Jeff Irish, Revolution Tea
Your products and marketing materials have among the finest designs in the industry. Has good design always been your focus?
Yes. When the decision was made to enter into the retail environment we concluded we needed to design the brand to look completely different from all the other tea products. Our approach is to present our premium tea as a modern and refreshing beverage. We place a high importance on the consumer's emotional connection with our "look and feel" which serves to support the entire Revolution Tea experience.
Some might argue that your designs appear too cool, and might not connote the warm feelings consumers have historically associated with tea. How do you reply to such critics?
We are intentionally trying to depart from what is historically associated with tea. We want the consumer to think of the Revolution brand in the context of new, refreshing and innovative. For a brand to brake out in an over-saturated marketplace it can not follow the herd. Moreover, we believe that consumers want to be a part of something new and "cool", look at the success of the Apple iPod as a perfect example.
Apple's marketing of the iPod is conspicuously aimed at teens, though the average age of its owners is much higher. Are you similarly positioning your products to tap into the desire for youth that appears in us all?
To some extent yes. There are several emotional triggers that we want to touch. Youth and the desire to live better longer are certainly among them.
Speaking of youth, what profession did you aspire to when growing up?
Was it Shakespeare's prescription to "first, kill all the lawyers" that made you reconsider?
Something like that. Quite by accident I took a few fine art classed at the University of Arizona which I really enjoyed - I never looked back.
Tea has always had substance. The work of companies like Revolution and Tea Forte has also imbued it with art. Was art the missing ingredient that prevented tea from finding a wider audience up to now?
Art is only one of the missing ingredients. Innovation is the other. Without the flow through silken style bags there would be no full-leaf tea in a bag. The package alone may entice the consumer to pick up the box and purchase the tea but that alone may not inspire the second purchase, nor will it encourage word of mouth exposure or build customer loyalty. Only the potent combination of art and innovation can broaden an established market.
For decades most Americans only thought of coffee as a commodity brand like Folgers (no offense). Then came along several creative and innovative companies like Starbucks that put the "art" into coffee. The consumer shift was significant and it changed the entire category.
Tea may never hit the same stride that coffee has enjoyed but it is evident that pent-up demand for something new, refreshing and innovative is surfacing and a significant change is about to take place.
A combination of art and innovation is also evident in your RTD line of products. But will it suffice to compete in the hotly contested bottled-tea market?
We believe the answer is yes and the initial sell through data also suggests so. We are just now entering the 2nd and most critical year for the White-T market introduction and should be able let you know the verdict by this time next year.
You've mentioned Apple and Starbucks as companies that you admire. Both achieved greatness by famously challenged their industries' convention. Are you seeing something similar stirring these days in the tea industry?
I do and there are a several companies I see making the investment for change. We see it in the adoption of the flow through silk style bags. We see it in the abundance of creative flavor blends entering the market and we see it in those who are daring enough to market unsweetened bottled iced teas. I have been told by many in the RTD arena that if it doesn't have sugar it won't sell - we'll see about that.
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