The one traditional thing about trends is that they tend to come and go. Think back to your youth and the trends of the day. For me, it was big hair, hip hop and fast food. While some of that has changed over the past 40 years, there are some trends that are hip enough to continue (just look on almost every corner of any given town to see how many fast-food chains there are today). Trends can stay with us for what seems like eternity, or they can go as quickly as they came (think fidget spinners and hot chocolate bombs). Trends impact every aspect of our lives, from what we wear, how we decorate our homes, to what we eat and drink.
Over the past several years, we have seen many changes in trends through the restaurant and food industries. The tea industry is no different. As many teashop and tea brand owners can attest, there have been some positive trends for the tea industry in recent years. Speaking from experience, we’ve seen these trends at our tea shop during the past five years that we’ve been in business.
Here’s a look at five key trends that are happening right now in our industry. Whether these current tea trends were spurred on by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, or an overall movement toward wanting to be healthier, we hope they continue for years to come.
Trend No. 1 – Coffee Drinkers Want to Enjoy Tea
Over the past six months, our tea shop has seen an increase in guests who consider themselves to be “traditional coffee drinkers,” wanting to switch to tea drinking. This can pose some issues, as non-tea coffee drinkers are very used to enjoying robust and strong flavored beverages.
According to the National Coffee Association’s 2020 report, seven in 10 Americans drink coffee every week, and 62 percent drink coffee every day. This leads to an average annual consumption of more than 184 billion cups of coffee each year.
According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A, “in 2019, Americans consumed over 84 billion servings of tea, or more than 3.8 billion gallons.” This amount is still considerably less than coffee drinkers. Still, tea can be found in nearly 80 percent of all households, and on any given day, according to the Tea Association, you can find more than 159 million Americans enjoying a cup of tea.
In tracking this trend in our teashop over the past six months, we have found an average of 10 to 12 guests per month coming in and telling us their desire to leave coffee behind and enjoy tea. For many, the change comes for health reasons. Some because they are looking for teas to help with certain ailments, others it’s to reduce their caffeine intake. Regardless, understanding a coffee palate is important to directing these guests to the right tea for them.
We ask lots of questions of these guests, like: Do they prefer black tea, or do they add sweeteners and creamers? Do they like regular or decaf? Light roast or robust? These are all things to think about when working with a coffee turned tea drinker.
Trend No. 2 – Guest Are Looking for Good Tasting and Good for You Options
There’s certainly a reason why “functional tea lines” have seen tremendous growth in the tea industry over the past several years. That’s because guests aren’t just looking for flavor anymore (though that remains important). They are looking for good taste and good-for-you teas. Gone are the days where a majority of people will drink tea just because. Now, they want to know that what they are drinking is beneficial to them in some way.
Daily, we have guests come in and talk about the benefits they heard about green tea or one herb or another. There’s no doubt that the increase in our requests for tea are in direct relation to the health benefits that it offers.
What does that mean for the local teashop? That means that we need to make sure our team is knowledgeable about the functionality and benefits of the tea we offer. Whether that means classes with a tea organization or sitting down on a weekly basis to share information with them, understanding the product and being able to know why certain teas are good for the customer is of the utmost importance. It’s also important that your team try different teas so they can explain their flavor profiles to guests, as well as knowing their ingredients and preparation information.
Trend No. 3 – Guests Want to Be Educated
Have you ever had that one customer or guest that knows just about everything about tea? Of course, we’ve had a few at our shop, but most of our guests just know they like a certain tea. That gives us the perfect opportunity to provide them with unique information about the tea they’re drinking.
Whether it’s the history of the tea, the garden it came from, or why it has a certain name, providing information about a tea only deepens the connection between the drinker and the drink. It’s like going into a local brewery and talking with the head brewer about the beer they made. It adds a certain sense of “humanity” to it and deepens the guests’ connection with their beverage. This, in turn, deepens their connection with your brand.
