A New Teabag
What we love about this project is that you don’t often get the chance to take a fresh look at a product that is so much a part of our everyday lives, sold in such huge volumes but has seen little change in over 20 years. Sure, there have been new markets opened up in tea with different flavours and infusions but the last big thing that happened at the bag level was the now famous pyramid bag launched by PG Tips in 1996 with the help of a knitted monkey.
And the tea business is like many others in the areas where Apex Ideas specialise i.e. mature products that haven’t changed significantly in a long time and the manufacturers scratching their heads about how to find a genuinely new idea.
When we first started working with Tetley (Tata Global Beverages) we were discussing the possibility of a new teabag that could take on the PG Tips pyramid. Tetley had tried this a few times (which you can see in their patent portfolio), but none had brought enough benefits over the pyramid.
Step 1: Has the competition got it right?
So, the first thing we did was to look at the pyramid bag and see what we could do better. The claims about room to move had been tried and tested in court and had a good technical basis. The main identified weakness of the pyramid bag was when you get it out of the box it is crumpled, and you can’t get many in a box. Basically it doesn’t ‘present’ well.
So, a challenge had been identified – we needed something that would have ‘room to move’ in a cup but present well in a box and not take up too much space. A bit like flat pack furniture but without the hex keys and instructions. The transformation should happen automatically when the time was right and without any intervention from the customer. More like a car airbag.
Step 2: Solve the problem with focus on the positives.
When you are trying to solve a challenging problem, one that the industry experts have been trying to solve for years, then you have look for stuff that is working in your favour otherwise you have no chance.
The helping hand in this project was going to be the boiling water – that is something that a ‘smart’ teabag could detect so it knows it is time to transform from a nicely presented flat shape to a 3D shape with room to move.
This was something that had been toyed with before by the industry with the thought of putting bits of shape changing material inside the teabag that could push it into a more 3D shape. But these materials were not only expensive but bulky and customers didn’t really want foreign objects in their tea.
Step 3: The Solution – determine the goal even if it seems unreachable.
We wanted something that was compatible with high speed manufacturing, was food safe and responded in a useful way to hot water.
Challenging the materials databases with the parameters of the goal revealed a technical fibre developed in Japan for in a completely unrelated industry that would work perfectly for this tea bag application. The beauty of it was that it could be integrated with tea bags without the customer being aware of anything other than the amazing transformation that happened to the tea bag when they dropped it into the cup of hot water. More importantly the fibre was also similar in nature to those used in existing teabag manufacturing plants and could be used on existing machinery
Step 4: Results – A Pop Up teabag
The response not just from Tetley but also other independent experts and manufacturers was one of those rare ‘rabbit out of hat’ moments. They had never seen anything like it.
By integrating the fibre carefully within the structure of the teabag paper we produce a bag that lay perfectly flat in the box and then transformed into a near spherical shape when it was immersed in hot water. The form change was so appealing that we also looked at colouring the bag paper with a red cross to accentuate the change in shape and broaden the appeal.
In terms of ‘room to move’ the more spherical shape has a bigger internal volume than the pyramid bag and the form is more conducive to circulation and infusion since the tea leaves don’t get trapped in the corners. The structure of the pop-up bag also meant that it didn’t get squashed like the pyramid bag when you stirred the cuppa with a spoon.