We’ve all heard of the Amazon effect, and almost no business is immune, including the tea business. While it is platform to sell various types of tea, in 2017 Amazon announced it would enter some snack and ready to eat food markets, including selling their own house tea brand. What does this mean and what are the implications for the tea industry?
FIRST – WHAT ARE THE TEAS?
Marketed as the “Wickedly Prime” brand, these are a collection of teas covering all the bases – black, oolong, herbal, and even matcha. Other than matcha these teas are sold in 15 count boxes of sachets.
Bagged tea is often looked down upon as inferior tea, and for the huge mega brands, this is and continues to be true. The reason is that fannings or dust grade tea is used, which is a lower quality compared to what the loose market enjoys. However, some loose tea can also be put in bags for convenience sake, and this is exactly what Amazon has done.
BAGGED LOOSE TEA LIMITATIONS
In general, only certain types of loose teas can be put into bags. These are usually simpler blends, ones without lots of larger chunks, nut slices or types of tea that grow and expand significantly (think some of the pearl style teas and oolongs) as well as the rare and exotic types that are long whole leaf styles. Manufacturing typically makes it economically infeasible to have a very large selection. Loose tea can be blended in small or large quantities. But the production commitment is higher with bagged teas, so whatever you are going to bag, it needs to be a good seller.
In theory, you could start a tea company in your basement without any raw materials. You can develop a blend and contract the bagging process out to someone else. This is the same as what Apple does. They design the iPhone in California, and then the actual manufacturing gets done at Foxconn over in China.
When contracting out you can send your raw materials directly over to the bagging company, or many of them have a variety of ‘house’ ingredients you can arrange in any way you like and then settle on a formula. They take care of the rest – including all the packaging. The barrier to entry is very low when it comes to making a custom tea product. The only limitation is if you can meet the minimum runs that most of the contract baggers require – which can vary greatly, but 40,000 bags are usually the starting point depending on the tea. With those minimums, it’s very difficult to have an enormous selection of bagged teas, especially when you are looking at rare and exotic teas. For this reason, the major loose leaf tea blenders only make about 10% of their teas available in bagged form.
Back to Amazon – for a company of that size, it is pretty easy to get a tea blend ready with a few phone calls. This is also the model that Trader Joe’s uses. Trader Joe’s doesn’t have its own massive manufacturing and R&D facility. Much of their products are simply rebranded products from other companies. The very notion of a brand is shifting rapidly. Old brands that have spent billions on developing their name are seeing market share eroded by store brands.
Cost wise, the Wickedly Prime tea runs for roughly $16 per 45 bags. (they usually sell 3 boxes at a time). The total weight is about 4.8 ounces total. Each box weighs 1.6 ounces, so just doing the math each bag has about a tenth of an ounce of tea in it. Instructions call for 8 ounces of water. Bagged tea usually costs more overall, and in this case, it comes out to be 35 cents a serving. Keep in mind that a lot of tea drinkers like me like to down 16 ounces at a clip. A 45-day supply would really be just over 3 weeks. Which is just about what a typical 4-ounce bag of loose tea will last if you drink about 16 ounces of it per day. The loose tea equivalents of the amazon blends I see typically range from $8-$12.
IS IT GOOD?
Like any food product, the reviews vary. Overall, they are meant to please a general audience and they seem to be doing just that with crowd-friendly blends.
MATCHA…IS THE EXCEPTION
The flavored matcha is the one area we would be cautious of. The reason? The ingredients:
GREEN TEA MATCHA POWDER, TAPIOCA MALTODEXTRIN, SILICON DIOXIDE, NATURAL FLAVORS.
In general, a good quality flavored matcha should not have anything besides the tea and natural flavors.
With a big company like Amazon, forget about getting a lot of information or asking questions. As you can see below, the questions are answered by other users, NOT Amazon themselves. If you need questions answered about the source, ingredients or anything important, you’ll have a hard time.
Is this tea Fair Trade certified?
It does not state Fair Trade on the box
By Robin B. on May 15, 2017
It isn’t listed and personally I don’t care. It is so good and I don’t drink it with cream or milk or sugar or any sweetener on a paleo like diet and I’ve been losing weight steadily. This is quite good. Sorry can’t answer your carb question.
By PHT on July 11, 2017
What is the country of origin?
Sorry, no idea. Love the hibiscus flavor though. Mango OK.
By Marion vonBeck on November 21, 2017
I do agree. Lots of paper and plastic!
By E Mo on November 1, 2017
For someone that is looking for a casual tea, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the Amazon tea, except the matcha. It seems to be geared toward the less experienced tea person, or someone that values convenience over price. But if you are looking to expand your horizons to higher end teas, want detailed sourcing information, or get questions answered by someone knowledgeable, then the recommendation is to go to a reputable tea shop (online or local). At the very least, Amazon teas are a good stepping stone for a beginner, that eventually will graduate into the more premium market.