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Specialty Food Producers Take Home the Gold

By Lorrie Baumann

La Pasta’s Radicchio, Parsnip & Apricot Ravioli has won the 2016 sofi Award for Best New Product. Radicchio is sauteed with a little bit of balsamic vinegar to bring out the sweetness of the vegetables and then folded into ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella cheese together with roasted parsnips and dried apricots. The filling is then enclosed in La Pasta’s signature pasta with black pepper pasta stripes.

“We got lucky. It happens,” said Alexis Konownitzine, President of La Pasta, “Our chef Kristen made the product and will be at the Fancy Food Show.”

La Pasta already had several sofi Awards for products including its Marinara Sauce and Beet, Butternut Squash & Goat Cheese Ravioli. This year’s winner was selected from among 23 finalists in the Best New Product category by the sofi judging panel of culinary experts in a blind tasting. Overall, 28 products were named winners and 100 named finalists from among 3,200 entries this year.

This year’s judging diverged from the methodology used for the past couple of years, in that the judging was completed before the Summer Fancy Food Show and winners were named at the same time as finalists. This process was designed to make the judging more fair and transparent, according to the Specialty Food Association, which owns the sofi Awards program. The products were judged by criteria that awarded 70 percent of the product’s score for taste, which included flavor, appearance, texture and aroma and 30 percent for ingredient quality, which included a consideration of whether any of the product’s ingredients were artificial and whether they were combined in a creative or unexpected way. One winner was chosen in each of the 28 judging categories, and the top 4 percent of the entries in each category were named finalists. No awards were presented this year in classic, foodservice or product line categories, which were part of last year’s contest.

CFM_Prosciutto-sliceFinalists for the Best New Product award included Dalmatia Sour Cherry Spread from Atalanta Corporation, Jansal Valley Boneless Prosciutto Toscano D.O.P. from Sid Wainer and Son Specialty Produce and Specialty Food, Organic Stoneground Flakes Cereal — Purple Corn from Back to the Roots and Sliced Prosciutto (Domestic) from Creminelli Fine Meats. “Prosciutto is everywhere in the U.S., but we do it differently, using whole-muscle Duroc pork that’s 100 percent vegetarian-fed with no antibiotics ever. We layer it in the tray by hand instead of by machine,” said Kyle Svete, Creminelli Fine Meats’ Director of Sales for National Accounts. “We invest in people, not machines. It’s part of who we are – people, animal, craft…. We have machines to help us do our job, but it’s really about the people. The recyclable tray and the elegant look of it elevates the product and the category.”

“We’re proud of it. We put the ingredients right on the front of the label,” he added. “That’s all there is to it – time, love, pork and sea salt.”

Chocolate-covered Cocomels – 5 Salts from JJ’s Sweets, Gourmet Honey Spread: Salted Honey from Cloister Honey LLC, Wild Boar Salted Star Anise Single Origin Organic Dark Chocolate Bar from Hagensborg Chocolate Ltd., Original Tangerine Sriracha from Just Jan’s Inc., Mr. Hot Stuff Pepper Spread from Steppin’ Out LLC, Clementine Crush Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Enzo Olive Oil Company/P-R Farms, Inc. and Deschutes Brewery® Black Butte Porter Truffle from Moonstruck Chocolate, Co. were also among the finalists for the Best New Product Award.

JulieAnn CaramelsOther finalists were Pineapple Habanero Caramel from JulieAnn Caramels, Frozen Passion Chia Lassi from Monsieur Singh LLC, Chicken Fat (Schmaltz) Premium Cooking Oil from Fatworks LLC, Avocado Oil Mayo and Licorice Mint Tea from Chosen Foods, Inc., Chili Crunch Bar from Vivra Chocolate, Vegan Stone Ground Hazelnut Butter from Karmalize LLC, Raspberry Amaretto Preserves from Robert Rothschild Farm, Orange Artisan Fruit Cracker from Simple & Crisp, Gluten-Free Coffee Brownie from Savvy Girl Baking Company and Dark Moon from Marin French Cheese Company.

