The tea industry has slammed Tesco’s decision to give away packs of Tetley tea as a “marketing stunt”. 

Tesco described the promotion at 252 of its stores this week as a bid to boost tea sales, which lag behind those of coffee. According to Nielsen data, the British tea market grew just 0.3% year-on-year to a value of £461m, while coffee grew by 0.6% to £668m. 

But William Gorman, executive chairman of the UK Tea Council, questioned the figures and Tesco’s motives. “This is just a blunt marketing stunt by Tesco,” he said. “We find the UK tea market to be worth more in the region of £600m. What exactly is Nielsen measuring? Over 165 million cups of tea are consumed daily but only 70 million cups of coffee are drunk a day. Also, for the first time in 20 years, tea imports to the UK are growing as people tap into tea’s health benefits.”

The Tesco promotion was bad news for the tea industry, agreed James Prentice, brand manager for Yorkshire Tea. “Promotions like these drive the value of tea down. It’s worth less every time.”

The promotion was met with ironic applause by the Federation of Wholesale Distributors’ My Shop Is Your Shop (MSYS) campaign, which gave shoppers free tea and biscuits through participating independent shops during National Independents’ Week last month.

“Tesco obviously thought our National Cuppa Day promotion was worth copying,” said Alan Toft, chairman of MSYS. “It is a very successful retailer but it does not have a monopoly on the best marketing ideas.”