Which Wich Superior Sandwiches is seeking a change in its tea suppliers and has approached the research process with the help of its team and consumers.
The 201-unit fast-casual sandwich chain recently conducted a Which Wich Tea Showdown at a research firm in Dallas to select a new source for its iced teas.
Customers are demanding higher quality iced teas, said Charles Ballard, who heads special projects for Which Wich. “The customer’s preference is for a fresh-brewed tea product,” he said.
Iced tea is increasingly becoming a point of differentiation for restaurants, with many offering both sweet and unsweetened versions. McAlister’s Deli, for example, has even created a Tea Bar in some of its recently renovated units .
And limited-service restaurants are increasing sweet tea offerings, according to recent Technomic research. “The emergence of sweet teas (a flavor that accounted for just 3.6 percent in 2010) points to a larger menu-development trend around classic American fare and regional food and drink (i.e., traditional Southern-style sweet tea),” the research firm said in a report.
In addition, away-from-home tea consumption has increased about 10 percent annually over the past decade, the New York-based Tea Association of America reports. The group said Americans consumed more than 65 billion servings of tea in 2010, which totaled more than 3 billion gallons.
The trade group found that on any given day, half of the U.S. population consumed tea, with the South and the Northeast having the largest concentration of tea drinkers. About 85 percent of tea consumed in the U.S. was iced.
A tea showdown
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Ballard said Which Wich’s recent Tea Showdown included both consumers and staff members. Five consumers were chosen from various restaurants in the Dallas area, where Which Wich is headquartered, he said. In addition, the tasting panel included two vendors that have participated in opening at least 100 stores, an outside consultant and nine corporate staff members, including founder Jeff Sinelli and his wife, Courtney Sinelli, as well as James Pa, vice president of operations, and Ballard.
“Only the consumers were financially compensated for their time and travel,” Ballard said.
Tasters sampled from among vendors and placed ticket stubs in cups that were numbered with the tea they thought was the best. Ballard said they could divide their 10 tickets among several tea providers.
“I have entered all the data points into a large matrix to give each set of inputs an equal weight: taste, ability to distribute, reliability and ease of implementation, and overall cost, to name a few,” Ballard said. “From all of that data there are some clear front runners.” Several will be called back to provide further business proposals, he said.