China Mist Tea is from Arizona
China Mist President and COO Rommie Flammer speaks to members of the American Marketing Association Phoenix Chapter at its April 28 luncheon at the Airport Marriott.
What’s sometimes lost in discussions about business is that virtually every enterprise started as a small operation in which an individual or partners took a risk.
For John Martinson and Dan Schweiker, their idea came after each had tried other endeavors and, admittedly, failed. So in 1982 the friends tried packaging tea from Martinson’s Scottsdale garage and selling it to restaurants across Phoenix. They mixed and tasted thousands of different tea and leaf combinations before striking what they believed would be the perfect combination for a black iced tea.
As Martinson, who had an office coffee distribution service, told an audience at the April 28 American Marketing Association Phoenix Chapter, they decided on the name China Mist. “We chose China Mist because all tea came from China,” he said. “And a mist is cooling, refreshing.”
For the next 15 years China Mist grew in popularity, as restaurants and hotels in Arizona and subsequently other states began promoting it as their iced-tea choice. What next?
In 1999 the company acquired Leaves Pure Teas Hot Teas, variety of whole-leaf loose, loose leaf sachet and tea bag hot teas in a variety of tea blends and flavors from around the world.
In 2005 China Mist began selling its iced-tea bags in groceries like Whole Foods. This was the company’s first venture into direct B to C — business to consumer — business (not B to B).
As President Rommie Flammer explained, after years of discussion the company in 2008 launched a line of ready-to-drink tea in bottles through retail shops and restaurants. China Mist Pure is now being sold in the United States, Canada and Dubai.
The development of the new line was the focus of Flammer’s talk.
The company had been working on the product for 10 years, continuously honing it until they felt it was ready. That meant experimenting with the water that would be used.
“We treat the water differently,” she said. “It’s not necessarily the best water for something else but it is for our tea.”
Then came the decision about the container.
They looked into using plastic but glass was better at retaining the tea’s flavor, she said. In the increasingly competitive fight for shelf space, the company knew it wanted to be different.
“There was a ‘sea of sameness’ in the grocery,” she said. “So we wanted to come up with a unique bottle.”
They came up with a slim hourglass design with a smaller mouth. Potential suppliers questioned the sharpness of its lines and its unconventional opening.
“But we thought, ‘This is all about being different,’” she said.
Five of China Mist’s six Pure bottled iced tea flavors.
Flammer, who joined the company in 1984 as a 16-year-old receptionist, then set out to update China Mist’s brand. She solicited new logo ideas but wasn’t happy with the submissions.
Finally, one artist came along and simply modernized the China Mist logo with a similar font and new colors, retaining its Asian flavor.
China Mist actually gets its teas from Shanghai, China, Martinson said, although he noted that “iced tea” is an American product. The company is broadening its reach by making its iced tea available in Asian and Middle East.
“It’s a great product where it’s hot and dry,” he said.
China Mist, which has 26 employees, still gets 90 percent of its revenues from its food-service sales but the entry into a retail environment supports brand awareness, she said.
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” she said. “You don’t make mistakes unless you’re reaching, and you have to reach to grow.”