A premium tea company, Genuine Tea blends, packages, distributes and sells ethically sourced whole leaf tea, matcha and other wellness products online and in stores across Ontario. The Toronto company discovered the market was lacking in a high-quality tea-based ready-to-drink (RTD) beverage without added sugar.
It first needed a marketing assessment to aid in positioning its carbonated beverage in the consumer goods marketplace. They looked to the Business & Commercialization Solutions team at the Research & Innovation division to research the RTD industry, competitors and to provide recommendations on product positioning and marketing strategies
“We wanted to create an iced tea that did whole leaf teas justice while also being refreshing and delicately sweet,” says Dave O’Connor, who, along with his partner Sarah Wilcox, launched the tea company in 2015. “The problem with most iced teas on the market is an excessive use of sugar, and the majority are made from powders or concentrates rather than whole leaf teas.”
The business research team looked at competitors in the industry and considered what Genuine Tea’s brand values were and what product positioning might be, says O’Connor. “Further, they explored the evolution of the beverage industry in terms of better-for-you products, health and wellness and low-sugar products.”
After determining the best target audience, the experts conducted research to establish where such products would fit into the market. By examining the competition, they were able to establish how their iced tea beverage could differentiate itself from other products on the shelves.
The business team also provided Genuine Tea with key strategies for benefit-driven messaging to achieve success in the marketplace.
Genuine Tea went on to partner with Research & Innovation’s Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre for product development assistance.
The goal was to take their top-selling teas and turn them into canned, carbonated iced tea beverages that contain under 10g sugar, had shelf stability at ambient temperatures and sold at a specific price point.
“We wanted to sweeten our tea with fruit juice in order to add a complexity and freshness to the range,” explains O’Connor. “In addition, the added juice would achieve a low pH that would allow the product to be shelf-stable at room temperature.”
Challenges the food and beverage experts faced included formulation development, pasteurization and scale-up, all while maintaining product flavour and integrity.
“We knew the flavour profiles we were hoping to achieve; however, we needed some additional support on the recipe development. Niagara College tested various ingredients, acidifiers and flavours in the tea to achieve a product that was not only shelf stable but also delicious and refreshing,” explains O’Connor. “Furthermore, we wanted to have a very clean ingredient list consisting of all-natural ingredients that everyday users could read and understand.”
The collaboration resulted in the commercialization of three hand-crafted sparkling iced teas: Organic Elderberry Hibiscus, Organic Lemon Ginger Sencha and Organic Peach Turmeric Ceylon. All are made from ethically sourced whole leaf tea and real fruit juice.
“We are very happy with the entire team at Niagara College, for their hard work in the initial marketing research and also with the food and beverage team for producing various samples for us to taste test,” he adds. “They were very supportive of our vision and very accommodating. We would absolutely work with them again.”
Funding for the business marketing research was provided by an Interactive visit through IRAP and support for the food and beverage product development came from the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) through its College Voucher for Technology Adoption (CVTA) program.
This is an example of how a company can first enlist the help of the Business & Commercialization Solutions team to assist with initial market research and develop a commercialization strategy prior to partnering with an innovation centre, such as the Canadian Food & Wine Institute Innovation Centre.