TJ Maxx’s Tea Selection

I sometimes find good tea in unusual places.  One of these is TJ Maxx, a chain of discount stores that primarily sells clothing.  TJ Maxx is not the sort of place I normally think of buying any sort of food products, let alone tea, but the store sells a small but rather variable and diverse array of teas back in the food and kitchen section of the store.

It was actually through this chain of stores that I discovered several brands of tea, including Hampstead Tea.  I also picked up about 100 grams of loose-leaf, single-estate Darjeeling tea from my favorite garden, Makaibari estate, at one of these stores, under the Hampstead Tea brand.  In other years I’ve seen a variety of loose-leaf teas there, not quite as high-end, but solid brands of British-style black teas like The London Cuppa.

This year the selection wasn’t anywhere near as good.  While the photo below looks impressive, all those tins are actually tins of tea bags, not loose-leaf:

TJ Maxx's tea selection in December of 2013.
TJ Maxx’s tea selection in December of 2013.

The selection is highly variable from year to year, but tends to be pretty similar from store to store.  The photo above is from a store in Abington, PA; I had checked a store in Maine about a week before, when up there for Thanksgiving, and their selection was nearly identical.

What is in this year’s selection?

The theme of this year seems to be pyramid sachets.  The shelf above has boxes of pyramid sachets of numerous different brands, often as low as $4 or lower for 15 sachets.  This price is half or even less than half that of what pyramid sachets of tea typically retail for, but to me, it doesn’t seem like much of a deal because I am comparing it with loose-leaf, which is a much better deal.  A lot of these boxes though come in reusable metal tins, so you get a little bit more value for your money.

If you’re going to buy pyramid sachets, it might be better to buy them here and get a metal tin, rather than at full price (and in a cardboard box) at a typical store.

What does the selection above say about the tea marketplace in the US?

I find it interesting to think about why the products we see here are available.  TJ Maxx functions a lot like a “mixed brand” outlet store…stores like this sell rejected or overstock lots of products at marked down prices, things that didn’t sell at their full retail price in fancier stores.  As such, it plays the role of recouping losses for wholesalers (and thus producers and suppliers in the long-run), while filling a lower-end retail niche.

How I read the products here is that it seems like this year, a lot of new brands experimented with pyramid sachets, and didn’t do so well with them.  Pyramid sachets seem to be the “hot new thing” these days.  Over the past few years there has been a growth of brands selling them, and some of them, like Two Leaves Tea (formerly Two Leaves and a Bud), seem to be doing quite well.  But just because other companies have been successful with something doesn’t mean it’s good for every business…and it makes sense that a lot of companies trying out this new approach might either fail or over-produce or over-stock their products.  I suspect that this may be what happened here.

I’m curious to see what next year’s selection looks like.  This year, I didn’t buy anything.  I was really looking for loose-leaf!

What do you think?

  • Have you ever visited TJ Maxx and checked out their tea selection?
  • Does my speculative explanation about new brands experimenting unsuccessfully with pyramid sachets seem to explain the prevalence of these at this store this year?  Or do you think there’s another explanation?

7 thoughts on “TJ Maxx’s Tea Selection”

    1. Just because a product is successful overall, doesn’t mean that every new company is going to be successful with them.

      It makes sense that if there is an explosion of growth with a new product, like pyramid sachets, that a ton of companies are going to try them out.

      There could be two things going on. Existing brands could be trying an experiment with pyramid sachets, and new companies could be starting up which exclusively sell pyramid sachets (I recently attended the Philadelphia Coffee and Tea festival and there were A LOT of startup companies, most of which had pyramid sachets). Most new companies fail.

      Some of these new companies might be private label setups…I didn’t exhaustively look over the items on the shelf, but there were a lot of brands that I didn’t recognize. Nowadays, in order for me to not recognize a brand, it has to either be pretty esoteric or pretty new, because I’ve actively sought out brands to list on RateTea, and our growing reviewer base is also frequently requesting brands to add, and we have listed hundreds of them, so it’s only smaller and less-well-known ones that aren’t listed.

      But…back to your question…there are different “whys”. I think the reason for pyramid sachets failing to catch on though might also have to do with cost. If a box of 15 sachets is selling for $4 at TJ Maxx, it was probably selling for at least $6-8 elsewhere (many of these tins had listed retail prices in this range or even higher–I checked) and at this price range, I think there are fewer people who want to buy something.

      Tea bag boxes as $3 (or lower for some brands) for a box of 15-20 is easier to experiment with than $6-10.

      Also, having tried a lot of brands of pyramid sachets, they sometimes don’t have the quality to back up the higher price. I’d take a flat tea bag of Ten Ren or even Foojoy over all but the best brands of pyramid sachets. So I think it’s only the brands that deliver consistently better quality (Two Leaves Tea comes to mind) that catch on. Just my thoughts…it’s all speculation but that’s what my intuition is.

      1. Thanks for these explanations.
        Regarding pyramids bags, I think it is a way to relaunch the tea bags by giving more space for tea leaves to blossom, thus allowing the brands to give an answer to a common criticism.

  1. Looks exactly like the shelves in our Marshalls and T.J. Maxx stores. Same products too, nearly everything is in tea bags. I just thought that since more companies are putting tea into pyramid bags, it follows that more T.J. Maxx (overstock?) tea will be in those bags too. @thedevotea of course has strong views about these bags, he says they should be called tetrahedrons I think, rather than pyramids. Probably hasn’t got quite the same ring to it though.

    1. Haha…I love the “tetrahedrons” thing. It reminds me of a generic brand cereal I saw some time back. It was clearly an imitation of Kelloggs Crispix: a hexagonal cereal consisting of a mixture of corn and rice in a chex-like pattern.

      It was called “Crispy Hexagons”. It made me crack up so much that I bought it, and it was pretty yummy and much cheaper than Crispix so it became a bit of a favorite.

      So I think there’s a certain niche to whom that sort of marketing approach can be really appealing.

  2. TJ Maxx is great entertainment. I actually don’t go in that often because I don’t like impulse shopping. But when I do go, it’s great fun to see what I’ll see. I’ve never purchased tea there, but I have found some beautiful cup/saucer and cake plates to round out a friend’s collection.

    1. Yeah…I think the unpredictability of the store from year to year and season to season makes it interesting to shop there.

      I was sort of surprised though at how standardized the inventory is in different stores. It seems almost completely centralized / standardized, at least in the sense that a store in Maine had nearly identical stock to a store in the Philadelphia suburbs.

      This can be useful though–if you’re trying to fit clothes and find something you like but not in exactly the right size, because it can be worth going to another store.

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