“The part of the tea segment that’s growing is the premium tea market,” John Harper Crandall, the company’s VP of sales and marketing, told FoodNavigator-USA at the recent IFT Food Expo in Las Vegas.
“What this product can be used for is the commercial production of kombucha without having to procure, steep, and dispose of your own leaves.”
The acidic drink with a myriad of purported health benefits is a hot category to tap into. According to data from consumer market research firm Mintel, more than half of US adults aged 25-34 already drink kombucha, or nearly 25% of the general US population.
A surge thanks to RTD tea and coffee demand
Founded in 1989, Amelia Bay specializes in brewing tea and coffee at a commercial scale, serving RTD tea and coffee brands. It sources its ingredients worldwide, though customers have the option of specifying a single-source if they wish to have a more premium brand.
Crandall said that demand for brewed tea compounds has grown exponentially in recent years. A main driving force of this growth is the surge of new product launches and consumer demand for RTD tea products.
According to food and beverage market consultancy Zenith Global, the category reached 37bn liters worldwide in 2016, up 40% since 2011. The bulk of this is Asia with 72% of market share, followed by North America with 15%.
The category’s popularity is a domino effect from decreased sugary soda sales as consumers today, particularly in North America, become more health conscious. Its mix of convenience and health appeal attracts grocery shoppers who are buying less bagged and loose-leaf tea beginning in 2015.
Among the $12bn in US annual tea sales, RTD tea represents the bulk of the US market at 50%, while 8% of Americans consume loose-leaf tea, according to data from Statista.
Herbal blend over citric acid
Another hot-button topic that Amelia Bay put the spotlight on at IFT is using herbal blends to help keep tea fresh as opposed to the traditionally used citric acid.
“For organic sweet tea in particular, when you co-pack you have to acidify it. The problem with organic and all-natural claims is citric acid is synthetic [citric acid is found in fruits but is made commercially via a process some might not consider to be 'natural'],” he said. The use of citric acid has gotten many natural-claiming brands under fire, from Nestlé’s Lean Cuisine to Dole’s fruit cups.
“We have the ability through an herbal tea blend to acidify a product without the use of citric acid, so we’re talking about the ability to have a much cleaner label.”