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Typhoo Tea Report finds UK's 'hidden villages.'

In fact, your correspondent actually lives in a genuine English village, and it is about as far from the film stereotype as it is possible to get. The old thatched houses--pretty, but also cold, cramped, damp and with outdoor privies--were replaced by sound brick-and-tile homes decades ago. And in the matter of fog, London has been blameless ever since the Clean Air Act was passed by Britain's Parliament in 1956.

But what has all this to do with tea?

Well, Nick Fennell, commercial director of Premier Teas, which is Typhoo's parent company, points out that in persuading the consumer to try new types of tea, the contesting companies could eventually bring about the same situation that now exists with wine.

Then, he continues, when consumers at large have accepted the concept of almost unlimited variety within tea, companies will be able to take advantage of what psychologist Dr David Lewis describes as tea's role in developing and maintaining the spontaneous and informal communities he calls "hidden villages."

The point is far less frivolous than it may at first sound. In the past decade or so when coffees and even more vigorously--cold soft drinks have cut into tea's once unchallengeable place as Britain's favorite non-alcoholic beverage, teas have fought back by diversifying and appealing to a previously unsuspected willingness by the British to try new tea experiences.

Hence, the preference tables show steady support for the more costly premium teas, which hold 71% of the market, while the cheapest teas are sharply down to 16.9%. The figures for quality teas are slightly down, yet sales of both specialty and in-cup teas have grown. But, as a significant pointer to the way the market is moving, perhaps the most interesting trend is in what the report calls the New Generation teas.

Decaf, instant, fruit and herb, organic and extra-fresh teas take just above 9% of the total British tea market--a share worth some $106 million. This represents volume growths in each category, respectively, of 45, 44, 3, 29 and 10%, year on year. The only drawback is that with this sector still more or less in its infancy, it is difficult to assess accurately the relative shares and values, or plot future development.

This is where Dr Lewis' theory of "hidden villages" comes in. Tea, he says, plays a leading role in developing and maintaining social groupings which duplicate the village spirit. "For most of British history," he says, "we have been a nation of close-knit communities, living in modest-sized towns or villages. Today, although the majority live in cities and suburbs, the desire to belong to a small, supportive grouping remains strong. As a result, there exists a multitude of 'hidden villages', which comprise people who have formed themselves into spontaneous and informal communities."

Nonetheless, Nick Fennell points out that, though the doctor's theories should come as no surprise, they do underline the fact that so far the tea market has largely been led by manufacturing companies. Now, if they need to satisfy the very broad range of benefits that tea can bestow on consumers, at least they also have an endless stream of potentialities to meet the situation.

These could begin with, say, "winter" teas, and continue through to "aroma-therapeutic" blends for the health-conscious. With 75% of Britons drinking tea every day--an average of 3.3 cups--there is clearly a limit to further development within the devoting a lot more time and effort to the New Generation sector lately. After all, Typhoo predicts that current year-on-year growth is liable to rise from last year's $106 million to nearly $180 million by 1995.

With consumption of all teas now running at 180 million cups a day (the Typhoo Tea Report says tea is now increasing its lead over coffee, at 48.6% to 43.2%) in a market worth $1.1 billion in 1991, that figure may look like peanuts now, but it might also be as well to remember how fickle public tastes can be and just how quickly trends can deatively long time coming, but the development we identified some years ago has become a reality." The new tea types were now providing the industry as a whole with a fresh impetus.

And the new teas did seem to show, he added, potential for the development to go much further, not least because the biggest battle had been to persuade the customer that there was more to tea than met the eye. Tea companies had, after all, been asking people to change--or at least adapt--the habits of a lifetime.

Aside from the issue of educating consumers, development work on new products seemed to show that acceptance of the "new" teas was only the first in a three-stage process. The second would come when the public taste for variety became widespread enough to create the equivalent of the wine market, which would in turn encourage the sales of teas devised for special social occasions as well as of specific origin or "estate" teas.

(This would, of course, heavily reinforce that subconscious "village" community yearning if the theory is correct.)

But Typhoo's research does seem to prove that tea plays a very intrinsic part in the everyday lives of people, to the pervasive "hidden village" level which Dr Lewis has uncovered. But as Nick Fennell reminds us, the traditional teas still hold 90% of the total market and market change is not likely to stop abruptly at this point.

"First, there has been the evolutionary process of building on tea's heartland" introducing..."instant and decaffeinated products that mirror developments in other markets such as coffee. Second, fruit and herb and instant teas have combined to provide a direct challenge to the variety of 'instant' drinks that have emerged as one of tea's biggest competitors."

Next year's Typhoo report may begin to show how big a threat the latest arrivals are likely to prove.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Clark, Richard
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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