“Are you ready for ready-to-drink tea?” That’s the question that GEA’s tea experts are asking at this year’s Pack Expo International in Chicago, Illinois, USA (October 14–17, 2018, stand N-4927). GEA is targeting beverage producers who are continuously expanding their range of freshly brewed, ready-to-drink tea to align with the trend towards health-promoting diets. Consumers are becoming savvier and more demanding in terms of raw materials and quality. As a result, brands around the world are placing more emphasis on natural ingredients and regional flavors, which requires more dynamic product development among manufacturers. “Our customers are responding to this by bringing tea leaves directly into the plant as part of their process. In this way, a simple iced tea becomes a premium product,” says Steffen Rathmann, who manages GEA’s non-alcoholic beverage business.

GEA offers solutions for the entire tea production process, whether in testing or the design, construction, installation and service of 24/7 turnkey plants, processing lines or modular technologies. At present, the development team has defined two priorities for the sector with the greatest optimization requirements for efficient and resource-saving production: the perfect brewing process and the treatment and handling of spent raw materials.

The US is a high-growth market for tea beverages

“The Pack Expo is an excellent opportunity for us to talk to our customers,” says Rathmann. “Even though the Asian market is the area where these tea beverages are traditionally sold most, it is in many other regions, including the US where there is strong demand for ready-to-drink (RTD) tea as a high-quality and healthy alternative. We have already received numerous requests for tea beverage production facilities in North America and want to keep our ear close to the market.”

According to Euromonitor International, the size of the global RTD tea market has grown by roughly 25% since 2011. Forty billion liters were sold in 2016 and this figure is expected to reach 45 billion liters by the end of 2022. Overall lifestyle changes, increasing disposable income and the move away from carbonated drinks, including to some degree alcohol and even juice, are the main drivers fueling this growth.

A pilot process facility for customer trials in the tea industry

GEA is highlighting to customers at the Pack Expo its new tea process and product development center in Ahaus, Germany. “At our facility in Ahaus, we not only present some of our core technologies – sifting, centrifuge clarification and thermal treatment – but also try to adapt our pilot process to match our customers’ objectives, recipes and manufacturing processes in order to offer a tailor-made solution,” says Colm O’Gorman, responsible for GEA’s non-alcoholic beverages development and actively driving the RTD tea development initiative. Working together with GEA technologists and other process experts, customers can develop their systems and processes. “We experiment with different raw materials and formulations to be sure our customers get exactly the overtones and profiles they want for their teas. Having the capability to fill aseptically to IBC or small sample pouches, we can either send samples for further testing elsewhere in the GEA system, such as for evaporation analysis or to our extensive laboratory facilities at our Oelde site, or even back to the customer for further sensory analysis for example.”

Presenting GEA filling heads

“We do not use off the shelf, finished systems, especially for the production of RTD tea,” adds Rathmann. “It’s all about having a close development partnership with our customers.” Members of GEA’s RTD tea team are therefore available for one-on-one meetings at the trade fair. As an important component for the entire tea production process they point out GEA’s filling competence and present GEA VIPOLL’s filling and capping heads for the multifunctional ALL-IN-ONE monoblock filler which can switch between bottles, cans and PET. “We are thus able to offer flexible and efficient filling solutions for glass/PET bottles and cans, in addition to GEA’s aseptic, ESL, hot fill and standard hygienic filling technologies. We can support our customers throughout the entire production process – from brewing to the finished product.”

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