RTD tea is ripe for change. Believed to have been invented over 100 years ago by an American merchant at a fair in St Louis, RTD tea has evolved little in that time, with options still limited to a small range of green and black tea blends. Green tea typically combined with honey for sweetness and the likes of ginseng for flavour, and black tea blended with conventional fruits like peach or raspberry, which offer both sweetness and appealing taste. However, as the purchasing power of Millennials is growing, so too is the RTD tea sector.
Globalisation and the advancement of refrigeration has, over time, led to a greater choice in food and flavours, with Millennials benefitting from this diverse culinary backdrop from an early age. The result is a generation of people comfortable with previously unusual flavours and, more than that, keen to try other new and different tastes. What was novel to their predecessors is now familiar, so brands have to work harder to keep loyalty among Millennials who hunger for newness, provided through niche flavours that carry a “cool” factor.
Cucumber green tea and tropical fruit flavours blended into black iced teas will become mainstream as Millennials drive the evolution of RTD teas forward. Next in line will be herbal teas and botanical influences, which are being driven by another area of the consumer landscape too; namely, the growing group of consumers looking for functional, health and wellness benefits from their beverages. In the RTD tea sector, Kenyan herbals and hibiscus, with their associated health halo, will become more popular; but its botanicals like butterfly-pea flower that are set to really attract attention. Not only does this botanic offer anti-oxidant properties but also an interesting colour profile. Its natural deep blue hue can be turned purple with the addition of lemon, which also lends flavour to this otherwise bland extract. It seems the RTD tea of the future will throw off its historically bland colour and familiar taste options to feature vibrant hues and diverse flavour profiles.
The consumer drive for more organic, sustainable options is also impacting the evolution of RTD teas. The Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade marques are becoming essential features on tea packaging and it is possible that this eco-friendly agenda will see the development of an increasingly transparent tea supply chain going forward. This natural, organic influence will impact packaging too, as recycled glass bottles increase in popularity over aluminium or plastic options, particularly for lightly-carbonated drinks like Kombucha where natural fermentation is promoted when stored in glass.
As in other industries, the arrival of Covid has also had an influence on the RTD tea sector, but it is still too early to tell how deep this impact runs. Deepthi Ananth, Product Development Specialist in the Tea Category for Treatt, comments:
“Interestingly, Covid has led to an increase in RTD tea sales, as restrictions have encouraged consumers to buy iced tea in bulk to drink at home. Whether this growing interest in replicating the coffee house or takeaway drink culture at home will last is hard to say but there are signs of this trend growing, and the introduction of products like chai latte in a retail format shows a possible appetite for this within beverages too. It is clear, however, that there is potential for big change in the RTD tea sector within ingredients and extracts going forward. In particular, we are expecting a movement towards kombucha with its lightly carbonated qualities; health-inducing herbals like turmeric, hibiscus and butterfly-pea flower; and oriental tea varieties like matcha or oolong. This is definitely an exciting time for an historically fairly conventional drinks category.”