In the remaining categories, Brussizzle Sprouts from Pacific Pickle Works, Inc. was named the best appetizer. The Spice Hunter, Inc.‘s Coriander Lime Global Fusion Rub was named best baking ingredient, baking mix or flavor enhancer, Ginger Hemp Granola from Michele’s Granola LLC was the best in the category for breads, muffins, granola or cereal, and Vermont Creamery‘s Bijou was judged the best cheese. Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche was a finalist for the award both this year and last year.

Money on Honey by Droga Chocolates won the sofi in the chocolate category, and Bittermilk LLC‘s No. 3 Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour won the award in the cold beverage category. Bittermilk was a sofi finalist last year with the same product. Non-GMO Salted Caramelized Fig Spread from King’s Cupboard was named the best condiment, and Sea Salt & Vanilla Farmstead Goat Milk Caramels from Big Picture Farm LLC received the award for the best confection. Big Picture Farm won sofi Awards last year for best new product with its Raspberry Rhubarb Goat Milk Caramels and for best confection with its Goat Milk Chai Caramels. Moon Dance Baking‘s Holly Baking Cookie Brittle Cinnamon & Spice was named in the category for cookies, brownies, cakes or pie.

Barnier Pimento Sauce with Preserved Lemon from FoodMatch Inc. was named best cooking, dipping or finishing sauce. Cranberry Pistachio “The Original” from Jan’s Farmhouse Crisps was named the best cracker. Epicurean Butter‘s Organic Cocoa Coconut Butter was named in the category for best dairy or dairy alternative product. “The reason this is something really new and innovative is that this is organic pasteurized cream, organic coconut oil, organic honey, organic canola oil, organic cocoa powder and Himalayan pink salt. It’s good on crepes, pancakes French toast. We actually just love it on a baguette,” said Janey Hubschman, who co-founded Epicurean Butter with her husband John, who’s the chef and still does all the formulations for the company’s products. “It’s got a lovely mouth feel with the butter and the coconut oil and then the finish of the salt.” The Organic Cocoa Coconut Butter is part of a product line that includes 13 finishing butters, of which two are organic. The company has just installed new equipment in its plant that allows Epicurean Butter to produce single-serve squeeze packs. Each of those has 190 calories for a 1-ounce serving, and Hubschman expects that the single-serve packaging will draw a lot of interest from the producers of home-delivered meal kits.

bourbon maple hi res (2)Bourbon Matured Maple Syrup from BLiS LLC was named the best dessert sauce, topping or syrup. Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate‘s Single Origin Drinking Chocolate 72% Belize, Toledo received the sofi Award for the best hot beverage. Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate was a finalist in the chocolate category last year with its 72% Madagascar, Sambirano bar. The Gelato Fiasco‘s Ripe Mango Sorbetto was named the best ice cream, gelato or frozen treat.

Cioccomiel, a spread made from hazelnuts, cocoa and honey, won the sofi Award for the best jam, preserve, honey or nut butter. It is imported by Marcelli Formaggi LLC.

Fermín Chorizo Ibérico Picante / Fermín Ibérico Pork Dry-Cured Chorizo Sausage Spicy from Fermin USA was named the best meat, pate or seafood.

Stöger Organic Austrian Pumpkin Seed Oil was named the best oil. It is imported by Los Chileros, which won a finalist award last year for the same product.

Gustiamo, Inc.‘s Pianogrillo Sicilian Cherry Tomato Sauce took home the sofi Award for the best pasta sauce, while the best pasta was Pastifico Artigianale Leonardo Carassai, made in Campofilone, Italy, and imported by Bravo International Inc.

NorthAfricanChermouladressingwozzWozz! Kitchen Creations, which won the 2015 sofi Award for best salsa or dip with its Kiwi Lime Salsa Verde takes home the gold in the salad dressing category this year with North African Chermoula Dressing. This year’s award in the salsa or dip category went to American Spoon Foods’ Pumpkin Seed Salsa.

Hickory Smoked Spicy Candied Bacon from Little Red Dot Kitchen LLC won the sofi Award this year in the category for savory snacks. The best sweet snack came from Creative Snacks Co. with its Organic Coconut Bites.

