The 2011 World Tea East just concluded this afternoon in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This was the first East Coast tea show since 2007, and the first ever to take place in addition to the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. It was a great three days (including the World Origins Tasting Tour), and I wanted to share a few thoughts before I head out of town.

  1. While the show was much smaller than the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, buyer-to-exhibitor ratios of 25 to 1 made for a pretty busy event.  Pity the vendors that chose not to participate.
  2. The U.S. recently surpassed the UK as the world’s second largest importer of tea. That’s pretty impressive and exciting. (Never mind the fact that we could fit the UK in our back pocket.) We’re now sixth in global consumption. In case you’re wondering, the countries that consume more, but import less, are producing countries drinking their own tea. This I learned from Joe Simrany, President of the Tea Association of the USA.
  3. Joe Simrany also said that while the FDA prohibits us from saying that tea prevents heart disease, lowers cholesterol, causes weight loss, prevents cancer, and so on, we CAN say that tea is heart healthy, helps regulate cholesterol, helps the body process fats, and improves the immune function. These are “structural statements,” and not health claims, according to the FDA. I’m going to have to research the details on this a little more closely. I’ll let you know what I find.
  4. If I have to make a living selling products that don’t excite me as much in order to be able to afford to sell what I am passionate about, so be it!
  5. The inefficiency on the import side of this business is fascinating. For example, I had lunch with a delegation from Nepal, including the Chairman of the Himalayan Orthodox Tea Producers Association, to discuss how to get more of their amazing teas into the U.S. Half of the importers into the U.S. are airfreighting small shipments direct from Nepal, and most of the rest are importing from German brokers. The reality is that we’re all buying from the same small handful of sources. If we could only import a container and divide it among the wholesalers, we’d save a fortune and be able to put better tea on the market at a lower cost. Of course, this would require a level of cooperation that’s nearly impossible to organize, but it’s a pity.
  6. Saw many, MANY new faces. Many I’ve talked with online, or heard about along the way, but have never seen at the Expo in Las Vegas. Great to meet so many new people!
  7. $10 per ounce appears to be the mental barrier beyond which the number of potential buyers shrinks to infinitesimal levels. That’s not to say that retailers can’t sell teas over $10 an ounce, just that the potential customers are very few and far between. There’s value to stretching into the super premium teas (brand positioning and moving the customer’s perception of “normal pricing”), just don’t think you’re going to build a large and profitable business operating only in the stratosphere.
  8. Sneaking Lipton teabags into a focused tasting of premium black teas is really amusing, especially when one of the world’s most internationally renowned tea personalities loudly proclaims, “It doesn’t even taste like tea,” before discovering the source.
  9. Social media isn’t driving a ton of revenue yet (even for the savviest, trendiest companies), but it sure is gaining popularity. I have to believe we’re nearing the point where the constant investments in social media will begin to show measurable and profitable returns (beyond brand building).
  10. I’m getting old. Must sleep more next time.

Thanks again to all my tea friends. It was a great weekend.