, I had the opportunity to speak with Joe Simrany, the President of the U.S. Tea Association, and ask him a number of questions I’ve been curious about.  It was interesting to get his impressions on some current topics as well as an overview of what his organization does.  

1.  What is the mission of the U.S. Tea Association?

The mission of the U.S. Tea Association is to protect the interests of the tea industry in the U.S.  This includes:

  1. Serving as the voice of the tea industry when dealing with the media, governmental regulatory agencies, foreign interests, tea growers, international regulatory and governmental agencies, special interest groups, and the public.
  2. Setting guidelines for the industry that are designed to protect the industry’s interests as well as those of the consuming public.
  3. Pooling the industry’s financial and human resources to handle specific projects / challenges that would be cost prohibitive for any single member to take on.
  4. Making resources available to individual member companies that might otherwise not be affordable, such as PR, legal, or research services.

The mission of the Tea Council of the USA, to which all members of the Tea Association receive automatic membership, is to promote tea in the U.S.  Each year, the Tea Council spends between $300,000 and $550,000 to promote tea, including specialty, mass-marketed, and RTD teas.  Over the last 20 years, millions of dollars have been spent, mostly in the form of linking tea consumption to a great many health benefits.  Market (tracking) research suggests that the percentage of consumers who view tea as a healthy beverage has moved from under 25% twenty years ago to nearly 100% today.  The next scientific symposium is scheduled for September 19, 2012 at the Thomas Jefferson Auditorium at the USDA in Washington, DC.

2.  What percentage of the 3,000 independently owned tea shops in the U.S. are members of the Assocation?

Between 8 and 10% of the shops are members, but this number is quite volatile, depending upon economic conditions and other variables.  I understand 2010 brought record-breaking news to the U.S tea industry.  I think our readers would love to hear more.

The United States had record-breaking imports in 2010 of nearly 280,000,000 pounds of tea.  While we do not have the official figures for the UK for 2010, in 2009, they imported about 265 million pounds, which is down nearly 7.5% from 2008 and down yet again a small percentage from 2007.  The official record keepers in London (the International Tea Committee) assure us that we surpassed the UK in 2010.

4.  Do you attribute the unprecedented growth in the tea industry to the growing perception that tea is a healthy beverage?  

The association of tea with good health is the cornerstone of tea’s recent popularity, but it is not the only reason.  Also contributing greatly is the convenience of RTD tea and its appeal to a much more all-family demographic, which has broadened the consumer base for tea.  Another reason for the current popularity of tea is the allure and awareness of specialty tea and the attraction that it poses to tea entrepreneurs and foodservice retailers alike because of its potential for high profitability.  Together, these three motivators will likely propel tea forward for the foreseeable future.

5.  What do you see as the future of tea in the U.S.?

The future for tea looks very bright and I see absolutely no signs that tea has any intention of slowing down.  Conversely, there is every reason to believe that the appreciation of tea within the United States is still in its infancy and that it will continue to make inroads against virtually all competitive beverages on the basis of its many inherent attributes, including its health benefits, taste, satiation of thirst, unlimited variation, and low cost.

Thank you, Joe, for taking the time to share your thoughts and vision.