State of the tea industry 2010…

There have been many changes in our industry of late, and as it grows — we must be sure to be mindful of our actions as consumers in this growing industry — demanding only the best, honest, fair goods. A store can only sell things if we buy them. The power is in our hands, especially as this industry takes off. Let me start by introducing three societal “movements” from where many of my ideas and opinions are sourced:

1. Slow Food
2. Free Knowledge
3. The end of mass-marketing

The slow food movement was started 20 years ago and is gaining ground in America fast. The slow food movement believes that food should be “good, clean and fair,” and strives to counteract people’s “dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes, and how our food choices affect the rest of the world” [http://www.slowfood.com/].

The free knowledge movement is being made possible by the internet, with projects like Wikipedia that exist to “to bring [free] knowledge to everyone who seeks it” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About]– and with MIT recently opening up their online courses to the general public [http://ocw.mit.edu/] free of cost and without registration.

The end of mass-marketing is near, as Seth Godin writes: “You can no longer market to the anonymous masses. They’re not anonymous and they’re not masses. You can only market to people who are willing participants” [http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2009/04/first-ten-.html]. The internet has provided homes to many niche markets — these niche markets continue to grow, the concept of “long-tail” marketing (if you can even still call it marketing) will become more prevalent.

I’m willing to bet that there are more tea retailers in America than there are tea wholesalers selling to America. Undoubtedly there are two retailers out there selling the same tea under their own names. Just how prevalent is this?

As review blogs become stuffed with countless reviews, they will begin to lose meaning. Those writing for free tea as a hobby will fade from view, those writing with real rating “systems” and usable web interfaces in place will rise.

As for tea retailers, the days of rebranding for small retailers are coming to an end. Small retailers need to begin a policy of transparency, developing their brands around the companies, farms, and families that actually produce the tea that they sell. If many small tea retailers become transparent this may result in a price war with others that have, but in the end, both consumer and retailer will benefit.

On knowledge: many more projects will pop up selling tea courses or certifications which will mostly be touting regurgitated information we already have freely available. I’d like to see new information from tea producing regions — I’d like to see our available information of tea be expanded instead of being re-written and sold.