Adventurous tea-drinkers are seeking innovative, sophisticated flavors like rose, turmeric, and matcha.
Tea has roots as a medicinal drink going back thousands of years. Although tea is just about as familiar a beverage as water, health-conscious consumers seeking a beverage that isn’t water continue to turn to tea over carbonated or high-calorie options.
Sian Cunningham, market research and consumer insights analyst, Kerry Ingredients (Beloit, WI), tells Nutritional Outlook that four in five consumers identify themselves as tea-drinkers, according to Mintel. More adventurous tea-drinkers, however, are no longer satisfied with a simple cup of green or black. Cunningham also points to research from Datassential that shows 96% menu growth for rose flavors between 2013 and 2017, and 227% menu growth for lemongrass flavors during the same period.
With herbal and botanical flavors poised to become major players in the tea category, companies like Synergy Flavors (Wauconda, IL), Gold Coast Ingredients (Commerce, CA), and Kerry Ingredients are keeping a weather eye on the horizon and seeking points of differentiation in a crowded category with sophisticated new flavor offerings.
Tea-riffic New Flavors
Millennials’ preferences and buying habits, in particular, are driving this wave of flavor innovation, says Cynthia Bethscheider, beverage technologist, Synergy. “Millennials have been called ‘experience collectors,’” she tells Nutritional Outlook, “which has caused companies to shift from traditional tea flavors to new combinations of flavors, sensations, and nutritional benefits that Millennials are interested in trying.” She says the Tea House Collection from Pure Leaf (New York, NY)-which includes Organic Black Tea Sicilian Lemon & Honeysuckle, Organic Black Tea Wild Blackberry & Sage, and Organic Black Tea Valencia Orange Peel flavors-are good examples of how tea companies are capitalizing on increased consumer interest in alternative flavors.
This trend does not mean the category is saying goodbye to traditional favorites. Kevin Goodner, PhD, product manager of essences and extracts, Synergy, and Megan Trent, marketing representative, Gold Coast, agree that old flavor standbys-peach, blueberry, raspberry, and the like-are still the most commonly used flavors for tea products. “Tea-drinkers tend to “stick with simple flavors from nature,” says Trent. But, consumers are likely to be wooed by these familiar flavors in combination with newer, more unique flavors. For instance, Trent says that Gold Coast’s flavor portfolio includes turmeric mango, peach rose, and lavender vanilla flavors.
Goodner adds that Synergy has developed a line of floral teas “as well as products with added health benefits, such as turmeric and hibiscus, that marry well into a tea drink.” Synergy uses natural flavor essences, “which are captured and added back into the beverage for natural flavors and smells that the consumer wants,” adds Goodner.
But, flavor-matching can be challenging. According to Trent, “Customers [often] want to match specific flavor profiles. Matching flavors just takes more time and expertise; the targeted flavor profile needs to be analyzed before the new flavor is formulated, matched and approved,” she says.
Norman Khan, director, research and development, Kerry, concurs. He adds that while Kerry has the capability to develop most flavor profiles, “the biggest challenge will be understanding what the consumer expectation [is] for a new and adventurous flavor,” he says. “Developers must spend time with culinary to first develop a gold standard flavor profile and then would translate that to a tea product.”
Angie Lantman, product development manager, Synergy, says that some popular ingredients can add additional challenges, and require experienced flavor technologists to deal with them. She states, “As developers add more functional ingredients, such as turmeric, the potential for off-notes increases. Those ingredients can cause cloudiness, sedimentation, and unwanted bitterness.”
So, if we’re reading the tea leaves, what does the future hold? According to Trent, creamy, dairy-free, tea-based lattes are the next big “it” tea products. The astronomical rise of the matcha latte, for instance, has paved the way for turmeric lattes, she says. “We have already seen the chai tea latte, matcha latte, and now turmeric latte. Next, we predict we’ll see more beet root lattes, cocoa lattes, cocoa with matcha lattes, red rooibos lattes, and more.”
Goodner adds that his company combines different varieties of vanilla and floral essences to make base of tea lattes.
Ultimately, says Cunningham, globalization and “a growing multicultural population” have made once-exotic flavors and spices more accessible. For consumers looking for tea with a little more flair-or a beverage with natural ingredients that still tastes great-there’s no shortage of options.