The news that food to go is set to soar in the next five years and that ‘foodvenience’ is the new rage, together with the findings of the latest Focus on Hot Beverages feature in The Grocer brought tea to mind.
A massive part of the food on the move revolution has been driven by coffee, initially in coffee shops, both imported and home grown, but latterly available in almost any true convenience store.
A drink that at the start of my career involved two brands of instant coffee, Nescafé and Maxwell House, a kettle, some sugar and milk, has become an artisan revolution and an object lesson in how to premiumise a product. In comparison, the original national drink here, tea, seems to me to have been left languishing in the doldrums.
Of course, green and fruit teas are now more popular and Unilever is now pushing its Pure Leaf product, as is Tata with its Teapigs brand. Despite this, in our business we sell more volume and variety of specialist tea products to our export customers (a modest area of business for us) than we do in our mainstream depots.
In my opinion no one has yet succeeded in achieving a step change in tea in the same way that coffee has. For coffee this is true at a retail level with brands such as Millicano and Azera as well as a plethora of ground coffees whose varietal names have become mainstream points of reference both in and out of home.
While I would be delighted to see tea replicate this success in retail and home use, my real bone of contention is food to go.
My experience is that tea drinkers are second class citizens in many out-of-home situations, with coffee machines in so many stores but often no availability of tea at all, never mind a premium offer.
For example, I have yet to find a Shell forecourt where I can get a cup of tea on my journey and even major convenience chains like the Co-op frequently only have coffee available. Bad luck if, like me, you are a tea drinker.
I find it hard to understand why that should be the case. Surely it cannot be that difficult - in many ways tea preparation is simpler than coffee, requiring just a supply of properly hot water, some semi-skimmed milk and some sugar sachets. It’s surprising to me that so few food-to-go operators appear to be alive to the opportunities of catering for tea drinkers in the same way coffee drinkers are already catered for.
All I really want is a decent cup of builder’s tea on the move - is that not an opportunity waiting to be realised?
Steve Parfett is chairman of AG Parfett & Sons