In foodservice operations, tea service typically involves some version of the traditional tea setup with a choice of blends, both caffeinated and decaf. But “traditional” doesn’t have to imply the formality of high tea; nor does it require an elaborate undertaking.
“We saw the [increased] interest in tea as an exceptional opportunity to service our guests and increase profits,” says Cary Spence, general manager of Poets Inc., an English-pub-style restaurant in Jackson, Miss.
Iced tea is the big seller at Poets Inc.–the average lunch customer downs three glasses at a sitting. A couple years ago, though, as cooler fall weather arrived, Spence noted increased calls for hot tea. In 1995, the restaurant added a line of hot tea blends, each served in an elegant silver urn, which allows the guest to determine steeping time.
“It looks really impressive without requiring a lot of effort on our part,” Spence explains. “Our tea sales are picking up, largely because we describe them on the menu and that gets guests interested.
Chamomile as companion. Tea is also an offering at many of the coffeehouses opening around the country. “Tea has always been part of the concept,” says Derric Becker, assistant manager at the 2-year-old Cafe Driade in Chapel Hill, N.C. “About 10% of our customers order tea.”
Cafe Driade treats tea with the same reverence it does coffee: A separate tea menu describes the 12 loose-tea blends available, and the tea is served in press pots for proper steeping.
“We don’t have a lot of storage space, otherwise I’d offer loose tea in press pots,” says A. J. Cataffo, manager of The Grill Room, Hauppauge, N.Y. As a compromise, Grill Room patrons are served boiled water in sleek glass carafes, accompanied by a selection of six tea bags presented in a silver mesh basket.
Proper presentation of hot tea is part of the server training process at Dallas-based T.G.I. Friday’s, according to David Commer, the 1,050-unit chain’s director of beverage development. “Hot water is bought to the table in a sterling silver pot on a napkin-lined plate,” he says. “The guest has a choice of three or four blends of tea. In some markets, managers add flavored teas according to customer request and regional preferences.”
Commer also believes the overall interest in highly flavored beverages will drive sales of flavored hot teas as well.
Worth the effort. Whether the leaves are loose or in bags, tea should be served with boiled water and presented in a manner that allows it to steep properly.
Sometimes, this extra effort causes operators to treat tea as an after-thought. But tea, like coffee, can be a profitable pour: Most tea blends cost operators about 3 cents per cup, with specialty blends reaching 10 cents, according to tea-industry figures.
At Poets Inc., where hot tea comprises about 2% of after-dinner drink sales, the profit margin makes the program worth the effort. Says Spence, “At $1.50 per serving on the specialty blends, it’s a nice addition to the check and the bottom line.”
A 1996 study conducted by researchers at the USDA and the University of Connecticut at Storrs shows that the antioxidant activity of both green and black tea was higher than many common fruits and vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries and garlic. What accounts for tea’s ability to fight free radicals? Researchers say it’s polyphenols, a type of phytochemical. Within the polyphenol group are catechins (which act as antioxidants), from which theaflavins and thearubigins are produced during the manufacture of black tea. Theaflavins and thearubigins contribute to the red color of black tea, and also act as potent antioxidants.
Research in Japan also indicates that components in black tea may have antioxidant and antimutagenic effects. The researchers concluded that the theaflavins in black tea clearly suppress cancer cell growth (in animals) at early and late stages of development. Yet the need for further investigation into just how tea phytochemicals work to reduce the disease is crucial.
Soy has been in the headlines a lot lately, with news that it is good for everything from relieving menopause symptoms to reducing osteoporosis risk to helping prevent heart disease. Soy products have also been intensely studied for their cancer-fighting potential. Observations of the Japanese diet and the breast cancer mortality rate found that soy consumption was associated with an approximately 50 percent decreased risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women.
Soybeans contain a group of phytochemicals called isoflavones, which are found in significant amounts only in soybeans. The two primary isoflavones are daidzein and genistein. These compounds may reduce the risk of a number of cancers, including those of the breast, lung, colon, rectum, stomach and prostate.
