Pom Wonderful's Pomegranate Tea

The pomegranate people mix their bitter but popular juice with black tea for a hybrid that tasters found to be Wonderful.

By Hollis Ashman and Jacqueline Beckley, Consumer Understanding Editors

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Consumers are becoming aware of how healthy tea might be. But what about pomegranates?

When Stewart and Lynn Resnick, the owners of Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful LLC, conducted research at the start of their business, less than 12 percent of the public knew what a pomegranate was. When the Resnicks purchased a 100-acre pomegranate grove in 1987, they were encouraged to chop the entire orchard down since there was virtually no market for the hard-to-eat, inconvenient fruit.

Pom Wonderful LLC's Pomegranate Black Tea combines tea and pomegranate juice that allows for a milder yet distinctive flavor.

That's no longer the case. While figures are hard to come by, it is estimated the distinctive bulbous bottle and effective messaging has catapulted Pom Wonderful from $12 million in sales in 2003 to $91 million this year (according to an Aug. 7 Newsweek article).

How do you keep a product going with such a distinctive flavor as a pomegranate? Well, you listen to the voice of the consumer, which tells you the current product is too strong, too astringent and not sweet enough. Maybe you blend together two healthy ingredients - tea and pomegranates - to up the ante on healthy teas and juices.

That's what Pom Wonderful has done with Pomegranate Black Tea. The combination of tea and pomegranate juice allows for a milder yet distinctive flavor, an elixir of different antioxidants at a meaningful level that are naturally occurring and very easy to drink. The question is: Given the healthy and probably deserved halos of tea and pomegranate juice, will consumers want a healthier tea or juice or just one that tastes good?

Understanding the marketplace

Tea is a $1.7 billion category with 4.3 percent growth between 2003 and 2004. The growth has been in ready-to-drink (RTD) tea in bottles or cans, with sales of $631 million and a growth rate of 13.3 percent. Tea loose or in bags has $694 million in sales and a growth rate of 3.6 percent. Instant iced tea mix has $267 million in sales and a growth rate of -4.6 percent. Refrigerated tea, although just $142 million in sales, grew 23.5 percent from 2002 to 2004 (all according to Information Resources Inc. figures, excluding Wal-Mart).

Tea is the lower-caffeine, healthier version of a brown beverage with many exotic options. Top brands of RTD iced teas include Lipton, Nestea, Snapple, Arizona, Crystal Light and store brands. Just as many of these brands also appear on other beverages, tea, especially ready to drink, is being successfully marketed as a soft drink.

A key point is consumers are looking for unique beverages that deliver an added plus: healthy ingredients. Pom Wonderful, having already attracted people's attention with the juice and blends and a cool bottle, has created a new line to build upon the education base and continue the buzz.

Cold teas are chosen based on taste, aroma and beverage temperature. They are refreshing because they are icy cold, not too sweet and have well-blended flavors. Teas are of the brown beverage group (coffee, tea and cola), which is the reference point for all beverages. They are consumed across all day parts, but can be found more often at lunch, in the afternoon and with dinner.

Drink It! is our process to integrate 30 conjoint studies to generate a database that can be used to understand the experience of beverages. From the data, we see RTD tea is not about the bitter aftertaste often associated with hot tea or some instant iced teas, but it may have a sweet-bitter note. RTD tea flavors that consumers are looking for are fruity, berry flavors, not a creamy or traditional flavor. Tea is a beverage that goes with TV watching and playing on computers. It's considered just as natural a beverage as water. Tea is an emotional experience that relaxes you after a busy day. It fits our lives today.

It also provides a form of health insurance … of potential health benefits, just in case you need them. Consumers want these health benefits to be naturally occurring, however.

While flavor extensions and calorie variations have been the traditional paths forward for most beverage makers in recent years, consumers will accept only so many line extensions before looking for alternatives - either a wholly new beverage or a more premium traditional beverage. Premiumness can be defined by both flavor and what other attributes, including health, are brought into the mix.
Key trends impacting the category are freshness and premiumness.

