Tea GettyImages-594567401

Source: Getty Images

Around half of tea consumed in the UK is sourced from India and Kenya and arrives via the Red Sea

Fears over a possible shortage of black tea owing to Houthi attacks in the Red Sea are unfounded, according to retailers and brands.

Sainsbury’s had this week warned shoppers of “supply issues affecting the nationwide supply of black tea” in some stores. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) subsequently admitted there was “temporary disruption to some black tea lines” in stores.

The issues have been linked to disruption of shipments in the Red Sea, through which freight tea shipments from Asia and east Africa travel to reach UK shores.

Half of British tea comes from India and Kenya and is required to be transported via the Red Sea, where vessels have come under fire from Houthi rebels in recent months.

However, industry sources have told The Grocer that whilst some tea shipments were being redirected and hence were taking longer to reach the UK, this was not having a major impact on supply to retailers.

The United Kingdom Tea & Infusions Association (UKTIA), which represents over 90% of all tea sold in retail in the UK, said its members were “currently reporting good stocks of tea needed to continue supply to UK customers”.

“Shoppers should not be concerned; their favourite tea brands will continue to be available,” UKTIA CEO Dr Sharon Hall said.

The BRC and leading UK tea brands have also sought to downplay the impact of Houthi attacks on supply.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC, said: “There is temporary disruption to some black tea lines, but the impact on consumers will be minimal as retailers are not expecting significant challenges.”

Lipton Teas & Infusions, maker of the PG Tips brand, meanwhile, said it had taken proactive steps – including increasing order volumes and diverting shipments via the Cape of Good Hope at the foot of Africa – in recent weeks to mitigate against any disruption.

“We’re in good shape,” said Lipton UK & Ireland general manager Liam McNamara. “As a global player we’ve got a lot of distribution channels, and we’ve been able to react reasonably quickly.”

McNamara said that whilst shipping tea via Africa was “a little bit longer” and “clearly a little bit more expensive” Lipton had no plans to increase the prices of its teas in the short term.

He did, however, predict a fall in promotions in black tea as brands and own-label suppliers seek to recoup higher costs.

“You’ll definitely see less promotions and less promoted volume, and I think that’s probably how it’s going to be managed,” he said. “We’ve got no plans to increase prices, but if it does become a long-term or permanent thing then I guess there would have to be a relook. But certainly there are no plans at the moment.”

Tata Consumer Products, which produces brands including Tetley and teapigs, warned however that the situation in the Red Sea and the Suez Canal was entering ”a critical period which requires our constant attention”

“Our priority is to maintain our consistent high levels of service, and based on ordered & forecasted demand we believe we can continue to deliver this,” said sales & customer director Dan Clemence. 

Sainsbury’s declined to comment on the shortages it earlier reported. Waitrose said it was not currently experiencing any issues with black tea supply.

Other retailers did not respond to requests for comment.