The mechanisms by which isoflavones inhibit cancer cell growth vary depending on the cancer. With breast cancer, for example, the isoflavones block the activity of naturally produced high levels of estrogen that can increase risk of breast cancer. While it appears that daidzein is more bioavailable than gentstein, most of the research interest in the anti-cancer effects of soybean isoflavones has centered on genistein. Genistein is thought to act against cancer in several ways: by interfering with cancer-promoting enzymes, by blocking the activity of hormones in the body, and even by interfering with the process by which turnors receive nutrients and oxygen.
Nutritionally, blueberries have never been known as super-fruits. Now, however, new studies by the USDA and University of Illinois scientists point to health benefits from eating wild blueberries that may be as far-reaching as preventing cancer. Scientists attribute these benefits to anthocyanins (the pigments responsible for the berry’s blue color) and the phytochemical proanthocyanidin found in the berries.
USDA scientists Ronald Prior and Guohua Cao have demonstrated that blueberries have the highest antioxidant capacity of the 40 different fruits and vegetables they tested. “The antioxidant characteristics in blueberries appear to be due largely to anthocynins,” says Prior, whose earlier research led to his hypotheses that the pigment of red and blue fruits was an important factor in their cancer-fighting abilities. Wild blueberries contain the highest anthocyanin levels of any berries commercially available in North America.
At the University of Illinois, cancer researcher May Ann Smith and associates showed that proanthocyanidin in wild blueberries inhibits an enzyme involved in the promotion stage of cancer. Smith applied extracts from wild blueberries, cultivated blueberries and bilberries (the European cousin of the wild blueberry) to living cells at various stages in cancer development. Wild blueberries exhibited the greatest anticancer activity of all the berries.
Phytochemicals to functional foods
Phytochemicals may not be uppermost in health-conscious consumers’ minds – yet. But judging by the amount of scientific research on the compounds and their health benefits, phytochemicals may just be the next hot topic at the dinner table.
Will food manufacturers cash in on this craze-in-the-making? It’s a tough call, but certainly there are enough plant products that contain potentially useful phytochemicals from which to choose. However, what’s needed is good research on how phytochemicals are affected by processing technology. That – and a clear understanding of how the FDA would view any phytochemical-type claims – would make for a much more friendly environment for developing functional foods containing phytochemicals.
Food manufacturers are still wary about how functional foods will be regulated, because in the United States functional foods do not have a separate regulatory category.
According to Dr. Walter Glinsmann, adviser to the FDA, “The primary determinant (of regulatory category) is intended use. Functional foods could be considered conventional foods, special dietary supplements or medical foods used by physicians to manage disease.”
Celestial Seasonings is rolling out a full line of single-ingredient and blended herbal supplements. There are currently 17 items in the line, eight in the single-ingredient segment and nine blends, and Ryan promises that the company will be introducing additional products shortly.
“The blended products really add to the aura of the line,” he remarks. “The Echinacea Cold Season item, for example, contains not just echinacea but also zinc and vitamin C. It’s the blend of ingredients that gives the products the full range of effectiveness. When zinc and vitamin C are added to the echinacea, the resulting combination is much more potent.”
The manufacturer is backing the launch with a tremendous marketing budget, including about $24 million in media support and another $20 million to $24 million earmarked for in-store programs, pharmacist education and promotional initiatives. “We hope to become the No. 1 player in the herbal supplements market, and we are spending about three times more than anyone else has ever spent to help us achieve that goal,” says Ryan.
A key element of Celestial Seasoning’s strategy for the introduction of its new herbal supplements line has been persuading retailers to provide shelf space for all 17 products. Among the leading drug chains that have agreed to do so are Eckerd Corp., Walgreen Co., CVS Corn., Rite Aid Corp. and Longs Drug Stores. Several big discount chains, including Target Stores and ShopKo, will also be carrying the line, and Celestial Seasonings executives are in discussions with their counterparts at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kmart Corp.
“Our premise was that if we were going to be spending that much money on advertising and marketing support, we would ask our accounts to pick up the full line to give the new brand maximum shelf impact,” explains Ryan. ‘Most of them have agreed. This will allow us to leverage the tremendous brand equity Celestial Seasonings has in herbal teas in a truly exciting way.