Dinner Tonight Black Bean Tortilla Chili Mix from Backyard Safari Company won the award for best soup, stew, bean or chili. ParmCrisps Mini Aged Parmesan Crisps from Kitchen Table Bakers won the award for the best vegan or gluten-free product. Kitchen Table Bakers was a finalist last year for its Jalapeno Parmesan Crisps. Finally, this year’s best vinegar was Balsamic Nectar from Boulder Flavours.

Consumers Thirsty for Healthier Beverages

By Greg Gonzales

Need a quick caffeine boost and a blast of antioxidants? The ready-to-drink Matcha Love can do that. Maybe you prefer non-synthetic caffeine extracted from green coffee beans in fruit juice, along with a dose of vitamins — a company called Frava has you covered. Just like, “there’s an app for that,” beverages aren’t just for hydration any more.

“In general, consumers are getting the picture that empty calories are really causing our health problems in this country,” said Chrissy Weiss, a registered dietitian who serves as Director of Marketing and Communications at Culinary Collective. “There’s a movement. These big companies are seeing a decline in regular soda sales and that’s been going on for a couple of years now. There’s a wave of information and a health movement that’s going on in this country. What we’re seeing today is that there’s this whole other wave of people looking for healthy hydration, something that gives them health benefits.” Some of these beverages include plant waters, low-sugar or natural-sugar juices, non-dairy probiotic drinks like kombucha and ready-to-drink simple beverages, like tea and coffee.

Category growth has opened the doors for new producers and expansion opportunities for larger ones, too. The tea market for instance, has grown by 15 times over since 2009. Loose leaf tea, ready-to-drink teas and cold-press coffee at home have become increasingly popular.

According to Weiss, market success in functional and healthy beverages categories is similar. “People are seeing these beverages like an affordable luxury, like specialty coffee drinks. I think these appeal to a lot of people because they’re willing to do something that makes them feel good and buy a product that makes them feel better. … What people pay for these, even when a little pricier, they seem a little more affordable.”

Growth in better-for-you beverages may be coming at the expense of traditional soft drinks. The last two decades have seen soft drinks taking a hard fall, by more than 25 percent, according to the New York Times — by more than $1 billion, since 2011. On the other hand, healthier beverage categories’ double-digit sales growth is expected to continue for years to come. According to Nielsen reports, functional beverage sales increased by 6.9 percent in 2015 and will grow even more rapidly this year. The same report said that 90 percent of 2015 growth in juice beverages came from new product launches.

Coronado Brewing Company to Release Berry the Hatchet Seasonal Beer

Coronado Brewing Company is releasing its newest seasonal beer, Berry The Hatchet. A long time favorite, Berry The Hatchet will now be available in bottles for the masses. Light, and bursting with flavor, this ale brewed with berries makes for a perfect summertime beer to enjoy on a warm day. The release also marks an exciting feature for Coronado Brewing Company, as it will be the first bottle and packaging to feature the company’s new brand refresh design.

Refreshing, light, and slightly tart but never sour; Berry The Hatchet is infused with a bushel of flavor. Red raspberries, blackberries, and boysenberries collide with hops and malt to deliver a deliciously crisp, rose-colored ale that’s a perfect addition to the summer.
Berry The Hatchet will now be available in 12 ounce six-packs, 22 ounce bottles, and draft. May 1 marks the official release for the beer and will be available in 16 states and seven countries. These include Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and Japan.

CORE Hydration Launches CORE Organic

CORE Nutrition, purveyors of CORE® Hydration premium bottled water, announces its major market rollout of its newest innovation, CORE Organic, a USDA-certified organic fruit-infused beverage with antioxidants and only five calories per serving. The new beverage will roll out into grocers including Kroger, Safeway/Albertson’s, Save Mart/Lucky Supermarkets, H-E-B, Sprouts Farmers Market, Acme, Tops Friendly Markets, Bristol Farms, and select Whole Foods Markets through May. Additionally, extensive distribution will kick in at 7-Eleven locations on both coasts as part of the retailer’s push for “better for you” beverages.

Known for CORE Hydration premium bottled water, CORE Nutrition has developed a first of its kind – an organic and low calorie drink that tastes great without the worry of artificial ingredients, high calorie counts or sugar. With CORE Organic, the company is tapping into America’s growing demand for organics, a market estimated at $40 billion that grew by 11 percent in 2014, according to Mintel. Additionally, 85 percent of Americans are currently buying organic and 75 percent of conventional grocery stores are carrying organic products nationwide.

