george jage, world tea expo, world tea media, f&W media
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Tea House Times Interview with
George Jage
Director of World Tea Media, organizers of World Tea Expo

 

Dedicated to creating a vibrant community, World Tea Expo is the largest trade show and conference in the world for premium tea and related products; it’s the three days each year when industry professionals connect face-to-face to unveil new products, optimize high-quality merchandise, gain in-depth product knowledge and network with peers.

The 2012 World Tea Expo will take place in Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Convention Center, June 1-3, 2012.  Additionally, a New Business Bootcamp is scheduled for May 30 and a World Origin Tasting Tour on May 31.

World Tea Expo celebrates its 10 year anniversary this year.  In celebration, this year’s event promises all new content and a new twist on some of their tried and true micro-events. In addition, the event features an updated show floor, more than 200 vendor booths, an exciting new layout and look, and hundreds of the freshest new tea products – all to enhance the tea retail experience. Attendees can learn about hundreds of quality suppliers in just three days, while gathering insights on the latest trends and sipping and savoring the newest teas from across the globe. The show floor also includes unique tea ware manufacturers, delicious baked-goods suppliers, innovative tea product manufacturers and specialized accessory and gift dealers.

In the last 10 years, more than 33,000 people have attended World Tea Expo, to meet with more than 1,700 tea and related product suppliers in more than 206,000 net square feet of space.

Registration for the 2012 convention, which is expected to draw more than 4,500 delegates from around the world, is now open at www.WorldTeaExpo.com.  We chat with George Jage to learn more.

GAIL GASTELU/THE TEA HOUSE TIMES:  First, congratulations on 10 years!  World Tea Expo is an amazing, high quality, beneficial event every year, and I am very proud to be an exhibitor each year and especially proud to support the event as a media sponsor.  So, how does it feel to be leading World Tea Media, supporting and representing the tea industry for the last10 years?

GEORGE JAGE/WORLD TEA MEDIA:  First, thank you for your kind words.  We are really fortunate and blessed to be in a position to have a positive effect on so many people’s lives.  With any job, there are always good days and bad days, but the good days have always outweighed the tough ones.  So, in a nut shell, I feel honored and humbled.

As you know, at the time of this interview, we just announced our acquisition by F&W Media, Inc.  This is a huge and positive step for the company and the industry.  As a small business, like so many of our customers, we have always faced the same challenges in getting the capital we need for growth, cash flow crunches, etc., etc.  Kim [Jage, the sales and marketing director for World Tea Media] and I spent a lot of time in making our decision to move forward with F&W, and it was based primarily on how closely aligned our visions were – to create and deliver unparalleled quality content, and to be an authentic and trusted voice of the niche communities in which they serve.  Very little will change on the front end of the business, but we will now have enormously deep resources behind it.

GAIL:  Take us for a walk down memory lane by sharing a little of the founding of SFG Group, the creation of World Tea Expo, and finally the creation of World Tea Media as the parent company of World Tea Expo, World Tea News, the North American Tea Championship, World Tea East, etc.

GEORGE:  One of the things that amuses me most is now that the show has grown, many of the original exhibitors still talk about the first show and how there were only 20 companies and a few hundred people.  This is highly flattering, as they see the beginning as a small distant land, when actually we had nearly 70 companies the first year and over 1,000 in attendance.

From the very onset, I was astonished by the passion of the people in the industry, and that still holds true today.  That has always been the fuel that has driven us to continue to push the Expo forward and continue to find new ways in which to serve the community.  We knew we wanted to keep our focus on tea, but it was always a challenge to run one show a year and carry the overhead of a team year round, which was why we always hoped to successfully launch a second show on the east coast. 