The supplier is also bringing a simplified, two-tier pricing strategy to the herbal supplements market, something Ryan says consumers will welcome. ‘There has been a lot of confusion not only about brands but also about pricing in this category,” he comments. “All our single-ingredient products will carry a suggested retail price of about $8.99 and all the blends about $9.99.”
That tactic will lead to a high level of satisfaction Among consumers and make it easy for retailers to display the products on end-caps for special price promotions, he adds.
The items began hitting store shelves in meaningful numbers in May and June, and Ryan says the response to the launch has been incredible. Major television and radio support begins in September, with most ads slated to run on such news magazine shows as “60 Minutes” and “20/20.”
“That seems to be where a lot of the momentum in the herbal supplements category is coming from these days,” remarks Ryan. “When those shows do a story on a product such as Saint-John’s-wort, demand takes off immediately.”
Celestial Seasonings is debuting some items in the line at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Marketplace Conference, and Ryan says getting chain drug pharmacists to support the new products is critical. “We feel the quality of our products is the best out there, and we plan to educate pharmacists about the things they need to look for in herbal supplements, such as standardization levels, milligrams, etc.,” he explains. “That kind of scrupulous attention to product quality by a big company is particularly important in the nutritional supplements category because it is basically unregulated.”
Something new is percolating in the offices of today’s workers. No longer are employees satisfied with the same old pot of office coffee. Having been exposed to coffeehouse fever – sometimes referred to as Starbucks syndrome – today’s workers are banging their cups in demand for designer coffees, exotic teas, and brand-name beverages. Getting better beverages may be one of the hottest issues in the workplace today. Most companies concerned about productivity and morale are inclined to agree. After all, why put the kibosh on an employee benefit that costs so little and means so much? And lest you think coffee breaks put a dent in productivity, take a look at what Duracell Inc., has done at its headquarters in Danbury, Conn. By dispensing free coffee and tea to its 550 employees from 13 pantries stationed throughout the building, the company cuts down on time wasted by thirsty people trekking to the cafeteria or leaving the building to indulge in their cravings.
Learning some new logistics
Although free coffee is a firmly entrenched employee perk, most office managers are not yet ready to replace 5- and 6-gallon bottled water coolers with individual bottles of spring or mineral water. The logistics, for one thing, are daunting, requiting storage for incoming shipments as well as empties to be recycled. And the additional packaging adds significantly to the cost. Still, some of the more progressive small firms, particularly in the high-tech industries, are starting to stock single-serve bottles. The reason: A happy employee is a more productive employee, and the cost of a few single-serve beverages is a pittance compared to the cost of a substandard level of performance.
Moreover, despite the caffeine craze of the last few years, water seems to be gaining some market share in the office. Although Americans still drink half of all the coffee produced in the world, per capita consumption declined 5.2% last year, whereas bottled water consumption was up 7.7%, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp.
The National Coffee Service Association (NCSA) admits that consumers are drinking less coffee, but states that office consumption has remained steady. Office coffee service firms agree, claiming daily consumption averages 3.5 cups per employee. That translates to some 10 billion cups per year.
The bottled water industry, however, points out that their “share of stomach” has been steadily growing and that small plastic bottles are where the action is. The Perrier Group’s Jane Lazgin notes that the single-serve bottled water category grew about 30% last year, and in many parts of the country, bottled water has supplanted a cup of coffee on workers’ desks.
Most office refreshment service firms say the coffee vs. water debate is little more than a tempest in a teapot. Coffee is still the number two beverage in the United States after soft drinks, whereas bottled water ranks number six – and a lot of that water is used to make coffee. The real challenge, they say, is to make a better cup of coffee.
The quest for the perfect cup of coffee
The need to please the palates of employees has come a long way since the 1960s when the introduction of hot-water taps on bottled watercoolers brought instant coffee and tea into the office. Hot-water taps and vending machines soon sounded the death knell for the old coffee cart that used to trundle down the corridors twice a day. Later, Cory and Bunn-O-Matic pioneered office coffee services, which spread like wildfire. Today, there are over 1,100 firms supplying coffee, coffeemakers, and bottled water to offices, supported by another 4,500 vending operators who have coffee operations.
