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Fine teas plus exotic coffees power Taylors marketing drive.

Fine teas plus exotic coffees power Taylors marketing drive

In the heart of the famous old Victorian spa resort of Harrogate, you will find an epic survivor from the heyday of the English tea-room. Built of granite, with a clock tower at one corner, Bettys Tea Rooms can be identified by the elaborate gilt scrollwork signs, and the more or less permanent line of people waiting to get in. In fact, it's only a few, bleak January days when the Yorkshire gales have sleet in their hair and teeth like a killer shark, that you can be at all sure of finding an empty table inside.

Once inside the foyer, though, you will be tempted by an awesome display of rich, fresh-baked cakes and cream-filled pastries on one side and, on the other, a seductive selection of specialist confectionery. You are now in Cholesterol City, Calorie County, which is no place to be if you are on a diet.

When you've been seated the soft-spoken waitresses in the customary black skirts, with white lace pinafore and tiny, frilly caps, wheel up the trolleys groaning with goodies...and freshly brewed pots of excellent tea or cafetieres of some astonishingly exotic coffees. For people who take the tea-time ritual seriously, this is perfection. Small wonder that the Northallerton branch--there is a third in the ancient city of York--won the British Tea Council's first national award, the Golden Teapot for Tea Place of the Year, in 1987.

Bettys was founded just after the First World War, in 1919, yet in spite of its frame it is, in essence, now the public face of one of Britain's most thrusting and innovative tea and coffee undertakings. After decades of brisk competition, it merged in the 60's with the much older Taylors of Harrogate, established 103 years ago, and the scope of its operations can be gauged by the third sales counter: a display of rare and exotic teas and coffees that you'd be happy to discover in London, let alone in a provincial town.

The catalogue lists 31 teas, ranging from Formosa Oolong "Peach Blossom" at just under $32 a lb., Norwood Special Estate Ceylon, marginally cheaper at around $27 a lb., via the more affordable Chinas, Indian, African and scented specialties, to the two flag brands, Yorkshire Tea at $1.90 and the premium Yorkshire Gold at about $2.35.

Top of the equally distinguished roll-call of single-origin coffees come Celebes Kalossi and Hawaiian Kona Kai at $25.50, the very rare Yemeni Ismaili at $24.60 a lb., followed by Cuban Extra Turquino Lavado, Sumatra Mandheling, Mexican Maragogipe, Ethiopian Yergacheffe, Indian Monsoon Malabar Mysore, Kenyan AA and Peaberry and the good Colombians and Nicaraguas at between $8.50 and $14.75 a lb. This range also encompasses the decaf coffee--Swiss water process, of course--and Taylors' own blends.

The company's strength is in the North of England, where tea has always been the dominant beverage, a region much more resistant to change than what Northerners sometimes consider to be the effete South. Accordingly, tea sales exceed coffee by two to one in financial terms and, not surprisingly, the major marketing campaigns are aimed at increasing sales and expanding regional distribution of Yorkshire Tea.

It has to be understood that the company operates on far more than the usual regional scale. Yorkshire Tea is currently being promoted in three of the Northern television stations, and such television commercials are expensive to make and to screen, yet sales are growing at something approaching a two-figure rate--and this against the background of declining tea sales in Britain as a whole. Interestingly, though, the premium Yorkshire Gold, which is not promoted individually, has grown by 10 percent in the Yorkshire area on the back of the standard brand; more evidence, says Taylors' executive Tony Wild, that cheapness isn't necessarily the key to better profitability.

"To begin with, we do what our competitors do--but we do it that much better. We're also addressing a problem that others have tended to evade, that the cup quality of commercial teas can be improved, and we like to think that Yorkshire Tea is the best of the standard brands available, and Yorkshire Gold the best of the premium teas. It's much better to have 10 percent of a slightly higher retail price, than 10 percent of a lower one."

