Ready-to-drink tea (RTD) is steadily growing both in volume and value in the beverage market. In the U.S. more than half of consumers buy drinks at convenience stores, and while soda sales have been declining for more than 15 years, RTD tea sales have been increasing. In 2018, RTD tea was the only tea category to see a continuous gain, reaching an estimated $10.75 billion, according to Beverage Market Corp. projections. BMC also noted that in 2017 the volume of soft drinks, sports drinks, and fruit beverages declined while RTD tea showed a 3.9% growth in retail dollars and a 1.1% gain in volume. Companies like Teavana, Coca-Cola and Honest Tea have been extremely successful with their own tea brands. Coca-Cola’s Gold Peak is the first tea brand to top $1 billion in sales in a single country.
Although RTD tea category is dominated by companies like PepsiCo-Lipton and Arizona Beverages, the market is fragmenting into niche ready-to-drink tea categories. Although it is very likely they will continue to remain niche, there is a trend towards healthier products that often have a functional benefit. Kombucha sales grew by 37.5% in 2017 in natural food channels and reached $970 million in sales globally. Yerba Mate is another niche tea on the rise. This comes as no surprise since consumers are leaning towards functional ready-to-drink teas for stress relief, inflammation, digestion and cleansing, and energy management.
There are two RTD tea market segments that are expanding: functional botanical blends and single estate artisanal teas. This trend points to a more educated consumer base that perceives tea as a healthy beverage but also craves authenticity, transparency and seeks to know the story behind its drink.
Some of the biggest trends in ready-to-drink teas include flavored teas. Consumers may drink tea because it is unsweetened, but for many, added flavor gives the beverage the feeling of sweetness. Probiotic teas and drinks with herbs like adaptogenic blends using moringa, ashwagandha, maca and funghi are also on the rise. Color is also important for consumers. RTD tea beverages like bottled green tea or matcha tea attract consumers with a vibrant green hue. Cold brewing is yet another popular trend. Adding tea to enhance water has brought flavor and health to hydration.
With tons of antioxidants, caffeine (70-80 milligrams per 8-ounce cup) and L-theanine (a natural calming agent), matcha provides a sustained calm alertness and a wonderful nutritious punch. Making matcha in a traditional whisking ceremony is not always an option, so ready-to-drink matcha tea and other matcha on the go beverages have become a wonderful alternative. You can now find RTD bottled matcha tea like MatchaBar’s Iced Matcha Tea or Teapings’ matcha beverage in a carton that boasts elderflower, grapefruit and apple flavors. Ito En has its version of RTD matcha tea with its Matcha Love line and its bottled matcha latte. Motto came up with a sparkling ready-to-drink matcha tea that is a mix of premium matcha with apple cider vinegar, honey, agave, and lemon juice. Matcha packets with ready-to-go high-quality matcha powder are also making big waves. 2019 seems to be the year of creating bottled matcha for every taste!
Recent RTD tea expos have featured the versatility of tea and have debuted new and creative ways to enjoy it. Expo West had three main trends growing in 2019: ready-to-drink tea, which appeals to an active consumer (Zevia debuted its first non-carbonated organic, zero calorie ready-to-drink tea line); sparkling tea, which is a healthy substitute for soda (Teavana launched three new sparkling teas including Unsweetened Black Tea, Blood Orange Mango White Tea and Blackberry Lime Green Tea); and kombucha, a functional drink that supports gut health. Oregon-based Brew Dr. Kombucha launched its Power Flower flavor, California-based Marin Kombucha introduced its Raspberry Cacao and Melon Rose flavors, and Austin, Texas-based Live Soda introduced Cream Soda and Cherry Cola kombucha flavors.
Another trend at Expo West was the addition of wellness blends in product collections of Celestial Seasonings (with five Be Well tea blends: Ginger Mint, Lemon Chamomile, Honey Lemon, Matcha Green and Turmeric Spice), Bigelow (launching its Matcha Green Tea with Turmeric and Ginger Peach Turmeric teas and announcing it will add three new blends to its Benefits collection: Stress Free, Focus, and Lean & Fit), Pukka Herbs (introducing a line of three new teas that focus on wellness: Tulsi Clarity, Turmeric Active and Clean Matcha Green), and Twinings (expanding its line of Wellness Teas with five new blends: Unwind, Energize, Soothe, Renew and Support).
World Tea Expo introduced innovative private label matcha RTD teas from three top tea companies. Ito En showed the new ready-to-drink Matcha Love line: Organic Ice-Steeped Cold Brew Unsweetened Cucumber+Ming+Matcha+Green Tea, which is made with finely milled organic Japanese matcha and whole-leaf green tea. More adventurous consumers and beverage brands are taking advantage of the rise of CBD by exploring ready-to-drink tea combinations including the popular ingredient that is linked to alleviating muscle pain, anxiety and depression. CBD infused teas that have recently launched include the Sydney, Australia-based Teabags Tea Shop, which introduced the country’s first cannabis-infused iced tea: Hemp Iced Tea. Denver, Colorado-based New Age Beverages also made a collection of RTD tea Bob Marley branded CBD-infused beverages, and Orlando, Florida-based Elev8 Brands, Inc. announced the launch of its lemon CBD iced tea.
Regular matcha, cold brew matcha, iced matcha, no matter how you prefer it, matcha has become more popular than ever. Mainstream media can’t get enough of it and other up and coming RTD tea products. Even Drake invested in Matcha Bar’s “Better Energy,” a RTD bottled ceremonial grade matcha. Who knows? RTD teas may become so popular that one day they may even replace our beloved coffee!