Harmless Harvest Process Achieves Highest Levels of Product Safety and Quality

Harmless Harvest, which produces Fair-for-Life-certified Organic coconut water, is announcing a proprietary new multi-step micro-filtration process that achieves the highest levels of product safety and quality, while preserving optimal flavor, fragrance and nutrients of its critically acclaimed coconut water, which complies with federal Food and Drug Administration standards and requirements.

This new process enables the company to introduce a new, more environmentally conscious bottle with an average of a quarter less plastic than previous bottles. Currently, the primary industry method of ensuring the safety of low-acid juice beverages is thermal (heat) pasteurization. Thermal pasteurization is known to heavily heat (“cook or boil”) the product as a way to regulate safety, but it can leave a modified, burnt-like taste when used on coconut water.

According to the CEO of Harmless Harvest, Giannella Alvarez, the introduction of the multi-step micro-filtration process is a significant advancement for the industry. “With our move to our proprietary FDA-compliant multi-step micro-filtration linked to an aseptic filling and packaging system – as with every step we take as a company – it is our goal to drive the industry forward towards better products, better practices and more environmentally sustainable business models. We have an amazing team that is committed to bringing delicious organic food and beverages to consumers with a fair and sustainable business model that will change the industry as whole,” Alvarez said. Harmless Harvest developed and tested the multi-Step micro-filtration process to ensure that it complies with FDA standards and requirements.

Harmless Harvest is an ecosystem-based business that believes in bringing consumers the best organic ingredients through a business model that centers on the welfare of all people in the supply chain – from plant to shelf – and makes the sourcing environment a core beneficiary of its commercial success. Each year the company strives to make a measurable impact on the sourcing communities and beyond, as verified by third-party boards that ensure adherence to Fair-for-Life principles.

Coco Libre Reveals Three Reasons to Choose ‘From Concentrate’

Back in the day, “from concentrate” meant that a beverage was overprocessed, nutritionally empty and would probably taste funny. Back then, the choice between “fresh” or “from concentrate” was a no-brainer.

But food science and beverage manufacturing have come a long way since then. In today’s globalized beverage manufacturing system, “from concentrate” means something much more positive. As a company whose core ingredient comes from the Philippines, Coco Libre stakes its reputation on “from concentrate” giving consumers everything they demand and deserve. How is this possible? Here are three reasons why.

First, Coco Libre’s low-energy concentration method makes use of advances in no- and low-heat methods to retain maximum nutrition and flavor quality. The process involves the cold-concentration method known as reverse osmosis, or RO, to gently remove a majority of water while retaining all of the nutrition and flavor components. This ultra-premium, low-energy method removes water from fruit juices by means of special filters. Additional water is then removed under a vacuum at a minimal temperature to maintain the highest level of quality and nutritional integrity.

Bringing concentrate to the U.S. has considerably less overall energy impact compared with unconcentrated coconut water. The Philippines, where the young, green coconuts that go into Coco Libre’s concentrate grow, is more than 8,000 miles away from California, where Coco Libre beverages are made. After water is removed, the concentrated coconut water weighs less, resulting in a three-times carbon impact reduction.

The coconut water concentrate, with nutrition and flavor intact, then goes into Coco Libre beverages that are made in the USA. That enables the company to deliver beverages that embody the trust and quality Coco Libre customers expect. That level of assurance isn’t currently possible for beverage manufacturing at the ingredient source, so Coco Libre chose to make beverages close to home at facilities certified by GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) with SQF (Safe Quality Food).

But do consumers understand? “We still have work to do there,” says Candace Crawford, Chief Executive Officer of Maverick Brands, Coco Libre’s parent company. “The average consumer doesn’t know about all the advances in manufacturing and quality efforts behind the scenes. So we have to show how every decision we make, in the end, is aimed at bringing them a better tasting, better functioning product.”