Taylors Tea & Coffee was founded in the city of Leeds by Charles Taylor, who noticed while he was working as Northern representative for a London tea company that local variations in the character of water could have a profound effect on the brew. He created individual blends to suit each area, and went on to create a chain of fresh-roast coffee shops. It isn't possible these days to be as narrowly specific as the Victorians were, but the company still pays close attention to hydro-geological maps in order to produce blends that broadly meet individual water types.

"We've found that people can be fussy even with standard brands, and given the experience of something better they can be persuaded to switch. The big brands have tended to rely on in-built loyalty...but we actually posted samples through people's letter-boxes, as part of the TV campaigns."

The approach is certainly paying dividends. "We don't have to plead with the supermarkets. Their buyers check on what's doing well in other stores in other regions, and in areas where we're active we're doing very well."

Although Taylors teas are still largely a feature of Northern English retailing, there are some "exports" to other parts of the country, and the beautiful Special Estate teas and the scented versions have found their way into gourmet stores and delicatessens across the whole of Britain. They come in cans and 50-teabag packs, and the Gold and specialty tea bags are individually foil wrapped. The Special Estate teas, sold loose or in foil-wrapped bags, have the name of the estate stamped on the decorative cans. The foil wrap concept has paid excellent dividends in the catering and hotel markets, especially at the upper end, because teas keep fresh longer and also because customers regard them as visible proof of quality.

Until fairly recently, as it happens, expansion of the company's coffee sales was seriously inhibited by the comparatively short shelf life of the product, but that began to change substantially after the company decided to invest in the Aromafin valve packaging system which allows the beans to be packed warm. Taylors coffees are now poised to follow the teas into a much wider market, and in-store displays of Taylors products are appearing further and further afield. The beans are sold whole, but Taylors do sell or lease Mahlkonig grinders for specialists who want to offer the service.

Blends and single origins are also supplied in airtight jars so that stores can offer individual selections, and a range of accessories that include the Cafetiere brewers, filter coffee jugs and papers and wooden coffee scoops. For people who still live beyond the reach of the main retail outlets, Taylors operates a lively mail-order service.

Altogether, the catering trade provides a healthy share of the business, but it also generates the universal problem of educating users and operators about the value of serving good tea and coffee. "It's a disgrace to go into a top-class restaurant and be offered sub-standard coffee," says Wild. "They ought to be upgrading their beverages, but some of them still need persuading. Most catering coffees tend to be stale by the time they get to the brewing equipment, which is one of the reasons we've invested heavily in product protection.

There is, of course, no trouble with the tea and coffee served in the Bettys outlets. For teas you can choose either the Yorkshire Gold or from a list of Specials that include Makaibarie Estate Darjeeling, Special Tippy Assam, the Formosa Oolong, Lapsang, Earl Grey of course, Yunnan Flowery Orange Pekoe, plus a couple of tisanes.

In the coffees, you could settle for the Cafe Blend cafe complet, or progress to Mandheling, Kalossi, Maragogipe, the Cuban Lavado, Monsoon Malabar or the Kona Kai. Apart from their primary purpose of refreshing the careworn traveller, these "wine lists" of outstanding teas and coffees enable the three tea rooms to act as powerful sources of word-of-mouth promotion. Harrogate attracts huge numbers of delegates to conferences, as well as holidaymakers touring the Yorkshire Dales, and York is one of the world's great tourist destinations, and memories of the Bettys do act both as an educational experience and as a sales trigger when people see the brand names in their local stores. They also help to account in part for the lively mail-order business.

"They're everybody's dream of the ideal English tea-room," says Tony Wild happily. "We provide the best teas and coffees you can buy, and the biggest range as well."

PHOTO : One of Britain's most famous tea-shops adds word-of-mouth communications to the media

PHOTO : campaign run by a century-old firm of roasters and packers. Richard Clark reports from the

PHOTO : North of England. Richard Clark is an internationally-known writer on commodities, specializing in the coffee and tea industries.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Taylors of Harrowgate
Author:Clark, Richard
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jun 1, 1989
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