Tea times two

I suspect Americans have a propensity for avoiding tea because of a deep-seated psychological cue that if American colonists hadn't protested against Great Britain by destroying tea on ships in Boston Harbor in December of 1773, the American Revolution would never have been sparked. No doubt, we'd still be enjoying afternoon tea. But a new report from Packaged Facts predicts the market for tea, "instant, leaf, liquid concentrate and ready-to-drink," will heat up over the next five years, almost doubling from an estimated $7.4 billion in sales in 2007 to nearly $15 billion in 2012. One of the most underdeveloped beverages in the U.S., tea barely compares in size to beverage categories such as carbonated soft drinks, coffee and water. Americans' growing interest in wellness, however, is starting to change that. Tea's good-for-you, all-natural halo and lower-than-coffee-or-cola caffeine content complement today's health-aware consumer, particularly aging Baby Boomers seeking promises of wellness and anti-aging effects. Tea also has an advantage over other beverages in its diversity. Packaged Facts projects that by 2012, specialty tea, which currently makes up 36 percent of the overall market, will command half of all tea and ready-to-drink tea sales in the U.S. "As more flavors and packaging options enter the market, tea and ready-to-drink teas are increasingly securing a position as an alternative to carbonated soft drinks,' notes Publisher Tatjana Meerman. "The days of the generic black tea bag are gone and the chai, yerba mate, rooibos and other specialty teas that Boomers are consuming in mass quantities are here to stay." It's true that growth of RTD tea grew 9.1 percent in 2006 because of its convenience and wellness attributes. That segment of tea will probably continue to grow slowly, as will specialty teas for health. But prognosticators have been touting tea as the upcoming breakthrough beverage for the past 10 years. I'll believe it when I see everyone packing tea bags for school and work. As for me, I'm not trading in my coffee pot anytime soon.