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Trouble brews for the Great British Tea Time

9th August 2015 Print
Tea time

With the ovens warming in anticipation of the Great British Bake Off, new research from Mintel finds that Brits may be losing their thirst for the Great British Tea Time. Indeed, whilst over two thirds (69%) of tea drinking Brits agree that drinking tea is an important part of social occasions, over the past few years sales of the beverage have been in hot water.

Across the tea retail market in the UK, value sales have fallen by 6% from £699 million in 2010 to an estimated £654 million in 2015. What’s more, in volume terms over the same time period, sales have dropped by 22%, from 97 million kg to an estimated 76 million kg. Furthermore, Mintel forecasts that volume sales will drop to 68.7 million kg by 2020.

And it seems it is the standard cup of tea which is losing steam, with sales of ordinary teabags falling by 13% from £491 million in 2012 to £425 million in 2014. In comparison, sales of alternative teas have been going from strength to strength. Between 2012 and 2014, sales of fruit and herbal teabags rose by 31% from £58 million to £76 million, whilst sales of speciality teabags rose by 15% to £63 million and sales of green teabags increased by 50% to £36 million.

Mintel’s research shows that many fruit and herbal tea drinkers believe in the mood enhancement qualities of these drinks with 43% agreeing they believe herbal teas can affect your mood. Meanwhile, 44% of green tea drinkers say they mainly drink these products for health benefits. In comparison, the top qualities that consumers associate with standard tea are traditional (60%), refreshing (43%) and comforting (42%).

Emma Clifford, Senior Food and Drink Analyst at Mintel, said: “Standard black tea is struggling to maintain consumers’ interest amid growing competition from other drinks – held back by a rather uninspiring image. This has translated into the downfall of the tea category overall. Signalling that consumers are becoming more adventurous in their choice of tea is that sales of fruit or herbal teas, speciality teas and green tea continue to post impressive performances. Reflecting a growing “foodie” culture in the UK, people are branching away from standard teabags and towards these more interesting alternatives.”

What is more whilst tea is an established partner for biscuits and cakes, Mintel’s research shows that falling sales in this area may be having repercussions on the tea market too. Indeed, UK volume sales of sweet biscuits fell from 451 million kg in 2009 to an estimated 413 million kg in 2014. Almost half (46%) of Brits who eat biscuits, cereal bars and crackers say they do so with a hot drink, yet two fifths (41%) say they don’t eat sweet biscuits more often because they are high in sugar.

Mintel’s research shows many Brits reach for a cuppa alongside a slice of cake or a biscuit – with a vast 86% of tea drinkers saying that tea is a good accompaniment to biscuits or cakes.

“It is widely accepted that tea is a good accompaniment to biscuits and cakes. Given the sugar scare, however, and that usage of such treats is in decline, these strong associations could have had a negative impact on the tea market.” Emma adds.

Whilst tea as a beverage is in decline, it seems the product could turn over a new leaf by tapping into the popularity of home baking. Perhaps taking inspiration from The Great British Bake Off, three in 10 (30%) tea drinkers agree that tea can be a good ingredient to use when cooking or baking, rising to 38% of those aged under 25. Furthermore, it seems consumers are interested in other tea formats, with 34% of tea drinkers agreeing they would be interested in making their own iced tea and 29% agreeing that new formats of tea interest them.

“Producers can seek to boost volume sales by encouraging people to use tea in less traditional ways, for example in cold drinks such as ice tea or smoothies and in cooking and baking. Boding well for this is young people’s interest in such usage occasions, with scope for more companies to tap this interest by providing recipe inspiration.” Emma comments.

Despite the strain on the market, Brits do still have a warm place for a cup of tea in their hearts. Indeed, three quarters (76%) of Brits drank standard tea in the month to April 2015 and over half (54%) said they drank it at least once a day. Men aged 16-44 are Britain’s biggest tea drinkers, with 80% drinking tea in the month period, whilst women aged over 65 are the least likely to consume the beverage, with three in five (61%) of this group doing so.

Finally, whilst the Great British Tea Time is traditionally an afternoon event, in terms of day-to-day use consumers are more likely to drink it in the morning. Three quarters (73%) of tea drinkers say they typically drink tea in the morning, compared to two thirds (66%) who drink it in the afternoon. Just half (56%) drink tea between 6pm and 9pm and a quarter (27%) after 9pm.

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Tea time