In this Co-Development project, we helped a customer in China to develop a high-quality liquid non-dairy creamer for tea shops serving tea on-the-go. Our tailored solutions were proven to meet all expectations regarding taste, health image, shelf life, and cost.
In China, tea consumption is approximately nine times higher than that of coffee, and the extremely popular drink has resulted in a rapid expansion of tea shops serving tea on-the-go, reaching 334,000 last year (compared to 245,000 in 2018). The year-over-year sales growth during the same period was 25 percent, expected to be 35–40 percent during 2022–2023.
The cost of shop rental in Chinese cities is high, making it a critical success factor to be able to increase the amount of tea drinks made and sold every day. When making tea drinks, tea shops in China have traditionally used non-dairy creamers (NDCs) in powder form. This is a much slower process than using liquid NDCs. In addition, consumers perceive liquid NDCs to be far healthier than its powder alternative.
In this project, our customer wanted to manufacture a high-quality liquid NDC solution that would increase efficiency in the tea shop whilst improving the health image of tea drinks. Frequent high temperatures in many parts of China posed an extra challenge, making good shelf life a necessity. This ultimately required the development of a new type of liquid, UHT-treated (ultra-high-temperature processing) non-dairy creamer, a relatively new product in China.
Understanding teas together
We started the process to better understand the tea business by walking our customer’s value chain. This was supported by AAK’s local Dairy team, specialized in dairy applications. We quickly discovered that our customer intended to use a toll manufacturer, making it important to involve our Customer Innovation team to help with product design, testing and development.
During the project, we had several sensory sessions together with our customer and we tested many different AAK solutions depending on type of tea and hot and cold tea drinks. An interesting finding was that different solutions influenced the creaminess and flavor release differently depending on type of tea drink. The biggest difference was found in cold and hot tea drinks, respectively. AAK will therefore supply one solution for hot tea drinks, meant to be consumed during winter, and one for cold tea drinks which are mostly consumed during summer. To fully capture this opportunity, we have developed a portfolio of solutions for different types of teas and servings (green and black) and temperatures (hot and cold).
The perfect partnership
Most of the development work took place at AAK’s Customer Innovation Center in Shanghai and was conducted in close collaboration with our customer. Our pilot facility was set up to mirror the production processes of our customer.
A key technical challenge during the project was to manage the processing in a gentle way to ensure that the high temperatures involved didn’t impair the sensory performance of the end product. Solving product stability also required us to reach out to the suppliers of emulsifiers and stabilizers. Based on our expertise, the customer agreed to let AAK support in the formulation of the complete recipe.
In partnership with our customer, sensory evaluations of many pilot samples were conducted. The final product solutions were optimized and tailored to deliver excellent flavor release and sensory properties for hot as well as cold tea drinks.
We supported our customer during test marketing, smoothing the transition from pilot to production. Our tailored solutions were proven to meet all expectations regarding taste, health image, shelf life, and cost. Importantly, the average time to add an NDC to a tea drink reduced from the two minutes required to dissolve a powder non-dairy creamer to just 15 seconds with our liquid UHT equivalent – a major benefit for tea shops in China.