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A packaging lesson from...a tea bag?!

Rob Jolles, Jolles Associates, Inc.  I am what you might call a methodically observant person. That means that I look for lessons in almost everything I do. I look for a lesson through the people I meet, the businesses I consult with, the seminars I deliver, and even the tea bags that arrive at my dinner table
FILED IN:  Package design  > Structural
A packaging lesson from...a tea bag?!A packaging lesson from...a tea bag?!
While in Las Vegas [for Pack Expo Las Vegas 2011], I got together with a couple of old friends for dinner. This was no ordinary dinner; it was a special dinner reuniting three close friends who had not been together in over 35 years. It was only fitting that we wound up at a very nice restaurant. The staff at this restaurant seemed to take pride not only in what they served, but also in how they served it. The waiters were top-notch, the ambiance was terrific, and the food was delicious. There was one small product, however, that appeared on our table after the meal, and it made quite an impression on me. It called itself “Earl Gray Tea,” and it was unique.

If you’re a tea drinker, I’ll bet you are well aware of Earl Gray tea. It happens to be one of the most popular teas sold, both here and abroad. It wasn’t the name that made it unique. 

It tasted pretty good, but it wasn’t the flavor that made it unique.

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Unless I missed something, the hot water looked like any other water I’d ever seen: It wasn’t the water that made it unique.

The teacup looked rather ordinary, as did the spoon, and the sweetener was predictable as well. None of these things made it unique.

What made it unique was the packaging. You may not think that you could creatively package a tea bag, but you are wrong. I’m not even sure you would call this a tea bag; it looked more like a tea pyramid…with a leaf growing out of it! It didn’t change the flavor in any way, but it did do something important. It changed the experience. It made us notice the product. It made us talk about the product. It made us pay more for the product. If we were to go back, it would make us seek out the product again. It even made someone write about the product!

Welcome to the world of packaging. In a product line whose biggest deviation in the past decade has been to create a big traveling box of tea bags that all look alike, the tea pyramid…with a leaf growing out of it, seems to have pushed the envelope. Oh, and I forgot to mention that this cup of tea, with the magic tea pyramid… that had a leaf growing out of it, had a price tag of $7.00.

I know what you might be thinking: “Isn’t this the guy who just told us not to use an analogy of a Cadillac because it conjured up thoughts of unnecessary cost?” I want to remind you of where I found this tea pyramid…with a leaf growing out of it. This wasn’t an IHOP where an entire thermos of Earl Gray tea would be served for a fraction of the cost. No, this was a trendy premium restaurant, in a high-class hotel, on the strip in Las Vegas. Here, that packaging was right for that audience, and it worked!


It worked because the restaurant is well aware of its particular niche, and used this simple packaging approach to offer its clientele something unique and special. Once upon a time, another company took both coffee and tea, repackaged the entire experience, tripled the price in doing it, and has become one of the most successful “chain stores” that exist today. That company, Starbucks, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

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