Because a pot of coffee can acquire a burnt, bitter taste if it sits too long on a warming plate, the shift is on to using brewing systems that fill an 8-ounce insulated carafe or a 50- to 80-ounce “thermal air pot,” rather than a glass pot. The thermal air pot is what you see in coffee shops – essentially an insulated bottle from which coffee is dispensed using a pump.
“About half of our new customers opt for the air pots,” says Bob Friedman, president of Coffee Distributing Corp. (CDC), which serves 50 varieties of coffee to 1,300 firms in the greater New York City metropolitan area.
Coffee services are also answering the demand for darker, stronger, and more flavorful brews in a number of ways. Most have upgraded their basic offerings to 100% Colombian or special blends made from premium arabica beans. In most cases, they have done so without increasing the price. “The cost still works out to a nickel a cup,” says Peter Baker, copresident of Crystal Rock, a major New England water bottler that has branched out into office coffee service.
The Perrier Group, which markets 14 brands of domestic and imported bottled water, also has formed partnerships with upscale coffee roasters to distribute their premium house blends at no extra cost to customers. Somewhat pricier are bolder, heavy-bodied blends like European dark roast, super-premium coffees such as Kenyan AA, and the increasingly popular flavored coffees, which the NCSA reports are now available in 26% of all offices. According to Friedman, flavored coffee now represents as much as 10% of his firm’s business.
Because some premium coffees might have limited appeal, coffee services are also test marketing special brewers that make a cup at a time by forcing hot water through airtight foil packets containing both the coffee and the filter. These brew packets are about twice the size of an individual cream container. “Single-serve packets are a way of giving people variety without having to make a full pot of specialty coffee each time,” said Gene Monte, Crystal Rock’s director of sales and marketing.
Crystal Rock uses Keurig brewers with Green Mountain coffee packets. The company estimates the typical cost of each special cut is 40 [cents] to 50 [cents]. CDC offers single-serve Flavia brewers and coffee, and says the average cost of each cup is about 30 [cents]. In addition to six types of coffee, the Flavia system also can be used to make three types of leaf tea as well as hot chocolate, mochacchino, and cappuccino. Flavia is already available as a coin-operated machine, and Keurig will soon be, enabling cost-conscious employers to defray some or most of the added cost. CDC says three-fourths of its Flavia customers are picking up the total tab.
Expresso to go
Also turning up in more offices are ‘ Italian expresso machines. These use coffee cartridges to produce a 2.5-ounce cup of expresso for about 55. Although the amount of expresso coffee sold to offices has more than doubled in the past 2 years, it still represents only 1.6% of office coffee sales, according to the NCSA.
The wonders of water
Although it costs 1,000 times more than tap water, bottled water is a staple of the modern office. The reason: Although tap water in the United States is usually safe, it can still have an unpleasant odor or taste. Europeans drink bottled water for what is in it – minerals. Americans drink bottled water for what isn’t in it – sugar, caffeine, calories, cholesterol, alcohol, and sodium. Nutritionally, there’s no difference between bottled and tap water.
There are more than 900 brands of bottled water sold in the United States, but not all bottled water is spring water. Some 25% of bottled water originates in municipal water supplies. Crystal Rock, which says it “manufacturers premium water,” is among that group. It draws its water from a reservoir, filters and distills it to remove impurities, then reintroduces precise amounts of minerals to ensure that the taste and chemical content of every bottle is identical.
Last year, domestic water in single-serve bottles accounted for 750 million gallons, one quarter of the total bottled water market. “Smaller packages aren’t bought to avoid tap water, as are the large containers, but for convenience,” says Perrier’s Lazgin. “They are an alternative to juice, a soft drink, or a diet beverage – a plain, old, honest thirst quencher.”
Although some offices are providing their employees with single-serving bottles of water, free of charge, it’s still more the exception than the rule. “Most offices are not replacing bulk bottled water with small bottles of water,” noted Lazgin. “But they are carrying both, offering 16- and 20-ounce bottles for sale in the cafeteria or a vending machine next to the sodas, iced tea, and fruit juices.”