Freshness: In a bottled tea beverage, freshness can be perceived by consumers to come from the flavor. The fruitier flavors are perceived to be fresh. Glass packaging also says fresh. Glass bottles took this once humble beverage category to another level.

Premiumness: The premium perception in teas always has come from the exotic blends of oils and tea leaf types, but with the bitter overtones subdued. Adding fruit flavors can smooth out the bitter overtones; they also give a fuller taste and perception of better mouthfeel. So much the better if you use an unusual fruit.

The experience

Pom Tea is available in a 13.5-oz., shrink-wrapped, glass container. The current line-up pairs pomegranate with black tea, lychee green tea, peach passion fruit white tea, blackberry black tea and POMx (a highly concentrated blend of juice). The price point can vary anywhere from $2.49 to 2.99. When the lid and shrink wrapper are removed, you are left with a drinking glass of tea, not a jar or bottle. The Pom logo with the heart has a leaf with "tea" written on it. The flavor of Pomegranate Black Tea is listed right below the logo.

On the back panel is discussion of the keepsake glass and the dose of potent polyphenols and other antioxidants and their link to heart health. The glass is a "gift" from the folks at Pom. It also suggests sippability and new rituals for cold RTD tea that do not occur with other bottled teas.

The beverage is a deep pink red color - while rich in color, it's much lighter than full-strength pomegranate juice. The flavor is tart and sweet at the same time. The blend of pomegranate and tea astringency can cause one to pause for a moment and enjoy the immediate taste recall. The taste is not typical of tea or juice. A faint sweetness is present. The aftertaste is tart yet pleasant and creates lightness about the beverage. The aroma, fruity and strong, is apparent, since your nose is inside the glass. That's something that is not possible with a traditional bottle.

While the glass is very easy to drink from, the initial removal of the cap is not. Some of our tasters had trouble with the lid, and a few splashed the product around. But the lack of the ridges was appreciated by all. "Finally" and "I hope there are more beverages in bottles like this, I hate those ridges!" were a few of the comments.

The overall impression of Pom tea is of a lightly flavored juice. This is not your traditional cold tea, but an easily consumed beverage that is refreshing and slightly luxurious.

Does the product deliver?

Pom as a brand is promising a high level of naturally occurring antioxidants from pomegranate juice (an antioxidant superstar). While consumers have to read the nutritional labels to determine if they are getting antioxidants, the product does deliver a set of healthy, refreshing cues that speak to the power of juice, fruit and tea.

One lingering question is, what is the right level of antioxidants that consumers need today? Pom does not answer this, but provides reassurances there is enough in the beverage.

The lightness of the flavor and the type give this product a lot of day-part range. The flavor, design of the container and the aroma puts this beverage clearly in a set of choices beyond simple tea.

How to make the idea bigger: This brand has worked hard to become familiar. It is shelved with produce, so assumes many of the healthy associations of fresh fruits and vegetables. This is different, but in a fruity, healthy way.

As one of us drank the beverage, we wondered how many equivalent fruit servings were in the glass. Since many consumers are not getting enough fruits and vegetables and the Resnicks are funding a lot of research, this should be on their to-do list.

The clever crafting of product, package and messaging intrigues. The first product in a Westwood, Calif., grocery store in 2002 was unmissable. This product rises to the same standard. If you go to the web site (www.pomwonderful.com/pom TeaHome.html), the glass even "sweats" as you read the copy!

Rating: This product is great. It is sweet and leverages familiar flavors. It encourages people who have fear of strong, unfamiliar food (pomegranates) to experiment. The package brings in the use of aroma and suggests rituals other competitors cannot access.

Market potential: High. The product will connect with the targeted user group and expand to others through word of mouth. Great for the brand, great for the fruit and a wonderful innovative twist on the familiar.


Hollis Ashman is chief strategist and Jacqueline Beckley is president of the Understanding & Insight Group, a strategy, business and product development firm that connects with consumers using qualitative and quantitative approaches. For more information, see www.theuandigroup.com.
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