This is part of the 2013 NRN 50 special report, "Breakout Brands." This year NRN takes a look at 50 brands that are some of today's hottest emerging concepts. Meet the concepts shaking up the restaurant marketplace.
Ten years ago, Argo Tea founder and chief executive Arsen Avakian was struck by a prediction that U.S. consumers, too, would eventually fall in love with the world’s second-most consumed beverage.
At the time, he said, most Americans saw tea as a healthful but bitter, unappealing drink you only choked down when you were feeling sick. And while this perception still exists among many consumers, trend watchers agree the country is in the middle of a sea change.
“It’s definitely a trend,” said George Jage, founder and director of World Tea Media. “Tea has steadily been growing, even during the economic downturn. What’s really driving the market is the massive introduction of new flavor profiles into the category.”
Increasing globalization over the past decade opened up access to higher-quality, better-tasting teas. Since then the team at the 30-unit Argo Tea chain has painstakingly perfected more than 40 signature beverages, eight of which are retailed across the nation as part of the concept’s consumer packaged goods business.
The beverages developed by Argo’s mixologists all meet rigorous quality and flavor standards, are 100 percent natural and are nutritionally balanced. In addition, all products must be made from what Avakian called “real ingredients.”
“Why spend money on a chemist to create some extract of a cinnamon flavor when we can just go buy cinnamon?” Avakian said. “It’s common sense.”
In fact, Avakian said he takes a commonsense approach to all aspects of the business, including sustainability, which is foundational to Argo. The company uses 100 percent biodegradable packaging when possible, offers discounts to consumers who drink from reusable mugs and buys wind credits to offset its energy use. However, the measures in place are all logical and reasonable, Avakian added.
“Ninety-nine percent of our stores recycle, but there may be one or two stores that don’t have recycling collection from the building they’re in,” he said. “We’re not going to spend the time and oil and energy to have a special truck come in to pick up a few cartons just so we can check a box that we recycled. That doesn’t make sense.”
Other key business pillars at Argo are community involvement and charity efforts, and the company highlights a different charity each quarter. The first charity of the year is always a health-focused organization, and currently Argo is donating 10 percent of the proceeds from sales of its seasonal ValenTea Passion drink to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Argo also tasks its cafes with having weekly “ActiviTeas and CommuniTea events,” said Aileen Neumann, director of retail sales, merchandise and development. “It builds the relationship with our customers so they see the creativity and sustainability and all those core pillars come together to create a unique experience.”
Senior manager of e-commerce strategy and digital marketing Micheline Sabatte agreed, saying, “We have those core values that we use as a road map to build our whole customer communications strategy around. … We really try to raise awareness and create a sense of community around Argo.”
With that emphasis on community, the brand is going far — literally. Last year the company opened its first international location in Beirut, and several more Middle East units are scheduled to open this year. Argo plans to move farther into Asia in the near future.
“I see them as one of the leaders,” Jage of World Tea Media said. “They’re not playing a kid’s game. They’re going out and saying, ‘We’re going to define the space.’”
And with a core product as universal as tea, Avakian is convinced the sky’s the limit for his brand.
Contact Vanessa Van Landingham at email@example.com.