Riding the Rise in C Store Iced Tea Sales

Momentum is rising at the convenience store iced tea bar as more consumers report purchasing cold tea at c-stores, citing taste, cleanliness, quality and value as their most important purchasing factors.
Thirty-nine percent of c-store consumers are purchasing cold tea beverages more often, according to Technomic’s spring 2017 Convenience Store Consumer Marketbrief. That’s at the expense of quick-service restaurants, followed by coffee cafes.
Forty-four percent of all c-store consumers purchase dispensed tea from c-stores on a monthly basis, with younger consumers and males being the heaviest users. The majority prefer caffeinated tea to decaffeinated, according to Technomic, and more than three-quarters of c-store consumers prefer sweetened tea. The most preferred flavors for cold tea are lemon, green tea, peach, sweet and raspberry.
Compare that to the most common flavors of iced tea across foodservice channels, based on Technomic’s MenuMonitor: green tea, followed by sweet and raspberry.
Such flavors may be table stakes for getting into the iced tea game, but a look at the fastest-growing flavors show an expanding palate: both coffee and orange-flavored iced teas saw 50% increases in instances on menus year over year. Hibiscus also permeated menus with a 32% increase. Strawberry, mint, berry and honey were other fast growers. Declining flavors include Mexican, prickly pear, tropical fruit and Hawaiian.
Just as the coffee bar heralds unique limited time offers (LTOs) in the fall and winter, c-store operators should seek out flavor trends to differentiate their beverage offering in the summer. Leading foodservice operators took the start of spring to roll out some trend-forward LTOs, all reflecting bigger category trends such as the use of whole fresh fruit. Dunkin’ Donuts rolled out its Fruited Iced Teas in six New England states. Available with black or green iced tea, the specialty is sweetened with fruit juice and pieces real fruit, in mango pineapple and blackberry varieties. Pret a Manger likewise launched an iced blueberry green tea with fresh blueberries and blueberry syrup. Both are a nod to last year’s launch from Starbucks of its Teavana Shaken Berry Sangria Herbal Tea.
Tropical flavors are also a natural pairing for iced tea LTOs. Panera Bread Co. is taking a tropical direction with its passion papaya green tea this spring, while Peet’s Coffee last year showcased coconut syrup in its Coconut Solstice Black Iced Tea. Le Pain Quotidien went more traditional with its Stone Fruit Iced Tea, featuring apricot, nectarine and cherry flavors infused into a black tea.
C-stores seeking to better understand and market to the iced tea consumer should focus on the afternoon daypart. Nearly half of all c-store tea purchases (hot and cold) occur in the afternoon, according to Technomic, more so among light c-store tea users (59%) than heavy tea users (38%). Induce more traffic from these afternoon shoppers with special “happy hour” promos or food-and-drink combos.
Slightly more heavy c-store tea users purchase tea in the morning (40%). This may be their daily ritual, much like the morning cup is for the coffee drinker. Entice these consumers by offering LTOs that pique interest (perhaps by offering unique flavors) and by using on-trend ingredients that mirror what they see from restaurant and coffee shops.

Suggested Reading