by Julie Cook Ramirez
Juice and tea makers embrace the flood of good news regarding the healthfulness of their products.
If iced tea truly is an acquired taste, then American consumers must be in acquisition mode these days.
According to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI), sales of refrigerated teas in supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, soared 27.8 percent in dollars and 18.0 percent in units during the 52-week period ending November 5, 2006. Sales of canned and bottled teas fared nearly as well, rising 24.3 percent and 13.2 percent, respectively.
“The consumer trend is definitely shifting toward tea,” says Marlene Weaver, marketing associate, Turkey Hill Dairy, Conestoga, Pa. “People are looking for something different to drink, and with all the talk about the health benefits of tea, it just makes it the perfect choice for them.”
There certainly has been no shortage of news stories regarding the apparent healthfulness of tea, particularly when it comes to the green variety. In late May, however, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) denied the tea industry’s request for a claim that consumption of green tea improves cardiovascular health. Granted, there is a great deal of evidence suggesting that dietary flavonoids, found in both green and black tea, contribute to cardiovascular health. What is currently missing from the literature, however, is epidemiological research on green tea consumption among the U.S. population and clinical human studies demonstrating that drinking green tea reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing the risk of “specific measurable endpoints” associated with the disease, such as lowering cholesterol or blood pressure, according to the FDA.
The lack of an official proclamation hasn’t quelled consumer demand, however. Weaver reports that Turkey Hill’s Green Tea with Ginseng and Honey recently supplanted lemonade as the dairy’s second best-selling juice/tea product, behind regular iced tea. A diet variety of the green tea holds the No. 3 spot.
Turkey Hill’s green teas are part of its Nature’s Accents line of herbal teas, which also includes its latest offering, Blueberry Oolong Tea with Vitamins C and E. The company plans to unveil some varieties of white tea early in 2007.
Bessemer, Ala.-based Milo’s Tea Co. also reports increased demand for its products. Unlike Turkey Hill, however, Milo’s prefers to stick to the basics, selling its all-natural, leaf-brewed “Famous Tea” in both sweet and unsweetened varieties in gallon jugs and 12-ounce single-serve bottles. According to Jay Evers, vice president and COO, it’s all about protecting the integrity of a product he calls their “child.”
Evers also recognized the need to rely on others to take his child to market and expand distribution of Milo’s products. Dairies emerged as the ideal partner.
“We have gone to market with dairy DSD distributors because they know how to handle a fresh, all-natural product and make sure that it stays cold throughout the entire distribution chain,” explains Mitch Wolffe, sales and marketing manager.
Milo’s has teamed with a number of regional dairies, including Athens, Tenn.-based Mayfield Dairy Farms and New Orleans-based Brown’s Dairy.
“We have plans for expansion, but we want to be very deliberate in how we go about it,” Evers says. “We don’t want to go too fast and bring on too many partners and geographies too soon because it wouldn’t be a service to Milo’s or the dairy partner because we couldn’t give them the support they need.”
The healthy halo has also shined its light on juices — when it comes to particular varieties, that is. According to IRI, apple juice sales rose 16.3 percent in dollars and 17.3 percent in units, while cranberry cocktail/drink sales surged 63.4 and 51.2 percent and grape juice sales soared 181.2 percent and 179.4 percent, respectively.
“People are looking for healthy drinks and better nutrition in their drinks, and they’re finding that carbonated soft drinks aren’t providing that for them,” says Carol Freysinger, executive director, Juice Products Association (JPA), Washington, D.C.
Freysinger also believes there’s a sort of “prodigal son” phenomenon going on. That is, many consumers who had abandoned the juice category during the low-carb craze are now returning, buoyed by increasing news regarding scientific findings related to the healthfulness of juice.
“There’s somewhat of a ‘drink your vitamin’ mentality emerging,” says Richard Ross, vice president of marketing, Tampico Beverages, Chicago. “People are discovering that juices provide a way to get their vitamins or antioxidants without having to take a physical pill, while they drink the fluids that they need to stay hydrated anyway.”
While many consumers have turned to juices as a healthful alternative to soft drinks, Freysinger says others still cling to the notion that juices lead to obesity. Thus, the JPA has embarked on a program to educate consumers through “influencers,” such as doctors, nurses and dieticians.
“It’s difficult to reach all consumers, so we decided to take a scientifically based approach and reach out to the organizations and individuals who influence consumers’ nutrition decisions,” she explains.
When it comes to what issues keep juice makers up at night, Freysinger is quick to cite the matter of food security. Looking at potential vulnerabilities in food production in 2004, the FDA identified juices as one of the five categories considered to be at highest risk. According to Freysinger, many juice makers have been working in conjunction with the FDA, FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, conducting vulnerability assessments at their plants to ensure that their products remain safe from intentional contamination.
“The juice industry has really come out in the forefront of the food security area,” she says. “They’ve been very engaged in minimizing the risk.”
Julie Cook Ramirez is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.$OMN_arttitle="Drinkable Vitamins";?> $OMN_artauthor="Julie Cook Ramirez";?>