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Reading tea leaves may be easier than getting them to taste right.

One of the biggest challenges for the Pepsi-Lipton Tea Partnership in introducing Lipton Original was to make sure the taste of the all-natural, ready-to-drink tea was consistent, even though it was brewed at 14 facilities and tea leaves vary by plantation.

"It was a very complex proposition, but millions of dollars in consumer research told us that's what consumers wanted-a good-tasting iced tea brewed from tea leaves, rather than just a powdered tea," says Rick Kundrat, VP-sales and marketing at the partnership and VP-general manager of Unilever's Thomas J. Lipton Inc.

Lipton Original has become the fastest-growing national brand in the $1.2 billion ready-to-drink tea category. Sales of the brand, which completed a national rollout in May 1993, have grown more than 200% in the last year, Mr. Kundrat says.

Mr. Kundrat, 49, oversees the marketing along with Pepsi-Cola Co.'s Sheldon Roesch, general manager of the partnership. The two executives were instrumental in putting together the joint venture nearly three years ago.

"With Pepsi as a partner, we've got the best distribution system possible," Mr. Kundrat says.

The partnership reportedly put all of its ad dollars behind Lipton Original in 1993. And Mr. Kundrat says it intends to double its media budget for 1994.

Pepsi-Lipton's ambitious media plans were kicked off with two TV spots during the 1993 Super Bowl, making it the first iced tea ever to advertise on the single biggest TV event of the year.

One spot, via J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, features sports superstar Bo Jackson, who, after gulping an entire bottle of Lipton Original, turns to the camera and gives the brand's theme: "This ain't no sippin' tea."

The idea is to change the image of iced tea as a beverage one sips leisurely, and to give it a more youthful, high-energy profile, Mr. Kundrat says.

"We've positioned Lipton Original as ... so good you have to guzzle, gulp, or chug."

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