Glass bottle for new organic tea line

New China Mist Pure organic, ready-to-drink teas break out of the mold in a 16.9-oz, curvy glass bottle, awash in screen-printed graphics that convey the teas' Gourmet Quality and sophistication.

Lauren R. Hartman, Senior Editor -- Packaging Digest, 12/1/2008

As exotic as its name implies, China Mist Brands' launch of China Mist Pure bottled organic iced tea in six varieties is going beyond the marketer's usual foodservice channels to retail. The company says its “fresh-brewed” teas are currently available in select markets as part of a phase-in national scaleup strategy to head into most major markets in the first and second quarter of 2009.

The premium, ready-to-drink (RTD) tea is the latest entry from the Scottsdale, AZ supplier of specialty fine iced and hot teas. Operating since 1982, China Mist Brands has manufactured and distributed iced teas and other tea products primarily for the foodservice industry, including restaurants and hotels. In 1999, the firm acquired Leaves Pure Teas Hot Teas and in the summer of 2008, expanded its product line with the release of its new RTD tea brand. Most recently, it gained the exclusive rights to sell and distribute Mokarabia® Real Italian Coffee in the U.S. Building its reputation on quality and innovation in product and service, China Mist Brands grew substantially, and decided to answer its customers' requests by starting to sell China Mist Iced Teas, Leaves Pure Teas® hot teas and Caffé Mokarabia® coffee and espresso directly through its website and at its Scottsdale corporate headquarters and manufacturing plant. Then, in came Richard Guzauskas, a teasmith (a specialist in making a good brew using a wide variety of leaves from Assams to Earl Greys), and the SKUs and sales grew even more. Today, China Mist Brands' products are distributed internationally and are also available through its website, www.chinamist.com.

“We decided to build excitement, exposure and press for our new China Mist Pure Bottled Organic Teas by premiering them in one of hottest, fine-dinning markets in the country—Las Vegas,” explains Kiley Biggins, marketing manager and graphic designer at China Mist Brands. “DeLuca/Coors of Las Vegas, part of the Wirtz Beverage Group, is our distributor partner for the state,” she says.

“In November of 2008, we made China Mist Pure available in high-profile restaurants and clubs all over the city and are also launching our retail strategy with AJ's Fine Foods in Arizona.”

Tea trends

Researching and experimenting with the idea for a ready-to-drink tea for more than a decade, the company saw beverage trends continuing to evolve as consumers seek healthier alternatives to soft drinks and look to more flavorful drink options than water. Its research indicated that in 2007, tea grew to a $6.85-billion category due to perceived health benefits and the convenience of RTD teas. The category was seeing strong growth of 15 percent at that time, the third consecutive year of double-digit growth, so it is well-positioned to climb to more than 35 percent of the total tea market volume.

“Many RTD's on the market are artificially sweetened and low in tea solids,” notes China Mist Brands' teasmith Scott Svihula. “Four of our blends of China Mist Pure are unsweetened and all six of them are very high in polyphenol antioxidants. The taste is unparalleled amongst any other RTD tea.”

Along with the desire to create a healthier beverage, China Mist Brands also thought about creating a designer tea, but abandoned the project a few times, mainly because it didn't feel that it could develop the right quality for a super-premium gourmet bottled tea product, says president and COO Rommie Flammer.

As advances came in tea technology and equipment, it improved its product formulations. Just over a year ago, the company perfected the formulations and has worked feverishly ever since to create, test and design luxurious packaging for both foodservice and the hotly competitive retail tea market, Flammer says.

As their taste preferences have grown more sophisticated, consumers are more willing to pay a premium for better quality and richer flavors, China Mist Brands says.

A double serving

Biggins tells PD that the company didn't specifically intend to move into retail with the large bottle, which she says is more of a foodservice size suited for two servings to enjoy with a meal.

“One of our test customers said that the bottle has to be big, because they began gulping the tea down—it tasted so good,” she says. The tea was actually designed to complement the company's other products, she adds.

“Whatever a restaurateur's coffee and tea needs are, we can fulfill with fresh-brewed iced tea, bag-in-the-box iced tea, bottled tea, hot teas and our coffee and espressos. But we have branched out to retail because our end users asked us to do so,” she says.

While the company offers the tea to self-serve foodservice locations in eye-catching bag-in-box dispenser packs, wrapped in colorful labels printed to mimic a fresh-brewed glass of iced tea, it received numerous letters and contacts through the years came from tea drinkers across the country, asking where they could find the teas in stores.

Notes Biggins, “We saw an opportunity in the foodservice segment to offer a variety of tea types and flavors in a ready-to-serve bottle, which just happens to be a great product for retail as well. This was a real bonus for us, as we have accumulated thousands of letters and e-mails over the years from people who have enjoyed our tea in restaurants around the country looking to get them for home use.”