Champagne Shipments to U.S. Increase for Third Consecutive Year

The Champagne Bureau, USA announced today that 20,508,784 million bottles of Champagne were shipped to the United States in 2015, an increase of 6.61 percent from 2014. This marks the third consecutive year of growth in Champagne shipments to the United States.

“It is wonderful to see U.S. consumers buying Champagne at record numbers. The strong growth represents the real excitement consumers have for Champagne and highlights the important role Champagne plays in the growing U.S. wine market,” said Sam Heitner, Director of the Champagne Bureau, USA. “As more Americans drink wine, they are placing more value on wines that come from unique places. This desire to understand where their wines come from is a key to building long-term connections with consumers and why we like to remind all that Champagne only comes from Champagne, France.”

The United States is the second largest export market for Champagne, trailing the United Kingdom, which imported 34,153,662 bottles in 2015. Worldwide, Champagne shipments totaled 312,531,444 bottles, an increase of nearly 2 percent over last year.

More than merely a type of wine, Champagne is a unique winemaking region with a long history of winemaking expertise. In fact, its historic hillsides, houses and cellars were recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Therefore, to earn the right to label their bottles with the “Champagne” name, the growers and producers of the Champagne region adhere to strict grape growing, harvesting and winemaking regulations. In recent years, the region has also been lauded for its environmental leadership, launching a comprehensive carbon reduction effort that has already reduced the region’s carbon footprint and establishing a new environmental certification for wine growers and producers to quantify their environmental sustainability and advances.

Meijer Craft Beer Sales Result in Big Business for Local Breweries

Twenty years after carrying its first craft brew at a single Kalamazoo store, Meijer is selling more than 34 locally-brewed craft beers each minute in Michigan while continuing to add up-and-coming local breweries to an extensive selection that rivals specialty stores across the Midwest.

Meijer says it expects to continue five years of double-digit volume growth in craft beer sales and plans to sell more than $90 million in craft beer in 2016, including $30 million in local and hyper-local craft beers produced by breweries in Michigan. Building on the popularity of local breweries that account for 44 percent of all craft beer sold in Michigan, Meijer will carry IPAs, amber ales, stouts, and porters from 50 Michigan breweries and also expand the reach of six of the most popular local brands in the state at stores across its Midwestern footprint this year.

“What’s happening here in Michigan is a microcosm of what’s happening throughout the Midwest and across the country – the state of craft beer is thriving,” said Peter Whitsett, Executive Vice President of Merchandising and Marketing for Meijer, who notes that since 2010 the number of craft breweries Meijer carries and the space it provides for its selection has more than doubled. “Since carrying our first six packs of Bell’s Oberon in 1995, the culture of exploration in the craft beer community has continued to seek new tastes and flavors from locally-made brands. The craft partnerships we’ve forged over the last two decades are indicative of what is considered some of the best beers available in the country.”

The six breweries that will be featured in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin in 2016 include Bell’s Brewery, Founders Brewing Company, Short’s Brewing Company, New Holland Brewing Company, Atwater Brewery and Arcadia Brewing Company.

“It used to be that craft beer was only sold at small, independent stores,” said Dave Engbers, Co-founder of Founder’s Brewery, which started its partnership with Meijer in 2006 and sold more than 200,000 cases of its beer at Meijer stores this year. “Meijer took the opportunity to welcome craft beer enthusiasts and has done a great job engaging customers and listening to what they are demanding.”

“I remember coming to Meijer to start talking about distribution beyond our Bellaire brewery in 2006, and not yet having a production and packaging facility,” said Joe Short, Founder of Short’s Brewing Company. “The only way we could bring a sample was in a growler. They took a chance on us based on our experimental brews and that relationship not only helped build anticipation for our brand, but was pivotal in laying the foundation for our continued growth.”

Whitsett said Meijer customers can expect to see craft ciders, hard soda-flavored beers and distilled craft spirits to increase in popularity this year and that brewers will be aggressive with new innovations in barrel-aged brewing and techniques to improve consistency in each bottle or can of their brews. Whitsett also believes the popularity of hyper-localized breweries will continue to gain traction, and Michigan breweries like Perrin Brewing Company, Brewery Vivant, Dark Horse Brewery and Griffin Claw Brewing Company will continue attracting craft beer enthusiasts.

