Ito En: Natural Green Tea
By ELIZABETH FUHRMAN
Ito En’s Teas’
Tea contains simple ingredients. The tea consists of just purified water,
green tea and vitamin C.
“It’s really simple, but to keep it that
simple an extremely complex process is employed,” says Beau Berstein,
marketing manager for Ito En (North America) Inc. in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“The company took this ancient product and made it relevant to this
era, but still adhering to the traditions of antiquity.”
Founded in Japan in 1966, Ito En revolutionized the
tea industry in Japan, says Rona Tison, vice president of corporate
relations. “Because green tea is an unfermented tea leaf and
oxidizes, it was impossible to take green tea in a mobile form
before,” she says. The deceased Ito En Chairman Masanori Honjo, the
father of Yosuke Honjo, Ito En North America Inc.’s current chief
executive officer and president, realized that young Japanese people
didn’t have time to brew loose leaf tea like their parents, and they
needed an on-the-go form. The company first launched a canned green tea in
Japan, and then developed the Teas’ Tea line in a PET bottle.
With Americans becoming more interested in Japanese
cuisine and healthier lifestyles, Ito En opened its first office in New
York in 2001 and launched its flagship store in Manhattan. “Part of
having the store in Manhattan is that people can really experience the
varietals of tea leaves,” Tison says.
Ito En now also operates two restaurants in New York,
a retail location in New Jersey, and Mason Vitamins, a Miami Lakes,
Fla.-based vitamin and supplement manufacturer.
Ito En released its Teas’ Tea line in the United
States in 2002. Although specially packaged for the U.S. market, the
company’s teas still are bottled in Japan because the technology Ito
En uses currently is not available in the United States. Expanding
Teas’ Tea with a couple of SKUs every year, the unsweetened,
all-natural line now includes Pure Green, Green Jasmine, Golden Oolong,
Green White, Lemongrass Green, Rose Green and Green Hoji in 16.9-ounce
bottles. Teas’ Tea Pure Green, Green Jasmine and Green White also are
available in 2-liter bottles.
Early last year, Ito En released a line of cane
sugar-sweetened Natural Fruit Teas in Green Tea Apple, Green Tea Blueberry,
Apple, Apricot, Cranberry, Lemon, Mango, Peach and Raspberry in 16.9-ounce
bottles. In 2006, Ito En also introduced Sencha Shot, an all-natural tea
brewed from Japanese loose tea leaves using a deeper brewing method that
yields both a high content of natural catechin tea antioxidants and a more
full-bodied green tea taste, the company says. Sencha Shot contains 152 mg.
of catechin tea antioxidants per 6.4-ounce can.
Also last year, the company released Café
Sepia, natural ready-to-drink coffees produced with beans roasted in Japan.
Packaged in 6.4-ounce steel cans, Café Sepia launched in House Blend
and Mocha varieties. In April, Ito En expanded the Café Sepia line
with RTD teas Matcha Latte and Tea Latte. Both contain milk to give the
beverages a creamy taste and are packaged in 8.1-ounce cans.
The new Café Sepia Tea Latte is made with black
assam tea from India. Matcha Latte is made with Japanese matcha, a stone
ground powdered green tea used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
“Through the Café Sepia line, we’re using the ingredient
matcha in a way that is a little bit more approachable for somebody who
isn’t familiar with matcha,” Tison says. “…For
someone who is new to matcha and wants a little introduction to the Eastern
infusion, having the traditional Japanese ingredients infused with a latte
is really kind of fun.”
This spring, Ito En entered into a partnership with
Dr. Andrew Weil, well known in the field of integrative medicine, to
develop a line of tea beverages, which includes ready-to-drink teas,
loose-leaf tea bags, matcha green teas and turmeric tea.
“We consider ourselves pioneers of authentic
green tea,” Tison says. “And Weil is a pioneer in his education
and communication about integrated medicine … I think the teas bring
us into more of a mainstream with someone who can communicate that
lifestyle as well.”
The Dr. Andrew Weil for Tea line of 17 SKUs includes
ready-to-drink teas in 245-ml. cans that are available in Turmeric, Green
White, Gyokuro, Jasmine White and Darjeeling. The tea bags are offered in
Sencha with Matcha, Jasmine Green Tea, Genmaimatcha and Darjeeling. The
loose leaf teas include White Peony, Jasmine Pearl, Sencha with Matcha,
Genmaimatcha and Matcha varieties. Sencha and Genmaimatcha also are
presented in loose leaf tea packs.
Further expanding the American consumer’s
Eastern ingredient knowledge, the Dr. Andrew Weil line includes a powder
and RTD form of turmeric, a spice from the ginger family known for its
anti-inflammatory and other homeopathic properties. Tison believes Ito En
is the only company to offer a RTD form of turmeric, a drink that follows
in the cultural traditions of Okinawa, a Japanese island known for the
longevity of its residents.
Expanding consumers’ knowledge and palates with
these new ingredients and products is Ito En’s answer to a consumer
shift for healthier products that aren’t laden with sugar.
“If people want to know what tea really tastes
like, all-natural will do that for them,” Berstein continues.
Ito En takes tea education just as seriously
internally. All of the company’s employees in Japan and the United
States undergo training in tea and take a tea test every year.
Ito En’s plans are to eventually have the
technology to produce the teas in the United States. With strong markets on
the East and West Coasts, the company hopes to further expand in the
central states. Ito En products currently are available in all Whole Foods
Markets, and recently added distribution in Costco and Target stores.
“It’s a matter of introduction and having availability,”
Ito En sees its greatest possibility for growth in the
Teas’ Tea line because of its all-natural taste profile minus acids
and sugars found in other U.S. manufactured teas.
“That’s going to be the vehicle to educate
the mainstream market to what tea ought to taste like,” Bernstein
says. “While Teas’ Tea is premium, Dr. Andrea Weil’s line
is super-premium and I think that will come later to a mass market. Right
now it’s a different kind of a customer. The next year is to really
show the rest of the country outside the major cities what Teas’ Tea
is, and why it is so special.”