WHAT'S NEW

While new coffees have been predominate in recent years, teas are now making big news. According to Find/SVP, retail sales of tea topped $2.1 billion in 1994, up from $1.1 billion in 1990. And tea sales are expected to grow faster than coffee sales in the next few years. Unilever has a major improvement in how to make tea. Called a world "teabag 'first"' by Foodweek, an Australian industry newsletter,

While new coffees have been predominate in recent years, teas are now making big news. According to Find/SVP, retail sales of tea topped $2.1 billion in 1994, up from $1.1 billion in 1990. And tea sales are expected to grow faster than coffee sales in the next few years. Unilever has a major improvement in how to make tea. Called a world "teabag 'first"' by Foodweek, an Australian industry newsletter, the Lipton squeezable teabags will not drip! To stop the bag from dripping, tea drinkers tear the bag tag in half and pull the two tags apart. This action squeezes all the tea from the bag. No drips, no mess. Unilever is moving the product out first in Australia. Eighty-three percent of consumers polled in that country indicate they will buy it, and apparently further indicate they will pay up to a 10% premium for it. With all the recent activity in single-serve coffee bags in the United States, I wonder if this innovation were introduced here for coffee cup brewing whether it would help bagged coffee sales.

Meanwhile, Starbucks Coffee Co. is reintroducing its own line of tea blends, selling them ready-to-drink in its more than 450 retail coffee shops as well as introducing take-home boxes of 24 tea bags. Under the Infusia label, the teas will sell for about $1.00 a cup in-store and $3.95 for the box. Chai Spice, Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Jasmine, plus Chamomile with peach and honey, Garden Berry, Spiced Citrus and Wild Peppermint come in the bags. These bags are specially designed to contain larger pieces of tea so that they will make a 12-ounce cup of tea with more flavor. Starbucks' name is not being used with the tea line because "it is identified with coffee," say company executives. Analysts indicate that as the Starbucks Coffee image grew in the past, the company's earlier attempt at selling tea dwindled.

Also looking to capitalize on growing tea interest, Fortune's International Teas in Pittsburgh has been formed to create a new line of specialty teas that it will sell nationally and in its sister company's Fortune coffee shops. Eighteen fruit flavors are initially being rolled out, offered in cardboard boxes of 10, 30 or 100 bags; cloth packs with 10 bags, and wooden boxes of 25 bags.

Teeccino Co., Santa Barbara, Calif., is trying to straddle tea and coffee interest with a new product -- the first Herbal Espresso blended from Mediterranean herbs, grains, fruits and nuts. Teeccino will create caffeine-free cappuccino and lattes. It is brewed in an espresso machine that produces an ebony brown, full-bodied brew, departing from the tea world and entering the espresso realm. Almond Amaretto, Chocolate Mint, Vanilla Nut and Original varieties come in 8.5-ounce canisters. Nitrogen-flushed to preserve freshness, Teeccino also can be brewed in a French press coffeemaker.

Robert McMath is a new-product consultant and director of the New Products Showcase & Learning Center in Ithaca, N.Y.