“One of the most exciting things about the craft beer world is its constant evolution, and we’re seeing more enthusiasts and casual beer drinkers shopping our aisles in their quest to find new brews and tastes from Michigan and beyond,” Whitsett said. “Being a retailer that calls Beer City U.S.A. home, it’s always been about community for us, and we’re thrilled we can help breweries expand beyond their local boundaries while providing customers across the Midwest with the craft beers they are most excited about.”

Wacky Apple Organics Debuts First Large Format Juice Pouch

Wacky Apple Organics, family owned and operated fruit orchards and makers of small batch organic applesauce, fruit juice and flat fruit snacks, today unveiled the first of its kind 50.7-ounce juice pouch, made with 100 percent organic real, fresh fruit juice concentrate and zero added sugar or preservatives. This new addition to the juice aisle and family’s refrigerators alike comes in two delicious flavors, apple and fruit punch.

The large pouch delivers a naturally sweet juice with only 98 calories per serving for the apple juice and 80 calories per serving for the fruit punch. All Wacky Apple juices are non-GMO, certified organic, certified kosher, vegan, gluten free, corn free, soy free and nut free and BPA free.

Wacky AppleThese oversized juice pouches have a reinforced gusset to prevent tipping – so they slide right into refrigerator door for easy access, and are perfect to bring to sporting events, play dates, the park, the beach – or any where family and friends gather for good times. No more large and clumsy plastic bottles! This novel pouch lets the kids be in charge of their healthy beverages. The push dispensers are spill proof, and perfect for little hands to pour their own cup without any mess or heavy lifting.

“We are thrilled to produce the very first large juice pouch! We only use 100 percent real fruit juices, and never any added sugar — the only sugars in our products come straight from the fruit itself. It’s like drinking the juice from the real fruit,” said Sarah Tuft, Co-founder of Wacky Apple Organics. “Our mission is to make healthy food, delicious and fun, and this large juice pack can go anywhere and everywhere!”

“We believe knowledge, combined with fun, will lead to healthy choices now and in the future,” she added. “Our goal is to educate children and families about the benefit of healthy choices while supplying yummy, real, organic food for happy and healthy kids. We believe eating organic food will lead to a healthier life and safer environment for everyone. We are passionate about sustainable farming, a fun and fair work environment and the highest quality products.”

The 50.7-ounce juice pouch is available at wholesale pricing to retailers nationwide, with a suggested retail price of $5.99. For more information, visit Wacky Apple Organics at WackyApple.com and on Facebook at Facebook.com/OrganicWackyApple.

U.S. Tea Industry Growth Makes Specialty Tea Accessible to Consumers

By Greg Gonzales

Tea markets are growing, and growth won’t be slowing down any time soon, thanks to a multi-generational boost. The U.S. tea market has grown 15 times its size since 2009 and was worth $10.8 billion in 2014, according to the Tea Association of the USA’s “2014 State of the Industry” report. Loose-leaf tea in particular has gained popularity as a specialty product, hydration alternative and health product, while ready-to-drink tea has seen similar success on supermarket shelves. The report also said that tea is the second-most consumed beverage in the world, after water.

The same Tea Association of the USA report, compiled by Tea Association President Peter Goggi, cited Millennials as the major demographic driving market growth. “Several aspects of the market are driving Millennial interest in tea,” Goggi said. “The access to tea has been easier and much more common for them; they’ve grown up drinking tea, as preteens, and they also gravitate toward products that appeal to them. Tea fits in because Millennials want to be engaged with the products they buy — where it comes from, how it’s made, its naturalness — tea fits into this beautifully because it comes from different countries and it’s an agricultural product, so Millennials can get involved.”

He added that Baby Boomers have gotten involved in the conversation, too, and are increasingly joining the public discourse with Millennials.
Topics to share include the teas’ origins, and how different processing yields different kinds of tea. Pu-erh tea, for example, is aged and pressed into cakes, making an extremely dark brew that exclusively contains the cholesterol-lowering compound, lovastatin. Specialty teas use the best leaves, while low-grade teas consist of fannings, or what amounts to dust left over from processing high-grade leaves. Farms throughout the world employ their own growing techniques, which also yields a different product. Enthusiasts can learn nearly everything about the origins of a specialty tea, and share their preferences through endless social networks, online and offline.

