US tea sales increase 5.9%

American Botanical Council's first tea market report shows sales of herbal and other teas may set record in 2014.

Tea is the world’s second most-consumed beverage after water. According to a new report published in the current issue of HerbalEGram—the American Botanical Council’s (ABC) monthly online magazine—sales of loose, bagged, concentrated, and herbal tea in the United States increased by 5.9 percent in 2013, reaching a total of $1,751,055,302.1  Ready-to-drink (RTD) tea sales in the US remained relatively flat at $2,383,970,106, a small decrease of approximately 0.36 percent from 2012 sales. Based on available figures, 2014 is expected to be a banner year for both brewed and RTD tea sales.

According to the report, growing demand for tea in the United States is being driven by three primary factors: health and wellness trends, positive media coverage, and an evolving retail landscape. 

Consumers are seeking affordable, safe ways to enhance their personal wellness and self-care regimens. For nine consecutive years, sales of carbonated soda beverages have fallen as consumers have become more conscious of healthier alternatives. Even fruit juices, because of their high natural sugar content, have recently experienced a backlash. Consistent media coverage is delivering a stream of positive news on the research validating health benefits of tea (Camellia sinensis) consumption—particularly green tea—that is helping to educate and motivate consumers to choose tea. 

 Further, thousands of independent and multi-unit tea retail outlets are expanding nationwide, offering greater consumer access to finer-quality specialty teas. In 2012, global specialty coffee leader Starbucks invested 620 million dollars in its acquisition of Teavana—the largest North American retail tea chain.

The HerbalEGram tea market report is based on sales data from the mainstream multi-outlet, natural, and specialty/gourmet channels supplied by SPINS (and SPINS Multi-Outlet powered by IRI [a Chicago-based market-research company]). The data do not include tea sales from food-service settings including restaurants, cafés, delis, and similar establishments. Additionally, sales from a number of other tea distribution channels are not assessed by any single entity, including mail order, online, network marketing, Whole Foods Market, and thousands of independent specialty tea shops. Were those sales data available and included, the report estimates total US tea sales for 2013 could be in excess of $15 billion.

ABC’s first-ever tea market report includes 12 tables, which present isolated and combined data from the mainstream multi-outlet, natural, and specialty/gourmet channels in 2013, as well as sales figures from burgeoning niche categories such as organic, non-GMO, and Fair Trade teas. Additional tables rank sales by packaging as well as the top-selling primary herb ingredients in herbal beverage and medicinal teas. Notably, the report also includes sales data through August 2014 where available. 

Among loose, bagged, and concentrated teas in 2013, black tea (C. sinensis) bags continued their dominant trend. Loose iced teas and powder tea mixes followed, succeeded by green and white tea (C. sinensis) bags, herbal beverage tea bags, and medicinal tea bags.

The top five herbs in 2013 in the US medicinal tea (bag) sector were, respectively, chamomile (Matricaria recutita), senna (Senna alexandrina), ginger (Zingiber officinale), echinacea (Echinacea spp.), and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). In the 2013 US herbal beverage tea (bag) category, top-selling primary herbs were chamomile, mints (Mentha spp.), ginger, valerian (Valeriana officinalis), and açaí (Euterpe oleracea). SPINS defines “medicinal teas” as all medicinal teas with one or more medicinal ingredient, often marketed with a structure-function claim, or strongly associated with a health focus. “Herbal beverage” tea refers to single or blended beverage infusions formulated with various combinations of fruits, spices, herbs, and C. sinensis not marketed with any health-related claim; they are considered conventional foods in a regulatory sense. 

“More impressive than the current size of the tea industry is the fact that, for more than a decade, annual sales totals … have grown consistently in the United States with very few types of tea showing anything other than consistent gains,” wrote the authors of ABC’s 2013 tea market report. “The onslaught of hundreds of new retail tea outlets—and thousands more projected to open in the next few years—parallels the germinal stages of the fledgling US natural foods industry circa 1980-2000.”

“Growth in the tea market parallels the growth in the herbal supplement market, indicating continued interest by millions of American consumers in tea and other herbal beverages and their associated health benefits,” said ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal.  The herbal supplement market data to which Blumenthal referred may be found in ABC’s annual Herb Market Report, which tracks a category of products other than tea. 

The American Botanical Council’s 2013 tea market report—as published in the November issue of HerbalEGram—is accessible on ABC’s website here. The monthly online magazine HerbalEGram provides original reporting on current news pertaining to the botanical and natural products communities, and is one of many benefits of ABC membership. 

The collaborative 2013 tea market report was written by Brian Keating, founder of specialty tea and natural products consultancy Sage Group; Ash Lindstrom, managing editor of HerbalGram and primary author of ABC’s 2012-2013 annual herb market reports; Mary Ellen Lynch, SPINS director of consumer insights and strategic partnerships; and Mark Blumenthal, ABC founder and executive director and HerbalGram editor-in-chief.  

ABC plans to present its 2014 annual tea market report in HerbalGram issue #105 (January-March 2015).

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