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Focusing on flavor: Iced tea trends and insights

iced tea

Iced tea has become an American beverage staple, with 84% of restaurants offering it as a menu option. With this prevalence in the foodservice industry, are there still opportunities for growth and innovation? Yes, particularly in the category of flavored iced teas.

Consumers and prevalence

According to S&D Coffee & Tea’s proprietary research of tea consumers, more than two-thirds of iced tea drinkers are more likely to order tea if the operation offers a variety of flavors and types. A Datassential BUZZ coffee and tea consumer survey shows that flavored teas index highly in the coveted 18-34 age bracket, and flavored teas also over-index in non-white ethnicity.

Looking at the total incidences of iced tea, flavored iced teas represent a 20% share of limited-service restaurant servings—about 498,000 annually, according to NPD Group/CREST®’s year-end data from May 2016. This share represents a 19% increase over the previous year.

Flavor trends

Iced tea flavors move though a menu adoption cycle—beginning with inception, followed by adoption and proliferation, and finally, reaching ubiquity. Datassential’s MenuTrends 2016 report categorizes iced tea flavors into these stages; examples include:

  • Inception—orange, pineapple, guava, jasmine
  • Adoption—mint, blackberry, papaya, pomegranate
  • Proliferation—chai, mango, peach
  • Ubiquity—sweet, raspberry, lemon

Furthermore, flavors can also be tracked by region. The Technomic MenuMonitor report from Q4 2016 shows raspberry, peach and mango are the top flavors, ranking first, second and third across the board (West, South, Midwest and Northeast). Then selections begin to deviate, with West choosing passion fruit and the rest of the regions choosing strawberry.

The same report names black raspberry (West), cardamom (West, South), apricot (South, Midwest and Northeast), peppermint (Northeast) and papaya (Midwest) as the fastest-growing flavors in the respective regions—demonstrating how palates can vary geographically.

Insights for operators

Flavor and tea type variety is a top purchase driver and was ranked second in a Datassential BUZZ coffee & tea consumer survey on the most impactful attributes to a successful iced tea program, following the tea being freshly brewed. The availability of options should be communicated on menus, with optimized messaging that lists tea types (black, green) and flavors (peach, berry, etc.).

Explore innovative offerings with a touch of the familiar. Layering in a known name, description, flavor or product aspect will increase potential consumer understanding and, subsequently, create interest in these beverages.

Keep in mind that the vehicle for flavor is important. Iced tea drinkers prefer that the added flavors come from sources deemed more natural like dried fruits, spices, and herbs added to the tea leaves themselves, as opposed to syrups. This preference makes sense given the importance iced tea devotees place on the health benefits of fresh and natural teas.

This post is sponsored by S&D Coffee & Tea