What a time to be black tea. Not long ago, it had the unwavering affections of the loyal British public. Now Brits are – to use Love Island lingo – having their heads turned by fancier herbal and fruity brews. Many are fraternising with the ultimate enemy: coffee.
That’s resulted in a long-running decline in black tea consumption – a trend that appears to have come to a head over the past week. Just yesterday, Typhoo announced an organisational restructure that will put more than 70 jobs on the line. According to Typhoo, the move is crucial to “safeguard the future of the company” amid an increasingly challenging trading environment. Its sales figures reflect the scale of those challenges. Last year, Typhoo shed £3.2m in the mults – equating to more than a third of its value [Nielsen 52 w/e 7 September 2019].
The news comes after Unilever announced the potential sale of its tea business last week. Although its portfolio includes all types of tea – from iced tea brand Lipton to herbal specialist Pukka – it’s clear which brands prompted the review. “Our tea business has a disproportionately large footprint in black tea, which is slower-growing,” said CEO Alan Jope. If it delivers any growth at all, that is. PG Tips suffered a £5.6m decline to £98.9m last year [Nielsen], relegating it to the third-largest tea brand in the UK. Fellow Unilever brand Scottish Blend was down 2.3% to £3.8m.
Looking at these figures, you could conclude the traditional cuppa was dying. But it’s important to put all this into perspective. A sizeable 13% of Brits drink tea six or more times a day, and 45% indulge in a cuppa between two and five times a day, according to exclusive research for The Grocer by Him. The vast majority of those cups will be black tea. It remains the most popular tea variety across all demographics – even the younger generations, who are driving the growth in fruity and herbal brews.
And there is still growth to be had in traditional lines. Yorkshire Tea, which deals exclusively in black variants, managed to gain an extra £7.7m last year by focusing on the strong, taste-packed nature of its blends. Twinings gained £2.3m not just through brand extensions, but also through the premium credentials of its black tea lines. It just goes to show that a differentiated proposition can still win over shoppers.
So black tea isn’t dying. But if it wants to continue attracting consumers, it’s going to require – to borrow another Love Island phrase – a bit of grafting.
Emma won the PPA New Talent Award for New Section Editor of the Year in 2016. Prior to joining The Grocer in 2016, Emma was deputy and features editor at Chemist+Druggist, a weekly magazine and website for UK pharmacists.
Follow Emma on Twitter: @EmmaWeinbren