With World Tea News, we started this in 2005, simply to aggregate news as a service to the industry, but also to keep the communication with our exhibitors and attendees year round.  In 2008, we took the path of creating original content for the tea trade as most coverage prior to this was an afterthought by primarily coffee trade publications.  We struggled with this for a long time, and the addition of seasoned publisher and editor Dan Bolton to our team last year was the breakthrough we needed. Now, World Tea News is certainly the online portal that offers in-depth news, features and business insight for the global tea industry.

The North American Tea Championship (NATC) is something that was developed to have an onsite and complimentary event at the Expo, but the industry wanted more.  Kim has truly been the master architect of the North American Tea Championship since it evolved from a show floor special event into what it is today.  NATC has really been about two main objectives, which are necessary for our industry.  First, is to help elevate the quality of tea consumed in North America.  In the wine industry, a fine wine will inherently be much more expensive than a lower quality one, but with tea, you can often find a far superior tea at a lower price because consumers are more focused on packaging than product.  They lack the understanding of quality at this point in time, but that’s changing.  The Second main objective of NATC is to create standards for the industry.  Kim has spent literally hundreds of hours talking with some of the top tea minds in the country – and even globally – continually evolving the criteria for the completion.  Tea can be very subjective as you know, and there is no shortage of opinions out there, on what tea is and should be.

GAIL: World Tea Expo has seen a lot of growth in 10 years.  It impresses me that each year offers something new and notable. But this year, you have outdone yourself with the 10 year anniversary and commitment to a no-repeat policy.  Tell us a little about this year’s changes.

GEORGE:  We have always been highly innovative and creative.  This is what I love doing most.  Over the years, we have created the first-ever tea auction on U.S. soil, which set a world record for the highest price paid for black tea! We held cooking with tea demos with world-renown chefs, we created the Top Tea Cocktail competition, the Tea Infusion Challenge and much more.

Kim and I both were invited to a meetings technology conference, and we saw that they had a “no-repeat policy,” which makes sense for an event that is about technology.  We both immediately had the same idea, and it tied in perfectly with this year’s marketing campaign: “There’s a fresh crop every year.” 

Then we realized we had done 486 sessions, and I knew it would be a daunting challenge to create 100 percent new content.  In some cases, we didn’t want to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water, so we gave our top selling classes a new twist. For example, our blending workshop became about deconstructing famous grocery store blends.  This will allow retailers to create their own blends on proven taste profiles for consumer. 

Most importantly, it really made both us and the industry educators push the envelope on what our industry needs to learn and know to continue growing.  In 10 years, I can honestly say, this is our best and most exciting program yet!

GAIL: I have heard great things about the World Origin Tasting Tour taking place the day before the show floor opens.  For those not familiar, please fill us in on the excitement of this event. What goes on over eight hours?

GEORGE:  World Origin Tasting Tour (WOTT) was one of our innovations last year.  We knew that the New Business Boot Camp attendees thirsted for more tastings and discussion on the leaf, and they wanted us to create something else really exciting.  WOTT is as close as you will get to flying the world’s top origins without leaving your seat.  The Tour consists of getting your passport at check in and beginning your eight country tour, both tasting the teas from each origin, but learning about the people and culture of their tea producing communities.

GAIL: New Business Boot Camp takes place two days before the show opens. Who should attend? 

GEORGE:  It is hard to believe that this will mark our 5th year of New Business Boot Camp (NBBC).  With the industry growing rapidly and new people coming into our community daily, we saw the need to provide a basic foundation for the future tea entrepreneurs coming to the Expo.  Prior to this, we saw them trying to get a drink of water from the proverbial fire house on the show floor, and it overwhelmed them. NBBC provides the same tea-specific business tools for them to evolve their ideas and passions into a real business.  We have had NBBC graduates who had 40+ years of experience working at Fortune 500 companies, who found as much value as young college graduates looking to start a business or empty nesters looking to engage in commerce for the first time.  Even Stanley Zabar, an accomplished and well-known N.Y.C. retailer, attended NBBC!

GAIL:  What happens at the Tea Infusion Challenge scheduled for Sunday, June 3?