Does this mean you have to go into the history of each tea with every guest you serve? No. But if you see a guest pick up a certain tea, providing them a little tidbit about that tea will go a long way. It may even peak their interest to ask more questions to learn more about tea.
In a world where people want to know how and where things were made, we have the tremendous opportunity to teach them. Let us start teaching!
Trend No. 4 – Guests Want Good Products But Also Convenience and Selection
Guests are looking for quality in their products. This is true, not just in the tea world, but across a wide spectrum of goods and services. They no longer will compromise quality for quantity, but they still want convenience and a wide selection of options. While the number of tea drinkers exploring and enjoying loose tea options continues to rise, so do the number of tea drinkers that want convenience.
One of our most successful product launches was a three-tea bag sample pack three years ago. At the time, we took our most popular teas and put them into tea sachets that we hand filled. It was a daunting task, but it was a huge success. Now, after three years, we offer all our loose teas in tea sachet options.
The choice to include our whole product line was not an easy one. In fact, because we hand-fill the tea sachets, we looked at keeping only a limited number of teas this way. Over time, with requests from guests to try other teas, we eventually made all our teas in sachets as an option.
When guests come in to buy tea, you will always have those that prefer to measure out their own tea into their brewing vessels. However, over 80 percent of our guests prefer the convenience of our tea sachets. It’s not for any other reason then that they are pre-measured, and all they have to do is add water. They also appreciate that they can get any of our teas in sachets in either a three pack or a 15 pack (we encourage them to try the sample packs to determine which tea they like best before purchasing the larger packs).
If you can’t make tea sachets with your tea, then make sure you have tea ware that you can offer to your guests to make their tea experience enjoyable and simple. If they find it easy, they will make it a part of their daily routine, thus leading to more tea sales for you.
Trend No. 5 – Guests Want to Shop Local
Ok, so we all know that a majority of a teashop’s inventory does not come from a local source. For example, our shop is in Florida and we have no local tea grower that can supply us tea for our shop. Therefore, guests to our shop know that it is not a local product.
However, they come to our shop because we are local. They trust us to source the best of the best product they are looking for. They expect us to be their local guide for good teas and tea products. They expect that we will be able to lead them through this international commodity.
The big push to shop local really started mid-pandemic last year, when many “mom and pop” stores were facing permanent closure. The notion of losing our local stores pulled at the heart strings of so many, and it really allowed shoppers to refocus their spending right in their own towns, where the money stays local. The trend has continued into the new year and will be one that we hope continues for years to come.
How does that benefit local tea shops? It allows you to focus on your expertise. Regardless of whether your product is locally produced or not, guests still want to buy local. It’s our responsibility to understand our international products, so customers see us as a local resource and as their local source for tea.
Remember, a majority of the time guests do not get personalized service in a larger chain store. They do not get the opportunity to speak to a local tea professional when shopping for groceries. Guests will go out of their way to travel to your shop because you are local and because they want their money to stay within the local environment.
Your Journey to Success
While these five trends by no means, represent all that is going on in our tea industry, it is a good start to understand where our industry is headed, in terms of the customer. The best way to learn about trends in your area is to listen to your customers. Find out what they are asking for and then try your hardest to make it happen. If it’s that they want to learn more about tea, create and host a class. If they want more green teas, start looking at your sources. Your trends in your area will predict your actions for your teashop. All you have to do is listen and your customers will guide you to success.
Kelly Hackman – owner of The White Heron Tea & Gifts and Driftwood Tea Company in historic downtown New Port Richey, Fla. – is a World Tea Academy Certified Tea Sommelier, Certified Tea Specialist and an Etiquette Consultant. Hackman has created a unique tea escape at her tearoom, which has assisted in transforming her town’s historic landscape while drawing guests to the area from throughout the Southeastern United States. Visit The White Heron Tea and Gifts online at TheWhiteHeronFL.com and Driftwood Tea Company at DriftwoodTeaCompany.com