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Touting tea

Tea may not have the rock-star status of coffee, says one tea booster, but it is shining among bever

May 27, 2014
By Colleen Cross


James Kenny is on a mission to awaken people in the vending industry to tea’s possibilities for the market.

James Kenny is on a mission to awaken people in the vending industry to tea’s possibilities for the market.


“I want to start a conversation about tea,” says the foodservice and specialty channel manager at Tata Global Beverages Canada. Kenny thinks that tea has boundless untapped potential.

“Tea is on a huge upswing and is growing at a good rate of three to five per cent per year on average, he says. “Lots of people are giving up coffee for tea. I would say it’s a sort of renaissance across all ages.”


In terms of trends, he says the most growth – 39 per cent of the market – is among people aged 45 to 64 (based on 2011 numbers). Consumption has slowed among those 65 and older.

Kenny manages sales of Tetley in the company’s foodservice, office coffee, vending  and specialty channels. A certified tea sommelier, he works with the Tea Association of Canada to promote awareness of the tea category.

Earning his stripes as a sommelier involved taking an eight-module course with the association, completing an exam and blind cupping after each module. He then passed a final certification exam. The course includes such topics as tasting; tea preparation; growing regions, which are similar in climate to those of wine; and developing menus.

“It’s a palate thing,” says Kenny. Specialty tea flavours such as berry blends as well as non-caffeinated teas and herbal teas are gaining in popularity, he adds, suggesting it’s not only the flavours and the sheer variety of teas available but also the variations in each cup  that appeal. Black and green teas are still by far the top choices for Canadians.

These days most of the tea sold in vending machines in Canada is cold, packaged tea, typically bottled or canned, he says. Thus he sees an opportunity to develop the category. Ninety-five per cent of tea drinkers use tea bags, but interestingly the same people are using pods 35 per cent of the time. So there is still room for growth in single-use pods.

“Tea has not had the rock-star status” of coffee, he says. “Coffee provides quicker service and is generally more accepted as foolproof out of home. Another challenge in updating the beverage’s image is that tea drinkers are particular. They like what they like. Tea is very personal, each cup reflects the person brewing it.”

Many drinkers carry tea bags with them to ensure they have the tea they prefer, says the tea aficionado, adding that tea bags are “the original pods” because they are so portable. That in itself is a challenge for those looking to bring tea into vending machines.

Machines have the technology to “tea dose,” says Kenny, but at the moment it’s largely a matter of dispensing hot water. Temperature is a concern. Water must be of a high enough temperature to brew tea properly or the right blend must be found to accommodate lower temperatures.

Brands also are important because consumers identify with them, he says. There is an unspoken understanding between the consumer and the brand about what they can expect.

Another reason tea has not kept up with coffee in the market is that tea drinkers as a group can be reticent, says Kenny. “They don’t tend to speak out for some reason. They don’t demand what they want.”

Kenny says that education is key. It’s up to organizations such as the Tea Association to educate the public about tea’s characteristics and benefits. Category leaders, he adds, must educate the restaurants, vending machine operators and office coffee companies about how to make a proper cup of tea. All operators need to know what is available to them.

Tea takes time to brew properly, and that may be what puts it at odds with the notion of convenience that drives the vending industry. The development of pods has helped equalize tea and coffee, says Kenny. “But tea doesn’t get the attention it should.”


  • Tea is the second-most favoured beverage, on par with coffee, accounting for 16 per cent “share of throat” following water: water accounts for 35 per cent of beverages consumed on weekdays, 32 per cent on weekends; tea, 16 per cent on weekdays and 13 per cent on weekends; coffee, 13 per cent on weekdays and 11 per cent on weekends.
  • 45 per cent of adult Canadians drink at least one cup of tea on a weekly basis, of which 13 per cent are heavy drinkers (eight-plus cups per week).
  • 73 per cent of tea drinkers also drink coffee.
  • Tops among tea drinkers is black tea, which is consumed by 36 per cent of those surveyed. Black tea is followed by green tea (25 per cent), herbal tea (18 per cent), flavoured black tea (16 per cent), flavoured green tea (11 per cent), Rooibos (four per cent) and white tea (three per cent). Other teas accounted for four per cent.

– from an NPD study for the Tea Association of Canada

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