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Walking the show floor at the World Tea Expo/Healthy Beverage Expo, co-located at the Las Vegas Convention Center June 7-9, one not only gets to enjoy the unique features of the events, but also becomes aware of various currents in the overall categories.
One such interesting feature was the Store on the Floor display, a retail store setup showcasing sustainably designed fixtures that were to be sold off by silent auction during the show. Even if retailer attendees chose not to participate in the auction, the display offered a plethora of ideas for how they might make over their own shops.
Items beyond actual beverages, tea ware and tea-making equipment were in evidence, some of them not unexpected, like the biscuits and sweets offered by the London-based Keep Calm and Carry On Beverage Co. and Crossings Fine Foods, of Worcester, Mass., or Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Iveta Gourmet’s jams and curds, but others were quite novel, such as San Francisco-based Axelrod Art’s Painting With Tea booth, which perhaps may have inspired some tea-loving attendees to take up art themselves, or at least decorate their retail spaces with tea-derived works.
Packaging is continuing to evolve, both in terms of functionality and aesthetic appeal, with such standouts as the Dallas-based Village Tea Co.’s slim streamlined canisters, including single-serve, immediately drawing the eye. Reinforcing the importance of this element, several packaging companies, including Highland Park, Ill.-based Planet Canit and Pacific Bag Co., in Woodinville, Wash., had booths at the show.
Many of the tea exhibitors traded on their aroma, inviting attendees to stop and smell the blends before sampling them. But when you’ve got as many heavenly-smelling concoctions as West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Teas Etc., whose offerings at the show included Cinnamon Apple, Chocolate Raspberry, Pineapple Coconut, Cherry Blossom, Caramel Machiatto, Caribbean Fruit, Raspberry Rose Petal, Coconut Almond, Chocolate Mint Fusion Pu-erh, Citrus Sorbet and Hazelnut Vanilla, encouraging folks to have a whiff is a no-brainer.
Wellness teas maintained a healthy presence at the show, from Seattle-based Choice’s line developed in collaboration with Bastyr University to Webster Groves, Mo.-based Nuwati Herbals, which took a decidedly more irreverent approach to the segment offering such items as Tea Pee for prostate support and Moon Cycle Tea for symptoms of PMS and menopause. Products such as Missoula, Mont.-based BijaBody, meanwhile, frankly straddled the border between beverages and HBC, displaying body care products along with its teas.
There was also a strong contingent of gadgets designed to make the tea-making experience less messy and more efficient for consumers, including Gold River, Calif.-based NexTrend Products’ TeaPod, which scoops, steeps and squeezes loose tea, reducing waste and preventing drips, and the Chico, Calif.-based Squeezmo, which, as its name implies, squeezes the most out of tea bags and comes in a veritable rainbow of colors.
One particularly interesting visual tendency in regard the teas themselves was the proliferation of items with a lot of texture, including large, readily identifiable pieces of fruit, spices and flowers, often in vivid colors. Manjiv Jayakumar, president of Cerritos, Calif.-based QTrade Teas & Herbs, which sources, formulates and blends teas for retail and wholesale customers, confirmed that the practice was “a definite trend” at retail, as it creates visual appeal for customers. Jayakumar noted that the large chunks led to “inconsistent dosing” when preparing such teas, however, so to offset that possibility, he would do larger tastings of these types of products to get a better sense of the flavor.
Further, to go by the enthusiasm of QTrade’s e-commerce manager, Toney Kim, Internet outreach is becoming increasingly important across the category. Among other recent improvements to the company's website is the ability to order amounts as small as 2-, 5- or 10-pound bags, thereby enabling smaller companies to take advantage of QTrade’s services. According to Kim, the company is also growing its presence on YouTube and other social media sites.