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Britain in the mood for tea.

There are times when the relationship makes you think of a tea-swilling Hatfield squinting wickedly down the long barrel of his Kentucky rifle at the coffee-loving McCoy in his sights. It's an old feud, and although the two clans might occasionally forget their own antagonisms in the war with the upstart colas, neither side ever has any doubt who the main target is.

Five years ago, coffee-mainly in the form of instant-edged ahead of tea in the public favor for the first time since the 18th Century. This came as an unpleasant blow to the British tea industry, which had begun rather to take its easy dominance for granted. Tea was what the British drank. Tea fuelled the Empire. Tea soothed away every psychological ill and served as a prime cure for most of the nation's bodily miseries. In short, tea was the only possible drink for decent, clean-living Britons.

Once the tea companies had got over the shock, however, they began to discard some of their easy old habits as energetically as Salome once shed her veils. Packs were smartened up, teabag technology was improved, top blends were skilfully promoted in magazines and on TV, and as a result the upstart coffee's lead was steadily eroded. The coffee brands responded by instantly adding an extra handful of $000's to their promotional budgets and the sales graphs did tilt briefly back in their favor. But now tea is triumphantly back in its proper place.

According to the Tea Report for 1991 (compiled for the Typhoo division of Premier Teas by the independent market research specialists, Neilsen) what seems finally to have restored tea to the Number One spot is a fusion of two elements: better quality and the booster effect of a number of exotic new teas with a contemporary, up-scale image, like organic, fruit-based, herbal, decafeinated, instant and Typhoo's own "Extra Fresh". As a result, says the report, in 1990 Britain spent $1,037 million on tea-enough to make 180 million cups a day. This, in turn, means that 8 out of every 10 Britons now drink tea every day of their lives.

In basic terms, the Report's figures show that on average 1.38 cup/units of soft drinks, 1.15 of alcohol, and 1.58 of coffee pass down the nation's throats each day, while it takes 3.30 cups of tea to quench a British thirst. However, in the irritating way that statistics have of confusing issues that they are supposed to clarify, the report also says that the total volume of tea sold in the UK actually fell. What kept the corporate smile on tea company faces was that the retail market value increased.

In the past decade, volume dwindled steadily, from 160,000 tons in 1981 and 161,000 in '82, to 131,000 last year. Conversely, between 1981 and 1990 the value climbed from $589 million to that final $1,037 million. What is more, that performance has to be set against the fact that the last two years have seen Britain sweating out what some experts claim to be the worst economic malady its had to endure since the mid-60's.

Recession or no recession, however, what is also clear from Neilsen's research is that the three categories of tea which have held up best as the fever raged were the quality, speciality and in-cup varieties. In 000's tons, quality types rose from 3.9 to 4.1; speciality from 3.2 to 4.1; and in-cup from 2.4 to 3.7. On the other hand, ordinary premium blends fell from 101.6 to 97.4, while the basic economy types dropped even more sharply from 28.8 to 20.2.

Clearly the mass-appeal blends still represent the biggest slice of the tea-cake-with PG Tips, Tetley and Typhoo itself in the top slots-but as far as earnings go, its the quality brands that bring in the heaviest dollars. It seems to be defying normal commercial logic.

"Ah, well, but if you look at the graphs you'll see that the trend has been in place since 1987," explains John Tugman ,Typhoo's marketing director, "and the consumer market has had a boom over that time. Lifestyles have developed, people have acquired more adventurous tastes in the food and beverages they consume, and what we're seeing is a continuation of that "experimental' trend. The current recession would need to be around for some time to change the tastes that people have acquired-and tea is still a relatively cheap drink. Even the quality teas cost less than alternative beverages, and we think the trend is likely to continue."

The big-selling premium teas include the brand leaders, and the economy labels take in the other-so-called "traditional" blends like Brooke Bond D, Lyons Silver Label, Kardomah and Fresh Brew. The quality teas like Brooke Bond Choicest and Tetley Gold are a step up from premium and tie in with the overall brand name, while the independent producer brands like Ridgways Imperial and Glengettie also target the premium-plus segment. Speciality teas tend to be region-related, blended to specific flavors and aromas like Darjeeling and Assam or the names of discoverers like Earl Grey. Twinings, Melroses, Jacksons and Ridgways all offer speciality teas.

Typhoo pioneered the in-cup concept in 1985 when changing social patterns dictated a growing preference for single-cup brews. The Typhoo One Cup offers tea-drinkers bags containing just over 2g of tea-enough for one good cup, as against the 3.125g of the standard teabag. Tetley One Cup, PG's Tags, Fresh Brew One Cup and Glengettie's Tea for One now share the bandwagon.

It's in the upper regions, though, that Britain seems to be moving closer to the North European/Scandinavian preferences. "Yes, there are more of the top-quality teas drunk in the UK these days, which has been the hallmark of the Continental consumers, but you need to see it in the context of the total market, and what's happening is that British tea-drinkers are using these blends as part of their overall portfolio," said Tugman.

"The Continentals tend to regard tea as a very special drink, observed Tugman, whereas the British still see it as a volume drink, with around 3 1/2 cups a day--and if you take non-tea drinkers out of the calculation it must mean that the active tea drinkers are having four or five cups a day each. No, what they do is stick to premium brands most of the day, but then at certain times they might experiment with speciality teas, decafs or top quality teas."

Could this perhaps help to explain the increasing popularity of all those "Mood" teas--the fruit, organic, decaf, herbal and flavored teas? In the United States it seems at times that the specialty trade is busily reinventing coffee, so could the exotics be doing the same for British tea?

"Sure, the traditional market still forms the hub," said Tugman, "but the categories around the hub include the areas where there has been real and in some instances quite phenomenal growth, and they are all to do with what you call 'mood.' There are the decaf and organic teas which are part of the 'care' phenomenon and in tune with the environment, fruit and herb teas which are not strictly teas in the 'black tea' sense but are marketed on the healthy diet platform, and the other more indulgent and exotic flavors.

"On top of those there's Extra Fresh, which is our own particular baby. It encompasses them all but still offers a different set of values to the traditional teas. Sales are looking extremely positive, and the product now has superb listing, but remember that we're looking to change a culture here-in a way, we're aiming to teach the English how to drink tea again, and we recognize that. We're ahead of our expectations for this stage of the campaign though!"

In all this, there is one section which demonstrates most vividly the recent rise of Kenya as the main tea supplier to Britain, toppling India from its long-pre-eminence. Kenya has risen from a 25.8% share in 1985 to a full 42% last year, while in the same period, Indian imports fell from 23% to the present 16%. For the record, the remaining percentages are: Malawi, 12%, Sri Lanka, 6%; China and Zimbabwe 5% each; Indonesia 4%; and all the others 10% between them.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Premier Teas 1991 Tea Report
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Words:1399
Previous Article:Flavored teas-the next growth segment?
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