Free digital copy
Get Speciality Food magazine delivered to your inbox FREEGet your free copy
We all recognise the growing importance of living and working in a more environmentally-friendly manner, but how is the British hot drinks sector sizing up to the challenge? For Krisi Smith, co-founder of Bird & Blend, being eco-conscious is an integral part of what the business is and does.
“Obviously we are tea experts and we have built a community around that but our mission statement isn’t actually anything about tea! It is to build a successful company that bases its decisions on people and planet, not just profit,” she says.
Sustainability is of optimum importance at Fireheart Coffee, too, as environmental factors can have – as is already being proven – a dramatic impact on the coffee category. Thomas DeGarnham, co-founder, explains, “Coffee itself is very susceptible to climate change and we’re already seeing producers making changes at the farm level to combat warming temperatures.” Indeed, he says, “making sustainable business decisions is crucial for the future of coffee.”
At Choc Affair, family-run chocolate manufacturer which supplies a range of hot chocolate flakes, “Every bean is responsibly and sustainably produced, with a little extra paid for every kilo to help reforest the cocoa-growing regions of Colombia,” begins Linda Barrie, founder.
“It’s also why we never use cheap shortcuts like palm oil, and support the small farms and cooperatives we work with and the local community that surrounds them, as well as within our local community, York.”
“Sustainability has been hugely important for us since brand inception,” begins Urvashi Agarwal, founder of B Corp-certified tea business JP’s Originals, which has made a concerted effort to reduce the sometimes hidden eco impact of tea products. “The majority of traditional tea bags/pyramids have microplastics (yes, even the ones which look like paper!) and so we were keen to ensure all of our packaging was entirely plastic-free. Our envelopes, boxes and even labels are completely recyclable, with our pyramids being compostable too!”
“It’s easy for brands to compete on products and pricing but not many can offer transparency on sustainability goals,” she continues.
“This year alone has brought to light the limitations and cost implications of transport costs from a commercial perspective but also an increase in interest from consumers on becoming more conscious of their own carbon footprint. We conducted a survey amongst a random group of 30 people, with 72% claiming that they would be more inclined to spend more on a FMCG so long as the product was produced locally and plastic-free.”
Brits consume around 100 million cups of tea every day, according to the UK Tea & Infusions Association – which offers an impressively wide scope for different tastes and health needs, a consideration with growing importance following the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020.
With JP’s Originals customers alone being “tea fantatics, caffeine-free drinkers and wellbeing-focused clients”, the tea industry’s cup runneth over with innovative new ways to quench the UK shopper’s thirst for a quality cuppa with health credentials.
Halima Markey, business development manager at Skoulikas Bedford, explains, “Amidst a global health crisis, many consumers want more control over their wellbeing. Growth in demand for herbal tea and the additional healthy ingredients in teas are some of the factors that are driving the growth. As well as the addition of new flavours and assortment of tea is predicted to provide growth opportunities for the tea market, Celestial Seasonings/Teas” – both supplied by Skoulikas Bedford – “offer this.”
Initially JP’s Originals key focus was just speciality teas with an emphasis on provenance to bring about the same passion for teas as that of coffee, wine and even chocolate.
However, Urvashi says, “During the inception of the brand, I suffered an unexpected illness, which was later diagnosed as an auto-immune condition called ITP, and discovered the virtues of CBD. I then decided to evolve the brand to include wellbeing blends to give us the balance we need. We now have teas and infusions for pain, inflammation, digestion, detox, hormonal imbalance and sleep! CBD combined with powerful natural ingredients has shown to have even greater benefits than when taken alone.”
Arguably, few hot drinks offer the same level of indulgence as hot chocolate – and the good news for chocolate lovers is that good levels of growth are predicted for the next few years, and speciality hot chocolate houses are expected to increase in numbers, according to Linda.
“It’s an exciting time for hot chocolate, as more consumers are looking for the next niche product and trend. We’ve had it with coffee for years, gin more recently, and now it’s time for hot chocolates.”
