The British cuppa is in long-term decline. Back in 1974, we would buy an average of 68g of black tea each per week, according to government figures; these days, it’s less than 25g.
New research from market analysis firm Mintel confirms the trend, registering a 5% decline in tea sales in the past year to £614m. A generational shift is behind the decline, the company says – fewer than one in six 16- to 34-year-olds drank five or more cups of black tea a day in this period, and they are twice as likely to prefer fruit and green teas.
They told Mintel that health concerns put them off drinking black tea constantly, their fears ranging from stained teeth, through drinking caffeine late in the day, to not being properly hydrated.
But this trend need not mean losing out on sales. Sales of premium teas, green teas and herbal teas have increased by between 8% and 39%, taking overall sales of speciality teas to 29% of the market.
So how can wholesalers ensure their range adapts to the new market?
“One way of encouraging more tea-drinking among younger consumers is with greater choice of flavours and indulgent varieties,” says Richard Caines, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel.
Tetley is using health trends to revive interest in black tea. The traditional Tetley brew has been infused with healthy ingredients – for example, Tetley Super Everyday Tea Boost includes vitamin B6, which helps to reduce tiredness and fatigue, and Tetley Super Everyday Tea Immune features added vitamin C, which supports the immune system.
“These sales trends match what we have seen in our shopper research, which shows that recognised brands and products that tick the health box are top priorities for convenience shoppers,” says Peter Dries, director of customer and shopper marketing for Tetley.
Research also shows that convenience shoppers are less sensitive to price, opening the way for more premium teas: “Shoppers’ tastes in tea have changed, so it’s a good time for retailers to explore how to capitalise on the current trends in tea and respond to the changes in shopping missions,” Dries advises.
These functional teas follow Tetley’s success with Tetley Super Green Teas. These vitamin-enriched green teas were the top new product in green teas, achieving £1.7m sales in their first year and helping Tetley become the biggest brand for green tea. They were followed by Tetley Super Fruits, which brought the vitamin-boost formula to fruit teas.
These new trends aside, Tetley stresses that 88% of sales still come from the major black tea brands.
As Dries notes: “Analysts predict that tea consumption will rise in the coming years and we know that as people age, they drink more tea. But we have to nurture the next generation in tea, too, and this group needs to be reached and engaged with in different ways.”
The company has boosted sales in cash & carries by 26% using a ‘virtual gaffer’ – an animated version of Tetley’s mascot who calls out to customers to tell them about offers on tea.
As tea becomes more of a premium product, consumers are also becoming more interested in its origins, advises Jane Becker, senior brand manager for Clipper Tea at Wessanen UK.
“There is a growth in ethically and environmentally conscious consumers, who want to know more about how and where their tea was grown, and what impact its cultivation has on the environment, farmers, their families and communities,” she says. “Fairtrade has never had greater consumer relevance.”
Becker adds that greater variety is vital, as consumers look for different drinks for different occasions: “There are now different types of teas and infusions to suit a wide range of tastes, needs and mindsets: from an early morning pick-me-up to a healthy boost to help overcome the 3pm energy slump.”
For Teapigs, the key to premiumisation has been to take a high-quality product and make it even more convenient. Its latest product popularises Japanese matcha tea – a concentrated green tea powder that provides 10 times the nutrient value of traditional green tea – using single-serving sachets.
“Just as teabags made loose tea much easier to make, these sachets are making matcha easier,” says Nick Kilby, co-founder of Teapigs.
The premium market starts in foodservice, Kilby suggests. He adds: “Foodservice operators need educating to upgrade their teas – we spend a lot of time on that. Consumers go into cafés, have a different tea experience and maybe want to have that at home, too.”