Dairies are already a winner by processing milk, a nutrient-dense powerhouse beverage that complements every day part. But they also have the chance to compete in what has become the hottest beverage category in the United States: iced tea.

If you did not know, the U.S. is the birthplace of iced tea, and today, industry experts estimate that 80% of the tea consumed here is sold as an iced or ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage. It’s no wonder why beverage manufacturers, including dairies, have been aggressively rolling out new RTD teas this past year.

For example, Smith Dairy Products Co., Orrville, Ohio, added 50/50 Tea Lemonade (half tea and half lemonade) and Diet Tea with Lemon to its Smith’s beverage line. The company also recently made its popular Peach Tea available in a single-serve size. (See photo.)

“With tea consumption nearly doubling over the past decade, we’re excited to expand our offerings to include two new flavors that are sure to be a hit,” says Penny Baker, director of marketing for Smith’s “The 50/50 Tea Lemonade is a refreshing and delicious blend, while Diet Tea is smooth with a subtle hint of lemon.” 

Mary Barnard, vice president and general manager of the Pepsi Lipton Tea Partnership, Purchase, N.Y., further confirms the popularity of iced tea. “Research says that in 2010, RTD tea was the fastest-growing category in the liquid refreshment beverage market,” she says.

It’s no wonder why this past week in Las Vegas, where more than 4,000 tea industry professionals gathered at the annual World Tea Expo, the largest and most prominent event for the tea industry, the iced/RTD category was given increased attention.

Two RTD teas were recognized with 2011 Best New Product Awards. New York-based Ito En North America Inc., received accolades for its Tea’s Tea Low Calories line. This line of 16.9-ounce RTD premium tea beverages contains only 40 calories per serving, with 8 to 9 grams of natural cane sugar. The other winner was Gourmetti Brands Inc., Ontario, Canada, for its Chaitea. This is a first for the tea marketplace, as this drink combines green tea and aloe vera - two powerful and healthy ingredients in a high-quality premium beverage. (See photo.)

Fourteen other tea products took home first-place awards in the annual Iced Tea Class evaluation, which took place at the North American Tea Championship on May 24 in Montebello, Calif., with winners receiving special recognition at the Expo in Vegas. The championship is the only independent competition, judged by professional cuppers, to distinguish the highest-quality and best-tasting teas that are commercially available in the North American marketplace. And according to the organizers, specialty iced teas are gathering steam in popularity and quality.

A total of 43 tea companies showcased an assortment of more than 130 premium iced teas, which is nearly double the entries that were submitted in 2010. Competitors ranged from small, boutique tea manufacturers to mid-size tea companies and mass manufacturers. There were winners to represent each.

The 14 categories and their respective first-place winners are:

Source: World Tea Media

Ready-to-Drink-Flavored Green Tea: Snapple Green Tea from Dr. Pepper Snapple Group Inc., Plano, Texas

Ready-to-Drink-Flavored Oolong Tea: Tea’s Tea Low Calorie-Mango Oolong from Ito En

Ready-to-Drink-Sweetened Black Tea:Milo’s No Calorie Tea Gallon from Milo’s Tea Co., Bessemer, Ala.

Foodservice-Bag-in-Box Unflavored/Sweetened Black Tea: Classic Southern Iced Tea Concentrate-Sweetened from Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee, Ontario, Canada

Ready-to-Drink-Flavored Black Tea: Earl Grey Pu-erh Tea from Numi Organic Tea, Oakland, Calif.

Foodservice-Unflavored Black Tea: Summer Classic-Organic & Fair Trade from QTrade Teas & Herbs, Santa Fe Springs, Calif.

Source: World Tea Media

Foodservice-Unflavored Green Tea: Imperial Green-Organic from QTrade Teas & Herbs

Foodservice-Flavored Herbal: Lemon Berry Meritage-Organic from Rare Tea Cellar Inc., Chicago

Ready-to-Drink-Sweetened Green Tea: Calorie-Free Sweet Green Tea from The Republic of Tea, Novato, Calif. (showcased as a new product in this newsletter)

Foodservice-Bag-in-Box Unflavored/Unsweetened Black Tea: Revolution Iced-Classic from Revolution Tea LLC, Phoenix

Ready-to-Drink-Flavored/Sweetened: Herbal Rooibee Red Tea Watermelon Mint from Rooibee Red Tea, Louisville, Ky.

Foodservice-Flavored Black Tea: Meyer Lemon Black from Teas Etc., Inc., West Palm Beach, Fla.

Ready-to-Drink-Unflavored Black Tea:  Tejava from Crystal Geyser Water Co., Calistoga, Calif.

Foodservice-Flavored Green Tea: Tropical Green Iced Tea from Walters Bay Bogawantalawa Estates, Austin, Texas

Tea is being served everywhere

If you are not sold yet that iced/ready-to-drink tea is quickly becoming one of America’s favorite beverages, just look at all the new foodservice options. For starters, Wendy’s recently debuted Wild Berry Tea (I like to believe it was named after me), which is iced black tea infused with an all-natural purée of raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. Dunkin Donuts’ now offers freshly brewed tea in classic, peach and raspberry flavors, sweetened or unsweetened, as well as an authentic southern iced sweet tea. McDonald’s has an iced tea and a sweet tea, too, while many of the sub and sandwich chains offer fresh-brewed tea at their self-serve beverage counter.

Want to know more about tea?

If you are interested in jumping on the RTD tea bandwagon, plan on going to Philadelphia this September for the launch of World Tea East, which will feature more than 100 leading-edge tea manufacturers and suppliers, providing professionals the opportunity to discover new products, optimize merchandise, gain product knowledge and network with peers. The expo will be held September 9 to 10 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and is expected to attract more than 2,000 retail buyers, tea professionals, food and beverage manufacturers and decision makers in related industries.

“The objective of World Tea East is to support and fuel the expanding demand for specialty tea and related products in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and Southeast United States, and provide solid tea education for the category’s ever-growing popularity,” says George Jage, president of World Tea Media, hosts of the expo. “The timing of World Tea East is designed to facilitate immediate or near-term business for the holiday season and first-quarter business.”

In addition to the expo, the 2011 World Tea East conference features three main programs: Core Conference Sessions, an Executive & Technical Series and a New Business Boot Camp. Each program is designed to meet specific needs, ensuring that professionals of all experience levels stay informed, knowledgeable and ahead of the curve.

The Core Conference is comprised of 20 individual sessions, including seminars, focused tea tastings and hands-on skill building workshops. Seminar topics cover the latest trends in the industry, answer current business challenges, provide real take-away solutions and debunk both tea and business myths. Focused Tea Tastings include type-specific tastings as well as advanced training in detecting defects and assessing quality, among other topics.

In the session “Understanding the Retail Shopper for Tea Products,” gain insights on purchasing rates by product type; variety and flavor choices for bagged/loose leaf tea vs. RTD tea; planned vs. impulse purchasing; price/promotion based purchasing; and product choice motivators. Another lecture offers a global look at RTD teas, including what’s hot and what’s not, and how RTD’s have grown in importance and relevance with consumers today.

In addition, one World Tea East session looks at Fair Trade certified alternatives for tea and herbs. With more than 38% annual growth for Fair Trade certified teas and major commitments from industry leaders to certify their ingredients, Fair Trade tea is here to stay, according to the tea experts and organizers of World Tea East.

Also of note is the expo’s “Using the Health Message to Sell Tea” lecture, which shares how to use this strategy to build business while avoiding pitfalls.

For more information, visitwww.worldteaeast.com.