Friday, June 1, 2012

Tea In A Puerto Rican Supermarket

The topic of tea selections in supermarkets is something that I'm very interested in. I've written about tea in supermarkets three times before, in the following posts:

In this post, I write about my observations about the teas for sale in a supermarket that I visited in Puerto Rico. I also write about what I think may be missed business opportunities related to the products I saw (and did not see) on the shelf.

The tea selection in a Puerto Rican Supermarket, Pueblo, near Ponce:

There were not as many supermarkets in Puerto Rico as I'm used to in the U.S. But once I actually saw the inside of a Puerto Rican supermarket, it was pretty similar to the U.S. But the tea selection was very small:

In a typical supermarket in the U.S., one about the same size as this one, Pueblo (which means "people"), the tea section usually does not fit in a single photograph. I'm used to having to take two or more photos to capture all the teas for sale. The selection in this supermarket not only fits in one photo, it does not even reach to the bottom of the shelf.

The only two mainstream brands I saw represented were Lipton and Celestial Seasonings. There were two hispanic-oriented brands: Carmencita, and Tadin Herb & Tea Co.

Neither Lipton nor Celestial Seasonings had Spanish-language packaging:

I found it particularly interesting that the packaging presented here by both Lipton and Celestial Seasonings was English-language only. This seems to me to be a business mistake. Most of the other products for sale in this supermarket, and all the signs in the supermarket, were Spanish-language only.

The store where the above photo was taken was located just outside of Ponce, on the south coast. Ponce is a good distance from San Juan, and, compared to San Juan and surrounding areas, is much less of a tourist destination for non-Puerto Rican Americans. (I say this because this area does seem a popular destination for people of Puerto Rican descent born in the states.) Whereas in San Juan, most people spoke English, many fluently, in Ponce, many people I encountered spoke no English at all, and the English skills of the people I ran into were noticeably poorer. Spanish was clearly the dominant language in this area.

If I were running a tea company here, I would offer bilingual packaging for sale everywhere in Puerto Rico. In the absence of bilingual packaging, I would offer Spanish-language-only packaging.

Puerto Rican brands not represented:

The two tea brands mentioned above, Carmencita, and Tadin, are both oriented towards a hispanic market, but neither are based in Puerto Rico. Carmencita is a Spanish company, based in Novelda, Spain. Tadin is a U.S. company, based in California, and oriented towards the US Hispanic market. I do not know about the cultural origins of Tadin, but I will say, I have frequently seen their herbs for sale in Mexican stores, so I suspect that it has a generic Hispanic orientation and may even be more oriented towards Mexicans. It's easy for non-hispanic Americans to think of "Hispanic culture" as monolithic, but my experience has been that there is surprisingly little overlap between the culinary traditions of Puerto Rico and Mexico. Puerto Rican cuisine seems to have as least as much in common with the food in Jamaica, an area not considered Hispanic. I know less about Puerto Ricans' taste in herbal teas, but I'd imagine these traditions could be equally different from each other as the food traditions are.

I do know of one brand of herbal teas with Puerto Rican heritage, Badia. Badia, a spice and herb company, is now based in Florida, but was founded in Puerto Rico when Jose Badia fled from Cuba after the revolution (you can read more about the Cuban revolution in my recent post if you missed it). Badia has some interesting offerings among herbal teas, including linden leaves, star anise, loose-leaf Eucalyptus, and Cat's claw (used in the traditional medicine of Peru).

My intuition is that Badia would be more successful in Puerto Rican supermarkets than any of the four brands sold here. Their offerings may fit more to Puerto Rican tastes, and, if some of their staff had roots in Puerto Rico, they'd be more likely to be able to develop an intuition for which products would work best there. And I also think many Puerto Ricans would gladly support a company with local origins, especially if Badia were to somehow draw attention to this fact.

A purely local Puerto Rican herbal tea company?

I also don't see why a purely-local company couldn't come into the picture here. Puerto Rico has a diverse climate and has the capacity to produce a wide variety of herbs locally. I think it would be great to see a locally-owned brand of locally-grown, locally-blended herbal teas in Puerto Rican supermarkets. And I think such a brand could be very successful. Puerto Ricans drink their locally-brewed beer, Medalla light, with great pride and enthusiasm. And I look at the English-only packaging of Lipton and Celestial Seasonings and I, these big companies are just spinning their wheels. There's a missed business opportunity here!


  1. I do not think the English package makes a difference...Most Puerto Ricans do not normally drink tea. it doesn't matter in what language is the pkg, they don't have more in the stores because it won't sell.

    1. When I was in Puerto Rico, I saw herbal teas for sale in cafes more often than tea itself. I don't know much about what Puerto Ricans drink, but because I know there is a Puerto Rican brand of herbal teas, Badia, I suspect it would be more successful.

      Do you think they're selling much of these products at all? I'm not saying that there would be a huge amount of demand, just that I think they could do better.

      This supermarket was in a region where there were a lot of people who didn't speak English, and most of the products in the store had Spanish-only or Bilingual packaging. Do you really think it wouldn't make a difference to have packaging in Spanish? My intuition is that it would.

  2. Good article, a few things I did notice:
    1. Pueblo - the meaning pertains more to people as a culture group, in the case of the chain supermarket stores it means village
    2. Most people in the metropolitan area have been exposed to the English language (TV, music, etc...), but I don't think most people are bilingual though
    3. Historically tea is not traditionally part of the Puertorrican culture, as is coffee, whereas other Hispanic countries the opposite is true; Peru for example
    4. There is a local tea company, but you won't find it in common stores (

    Good article!