Expo West 2017 Preview: Ito En to Launch “Ice-Steeped” Cold Brew Tea

ItoenColdbrew970Betting that consumer demand for cold brew will percolate beyond coffee and into the RTD tea segment, Ito En North America has developed a new range of “ice-steeped” cold brew teas. The company will debut the products, which stretch across three of its brands — matcha LOVE, TEAS’ TEA Organic and Oi Ocha — at the upcoming Natural Products Expo West 2017.

“Our main focus will be on capitalizing what we think is a big trend that extends across a lot of consumer segments of cold brew,” said Jim Hoagland, the chief operating officer of Ito En North America.

Ito En already markets bottled cold brew tea in Japan and has done so for approximately 10 years. The products are sold exclusively in the summer and continue upon a long tradition of cold brewing tea in Japan, Hoagland said.

In the U.S., however, cold brew tea is relatively untested: a handful of early-stage brands, including Evy Tea and Cham have products on the market, while established companies Suja and Harmless Harvest have each launched and discontinued lines in recent years. Ito En’s entry marks the first time a major tea company has introduce a line dedicated to cold brew.

“We’ve had cold brew tea in our innovation roadmap for the past few years,” Hoagland said. “We just think now’s the right time for us to launch a cold brew [in the U.S.] because the coffee category has really educated consumers about the benefits of cold brew. We want to build on that education and that momentum launching cold brew teas.”

Ito En brews the drinks using a proprietary process in which tea is steeped using a combination of ice and cold water for an extended period of time; Hoagland declined to say how long the process takes. The company claims that technique “draws out a more nuanced and pure flavor” than traditional brewing methods.

Communicating the ice-steeped aspect of the company’s processing method will be key to building awareness and educating consumers as to the differences between cold and hot brewed tea. Hoagland pointed to product labels which use a large font to identify the drinks as cold brew as the first step in that communication. Ito En will also use a combination of social media, digital marketing and key influencers to generate awareness.

The new products include two matcha LOVE varieties, Matcha + Green Tea (unsweetened) and Lemon Matcha + Green Tea, two TEAS’ TEA Organic products, Pure Green Tea (unsweetened) and Raspberry Black Tea, and Oi Ocha Cold Brew. They will be line priced — Teas’ Tea and Oi Ocha at $1.99 and matcha Love at $2.39 — and begin shipping to retailers in May.