U.S. 2008 tea imports seen up 7 percent from year before

Sat Mar 21, 2009 5:05pm EDT
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By Marcy Nicholson

BOCA RATON, Florida (Reuters) - Tea imports in the United States are projected to have climbed 7 percent last year compared to 2007, as people responded to the perceived health benefits of green tea, the Tea Association of the U.S.A. said on Saturday.

"Tea enjoys positive imagery regarding its contributions to health versus other beverages," said association president Joe Simrany, speaking at the annual convention of the National Coffee Association of U.S.A. in Florida.

U.S. tea imports in 2008 are projected to be around 257 million lbs (117 million kg), up from 240 million lbs (109 million kg) in 2007, Simrany said.

Imports of traditional tea -- black, white, green and oolong -- have been growing in volume at an annualized rate of 3 percent to 5 percent over the past decade, he said.

Simrany said he expects the growth to continue.

Specialty tea is the fastest-growing segment of the industry, as most of the big coffee houses have included a line of such teas, he said.

While growth in the high-end specialty tea segment may slow during the recession, Simrany said he views traditional tea that sells in supermarkets as recession-proof due to its lower price.

A prolonged economic downturn could drive even faster growth in this low-cost sector, he said.   Continued...

<p>A woman pours hot water to make green tea at a traditional tea house in Boseong, about 397 km (246 miles) south of Seoul, September 23, 2007, which is a famous place in Korea for its extensive and beautiful green tea fields, and has the nation's largest tea outputs. Photo taken on September 23, 2007.REUTERS/Han Jae-Ho</p>