Speciality Food readers will be well aware of the importance of tangible quality of food and drink products; “Quality and indulgence are incredibly important in today’s market,” agrees Linda. “As consumers we’ve moved away from powdered drinks and are desiring a real, authentic, good quality experience that allows us to feel indulgent, and worth taking a moment for, and as time is so precious, if you are going to have a hot chocolate, it should be a delicious hot chocolate.”
Could 2022 be the start of the hot chocolate revolution? Halima says so: “We believe from recent feedback, customers are bored with coffee and want something new, and something interesting. I’ve read Britons are following the same path with hot chocolate that they have trodden with coffee, according to food analysts, who point to the rapid shift from drinking instant coffee to owning coffee machines and taking out high-end bean subscriptions.”
The scale of potential innovation within hot drinks is vast, and Bird & Blend have been delighted to explore the outer reaches of its potential – much to the delight of adventure-seeking tea lovers. “We’re blend specialists,” explains Krisi, “creating all of our own recipes of tea that range from award winning classics like our Earl Grey Creme and Gingerbread Chai to the weird and wonderful like Rhubarb & Custard and Monkey Chops.
“Innovation is one of our biggest drivers and our unique blends such as Dark Choc Chilli Sticky Chai, Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster and Jelly & Ice Cream (to name only a few) continue to delight our customers and place Bird & Blend in a leading position in tea innovation in the UK and across the globe.”
Bath-based tea producer Flavour Head is also on a mission to “turn tea on its head, to transform what we see as an undervalued category,” explains managing director Craig Harries. “We’ve got fresh ideas, colourful design and a commitment to creating blends of tea that really deliver on flavour.
“Blended more like cocktails than conventional fruit and herbal teas, each infusion has up to a dozen ingredients making up its multi-layered flavour, all 100% natural and responsibly sourced before being hand blended in small batches.”
Flavour Head is unapologetically flavour-first. “So often fruit and herbal teas look beautiful and have an enticing aroma, but the flavour just doesn’t deliver. We’ve used whole fruits and herbs to create a well-rounded sensory experience that includes a strength of flavour that you’ve never experienced before. Much like the third wave coffee and craft beer movements transformed their categories, our range of botanical teas have been created to reignite excitement and enthusiasm for tea, rather than taking it for granted as an uninspiring staple.”
As Linda explains, “more and more people are looking for an experience, something they can take part in.” In the world of Choc Affair, says Linda, this takes the form of “an Instagrammable hot chocolate they can share on social media – lashings of cream, toppings, something they can engage in and post a reel or photo about.”
Whether or not your business has a social media-heavy approach, considering the special extra touches that can transform your shoppers’ experience with your hot drinks offering from wan to ‘wow’ will reap dividends. “It’s going to become more important that businesses are bringing that experience to their customers, and hot chocolates really offer that opportunity,” says Linda. “If you can think it, you can create it – there’s endless recipes, spices, decorations you can introduce to a menu.”
The wonder of experimentation runs through the heart of Bird & Blend, too. “Our colourful Wall of Tea is made up of over 100 blends of tea, across nine tea types and we bring new flavours out each season,” explains Krisi. “In-store, customers can explore the Tea Wall like a pick ‘n’ mix sweet shop – tasting and smelling the teas and we discuss the blends, brewing methods, and recipe ideas. We also have a vast selection of in store drinks made to order, including our flavoured matcha and seasonal drinks.”
Considering the full extent of your customer’s journey – from approaching your shop front to curling up with a mug of something steaming – is an opportunity well worth exploring. “We are passionate about tea, but we are a people business really – we aim to create a whole experience for our customers as soon as they walk in the door,” says Krisi.
“The experiences and community that we build in-store (and online), that really tells our story keeps our customers coming back time and time again. They also love to tell their friends about, making word of mouth one of our biggest growth channels, from day one and still today.”
There is no doubt that the British hot drinks sector offers a whole host of opportunities for retail right now, and the speciality sector is right at the centre of its most exciting innovations.
By experimenting with the new generation of flavour profiles out there, catering for the growing demand for health and sustainability-focused options, and making sure your selection offers something extra special for those seeking out indulgence and a one-of-a-kind experience, you’re sure to become a go-to for discerning shoppers thirsty to fill their cup.