mind of Seattle's Best Coffee, part of Starbucks Corp., which as part of its wide-ranging "Anywhere Great Coffee is Needed" strategy to raise its brand profile and help make premium coffee more approachable to consumers, has introduced a line of iced canned lattes — the brand's first ready-to-drink items. The 130-calorie on-the-go items, which were successfully tested on the West Coast last year, come in four of the most popular flavors at the brand's retail locations.
The "Anywhere Great Coffee is Needed" strategy also includes the expansion of the number of retail locations from 3,000 in 2009 to more than 40,000 currently, and the rollout of the Level System, an innovative, radically simplified packaged coffee line that makes choosing the appropriate coffee a breeze for shoppers.
Even Seattle Best's powerful parent company, Starbucks, has introduced the "Starbucks VIA Taste Promise" at retail to drive trial of VIA Ready Brew, a 100 percent natural roasted Arabica coffee in an instant form. Through Aug. 31, if customers aren't satisfied with the taste of the product, Seattle-based Starbucks will replace their purchase with a free 12-ounce bag of ground Starbucks House Blend. Stores are promoting the Taste Promise with shippers, stickers, signage and shelf talkers. As an added bonus, the lug-on that fits on the front of shipper's tray can be removed after the promotion ends, so the display can live on in stores.
"Our customers are looking for convenient, high-quality coffee solutions, and we have seen an increase in interest for instant coffee since we introduced Starbucks VIA to our grocery shelves last year., notes Kelly Griffith, president corporate perishables for Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway. "The opportunity to try a new product backed by a Starbucks VIA Taste Promise is a great way to introduce coffee drinkers to the new Starbucks VIA Ready Brew format."
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