GEORGE:  I hate to make the comparison to the dark cup [coffee] but the Tea Infusion Challenge is tea’s evolving equivalent to the Barista competitions that seem to be at every coffee event these days.  It is the opportunity for tea professionals to showcase their skill and knowledge of the leaf in extracting the best from the leaf.  Each contestant must infuse the same teas so we standardize every element except the steeping process.  This started out small so we could create the necessary methodology for the competition, and will continue to grow this every year.

GAIL:  What types of companies normally exhibit and what types of companies would you like to see more of?

GEORGE: Premium tea and tea ware manufacturers, gift ware, baked goods, accessories, publications, packaging, flavoring/extract suppliers, equipment and more.  We’d like to see more of all the above, but also suppliers of expendables and related items –dry goods, linens – as well as displays and those vendors that service restaurants, since tea rooms are, after all, foodservice establishments.

GAIL: Tell us about the three exhibit booth size/options and what is included.

GEORGE:  We provide our exhibitors with a hard wall booth package, inclusion in the New Product Showcase, an attractive Virtual Booth and press opportunities.  These inclusions are a part of every booth regardless of size or price.

The hard wall booth package includes a hard wall display, three shelves, a table, chairs, carpet and wastebasket. Most shows rent just space – literally – the exhibitor then has to spend more money renting furniture to display her products, and rent carpet.

The Virtual Booth, inclusion in the New Product Showcase and press opportunities provide exposure to attendees before the show even opens and outside of the exhibitors’ 100 sq ft of space when it does.  This is important because the most successful exhibitors are those that have a presence beyond the confines of a booth.  We don’t charge extra to ensure every exhibitor has this opportunity, we include it.

Keeping all inclusions in-mind, we offer 10 x 5 spaces, 10 x 10 standard locations and 10 x 10 premium locations. Spaces can also be combined to create larger booths and we even offer private meeting rooms.

GAIL: Please tell us about the types of businesses attending World Tea Expo, types of buyers, etc.

GEORGE:  95 percent of attendees buy or influence purchasing decisions for their companies.  The largest demographic of companies have been in business for more than 10 years.  Our attendees are retailers and tea rooms, distributors, restaurants, coffeehouses, spas and grocers.  Anyone that sells tea and tea-related products is qualified to attend World Tea Expo.

GAIL:  What are the benefits of your Attendee Appreciation Program (AAP)?

GEORGE:  The AAP program is designed for those attendees that have attended Expo every year for the consecutive past three years.  They receive 50 percent off admission fees and educational seminars, have dedicated registration and help personnel, receive priority seating in all events and receive a ribbon attached to their badge which notes their VIP status so all of our team can recognize them quickly show-site.

GAIL: So, the biggest change of all this year would definitely be the Core Conference/Education Program, Seminars,  Focused Tastings, Skill Building Workshops  and Executive & Technical Series.  I see lots of fresh faces listed as speakers and lots of fresh content. It looks great.  Share a little on how the process works on picking speakers and topics.  How are you feeling about this lineup for 2012?

GEORGE:  I truly believe this is the most exciting program we have put together to date.  When we first started the Expo, we relied heavily on a small group of people to help us develop the content, and as we moved forward, we looked to pull content instead of push it, by creating an educational committee of industry thought leaders.  We market our open call for proposals and pull content from the community and have an educational committee review the topics and vet the speakers.  From there, we internally put together the pieces of the jig saw puzzle.  It is like kneading dough, you keep working it until it is the right consistency!

GAIL: The tea industry overall does a top-notch job with education. From tea industry publications, to hundreds of dedicated speakers and educators, to the varied and original seminars offered at World Tea Expo, the support to tea industry professionals is all around impressive.

I encourage everyone in the tea industry and those offering related or complimentary products to exhibit, attend, experience all that World Tea Expo has to offer.  See you there!

Please visit http://www.worldteaexpo.com for more information, schedule of events and registration procedures.

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