With the new bottles, as well as some savvy marketing support from glamorous shelf talkers, case cards and promotional materials, the company hopes to get an edge with its retail presence. “We have been a foodservice company for 25 years and remain true to that focus,” echoes Flammer. “While this product was designed with foodservice in mind, it does cross over to retail and is a perfect fit for both.”

Glass with sass

The packaging design was developed by the China Mist Brands team working closely with Robb Penney, owner of 602 Design (602/234-0235). The team created a look for China Mist Pure that could convey a quality product with exotic flair, says Biggins. “The results had to have a quality, contemporary, premium appearance that's sleek and says 'pure tea and fruit flavorings with nothing else added.' Each flavor includes pure water, pure organic tea, organic juice (in two flavors), natural flavors and that is about it. The teas are unlike anything else on the market, so much of that comes through in this beautiful bottle.”

602's Penney worked on the product logo and the bottle before it was brought back in-house where the look and product copy was finalized, says Biggins. TricorBraun (www.tricorbraun.com) provides the sleek, tall, contemporary glass bottle with the hourglass shape, which is debossed on the shoulder with the CM logo.

The custom bottle had to be contemporary, Biggins tells PD. “The hourglass shape is very unique [for the tea category]. We wanted it to feel good in your hand and comfortable, like a perfect fit. We wanted it to be elegant, so that our teas would be completely different than other bottled teas because the tea inside is completely different.”

Placed vertically, the label graphics are screen-printed in three colors including black, white and a main PMS color—that adds a splash of light green, deep green, purple, blue, red, orange or warm yellow—denoting the tea flavor. The China Mist name and Pure logo are set against a wave of translucent pale white, which connotes a floating mist across the front panel. A 33-mm, silver-toned lug-style safety-button closure, also from TricorBraun, tops the bottle. China Mist Pure teas are described on the label as naturally flavored, with few calories, about 0 to 40 per serving (there are two servings per 16.9-oz/500mL bottle).

“We've been researching and experimenting with the idea for a bottled tea for more than 10 years, but had abandoned the project each time because it just wasn't perfect,” Flammer explains. “We started distributing the new line in select markets in August. Advances were made in technology and equipment that allowed us to create a product good enough to carry our name. Since then, we've worked feverishly to create, test and design packaging for the beautifully bottled tea we are so proud to call China Mist Pure.”

Among the copy on the back labels is a short paragraph telling the product story, and three certification symbol: one for kosher; one for the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) U.S. Dept. of Agriculture organic certification; and the chasing arrows recycling symbol. Also included is a bar code, an ingredients list, Nutrition Facts and the company's web address. Made with white, green and black tea leaves selected from the tea gardens of Asia, China Mist is available in four exotic, unsweetened flavors and two lightly sweetened, lush blends.

The zero-calorie flavors include: Wild Blueberry Green Tea; Orange Blossom Ginger White Tea; Lotus Pear Green Tea; Dragon Fruit Black Tea. The two 40-calorie versions containing juice comprise Tangerine Black Tea with pomegranate juice and Blackberry Jasmine Green Tea with lemonade. With a suggested retail price of $3.49 to $4.49, the fashionable bottle is sold singly at high-end grocery and other distinctive outlets, in 12-count shipping containers through the company's website and in 18-count multipack shipping cases to foodservice establishments.

The teas are contract-packaged by H.A. Rider & Sons (www.hariderandsons.com), Watsonville, CA on a bottling line that requires special care. Because the teas are kosher-certified, Rider must clean and sanitize all of the packaging and production equipment before every use, Biggins affirms. “They go through a complete 'kosherization' process, and a rabbi comes in before each production run.

Biggins goes on to say that China Mist Brands must meet USDA guidelines to purchase organic products and be a certified organic packer, as well. “The entire supply chain, from the tea field to the finished product must meet all of their guidelines.”

She admits, however, that there were challenges in developing the packaging. “Finding the right contract packager was very challenging. The bottle is unique in so many ways that it didn't fit into any existing bottling lines. Making line changes isn't an easy thing. H.A. Rider made the necessary changes to run our bottle. The project took about 12 months total. We wouldn't settle for anything less than perfect, so it actually took a little longer than we anticipated.”

Profitabili-tea

Since its debut, the tea has met with a phenomenal response from consumers, foodservice personnel and retail buyers, the company claims. “One buyer for a high-end grocery chain who wasn't initially interested in adding more tea SKUs saw our bottle on the table and was ready to sign right way, without even tasting the product,” Biggins recalls. “After tasting it, he was even more excited about the flavors.”

Moving ahead, China Mist Brands may look into extending the RTD tea line further, but currently has no immediate plans for that, Biggins says.” We're focusing on the full launch of China Mist Pure Bottled Organic Teas and reassessing our customers' needs to make sure we're quenching their thirst. You'll have to keep your eyes on us to see what we come up with next.”