Entrepreneurs and tea chains across the globe are taking notice of this trend. While large tea exporters like Zhejiang Tea Group have expanded more into U.S. markets, small tea businesses in North America are beginning to flourish as they adapt to the growth. “With everyone on social media to distribute content for social reward, tea is the budding connoisseur’s dream,” said Stuart Lown, National Sales Manager of Takeya USA. “There’s so much to learn about tea, fresh fruit and herbs — so much to learn about healthy hydration, to share with friends and family.”

Takeya specializes in tea infusers and pitchers that simplify home brewing and improve the flavor of the tea. One of their products, the fruit infuser, allows consumers to add new flavors outside the tea itself. By providing an easy method for making homemade iced tea, Lown said, Takeya makes quality tea more accessible to the everyday consumer.

“We specialize in bringing loose-leaf tea home, allowing consumers to quickly and easily brew premium teas and to chill those quickly, which allows people to get the health benefits from the tea,” said Lown. “When you brew the tea with a Takeya system, which is an airtight chamber, you’re getting the best taste and nutrient content.”

The airtight Takeya system ensures precious nutrients and flavors don’t evaporate with some of the water before the tea cools — and those nutrients are key to tea’s growth. “Over the last decade, several thousand articles have been written about the healthfulness and important phytochemicals and antioxidants that improve human health,” Goggi said, adding that the public has grown increasingly aware of these studies.
Cleansing, lower cholesterol, heart function and mental acuity are some of the natural benefits of tea drinking. Flavonoids, a compound produced by tea plants, are thought to have antioxidant properties and help neutralize free radicals. Tea also has no sodium, no fat, no carbonation and is sugar-free. It’s also calorie-free and provides hydration — and some studies have shown that tea drinking improves cardiovascular health. A Harvard study found that individuals drinking one or more cups of black tea per day have a 44 percent reduced risk for heart attack. A U.S. Department of Agriculture study showed that a low-fat diet combined with five cups of tea per day reduced LDL cholesterol by 11 percent, after three weeks. Also shown in the studies is that drinking black tea reduces blood pressure and helps blood flow after a high-fat meal, and tea also carries with it a reduced risk for rectal cancer, colon cancer and skin cancer.

Along with health benefits, tea naturally boosts cognition. While antioxidants in tea protect brain cells from free radicals, another compound found in tea, L-theanine, along with caffeine, is known to enhance attention and complex problem solving.

Still, not all tea drinkers are seeking a mental boost, and not all of them are interested in learning about tea beyond the basics. “Seventy-eight percent of consumers drink tea for the taste, and 50 percent drink it for the function,” said Patrick Tannous, President and Co-Founder of Tiesta Tea. “We take the basic functionality of the tea and educate the consumer. We aim to make tea accessible, understandable and affordable.”

Tiesta Tea’s approach is to educate the consumer about how to make the best tea, rather than about the tea’s journey from the farm to cup. On the company website, the owners drive this point home: “Does it really matter to you which farm in China produces the best green tea in February or how to correctly pronounce rooibos? (it’s ROY-bos, if you care.) That’s our job to do, not yours. We believe what matters is what your tea tastes like and what’s it’s going to do for you. We take care of the nitty-gritty details.”

Ready-to-drink tea also has made tea more available and visible to consumers. Some markets dedicate an entire shelf section to kombucha alone, increasing tea’s visibility, while other varieties of tea can be found all over stores, rather than in one single beverage area. Goggi wrote in his 2014 report that ready-to-drink tea is expected to continue rising in popularity, with annual dollar increases from 12 to 15 percent.
There are a lot of factors driving tea growth, from public knowledge of specialty tea to Starbucks buying the Teavana chain. As Millennials age, their interest in tea is expected to continue and get passed down to the next generation. This growth will keep the market growing for years to come. After all, tea is inexpensive, simple and accessible.

“It’s something anyone can do, and it’s something all people can enjoy,” said Lown. “Tea is not exclusive to a certain class; it’s something everyone can enjoy, no matter your diet, your religion, your age or your income.”

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