Tea is struggling to maintain relevance with younger
consumers. With increasing frequency, you’re likely to hear the words ‘I don’t
drink tea’ from anyone under 25. It’s like the innate triggers for having a
brew are lacking from their lives. For those of us still buying the black
stuff, the value we place on the category is eroding. Tea is not something
we’re prepared to pay more for. The
Grocer reports “increased dealing has stripped out value… the price of some
black tea bags has fallen to as low as a penny.”
Is black tea doomed to perpetual decline?
Scrambling around for something more optimistic, The Grocer (03.09.16)
goes on to highlight the potential of functional
tea (like Tetley’s Super Boost teabags), new convenience formats (like
tea pods) and the possible renaissance of
loose leaf tea.
On this last point, I’d like to call upon the tea industry to
get together and give this ‘possible
renaissance’ a collective jump start. It is my conviction that loose leaf
tea has the potential to take the category narrative beyond convenience &
cost - and towards some of the things that matter to millennials - comfort
As part of an in-house study into consumer attitudes, behaviours and
perceptions pertaining to food & drink, we have discovered beyond any doubt
that millennials are far less invested
emotionally in food & drink
categories compared to their parents. That said, when we look to what
millennials most associate with the tea category, we see that ‘comforting’ is markedly
ahead, followed by ‘traditional’ and ‘simple’. For their parents, tea is most
associated with ‘traditional’ and ‘masculine’. For them, ‘comforting’ comes in
Consider the context. Millennials are a worried generation. Concerns over finance, health and ‘most things’ are markedly higher with younger consumers. There's underlying unease that key
milestones – buying a house for example – are an ever-more distant
prospect. With tea highly linked to ‘comforting’, is there an
opportunity for tea brands to offer a comforting brew with real conviction - tea & sympathy no less!
Tea brands must now consider how they can signal 'comforting' more clearly across all touchpoints - brand, pack and product.
It all starts with what’s happening in store of course, which is why the look and feel of the tea aisle needs to change wholesale. Hence the requirement for a collective effort. But imagine, if you will, a tea aisle rebalanced with exquisitely packaged loose leaf tea blends – merchandised according to flavour notes, intensity and origins. Category associations shift towards ‘discovery’, ‘adventure’ and ‘premium’.
Now imagine the occasion, where the little rituals surrounding the brewing process have become the centre of informal social gatherings. Where people have linked the slow infusion of the tea leaves in the pot with the growing need for moments of mindfulness (mental comfort, if you like).
Independent living (whether single person households or living as a single unit in shared accommodation) is at record levels – and represents well over 50% of the populations of many European cities.
Is it a coincidence that KANTAR World Panel is reporting a continuing increase in the number of occasions defined by emotional criteria – notably ‘Together Time’, ‘Celebration’, ‘Social’ and the like? Digital natives are seeking deeper connections with friends and family to off-set the isolation of an online existence.
I assert that loose leaf tea is intuitively well placed to occupy the center of such occasions. A catalyst for social connections - slower, more ceremonial and more immersive.
Look to Sweden
If you think I’ve lost the plot, look to Sweden. People there have decided that there’s more to life than grabbing a beverage ‘on-the-go’ whilst swiping left. Instead they have opted for ‘Fika’ time – defined as a state of mind, an attitude and now an important part of Swedish culture. Many Swedes consider it essential to make time for Fika every day. Making time for friends and colleagues to share a cup of coffee or tea and a little something to eat.
For Swedes, Fika is nothing revolutionary, it's simply part of their everyday life; But talk to any Swede who has moved abroad, or anyone who has visited Sweden, and they'll tell you all about how wonderful Fika is and how you should be doing more of it.
Whilst coffee is at the centre of Swedish Fika, surely it’s tea that has the potential to replicate this phenomena in the U.K. I cannot think of a more appropriate time for all the good men (and women) in the tea industry to introduce Fika to us Brits. Timing is everything. Ask Malcolm Gladwell.
Unilever has recently acquired stylish tea brand T2, but could there be more to do with loose leaf?
Sometimes we need to look beyond category borders and explore what is happening on a more macro level. Tea is a category with heritage, which is no bad thing from a millennial perspective. But tea’s ability to excite a new generation seeking comfort and connection is not being delivered from an aisle dominated by bags. Whilst there will always be a need for convenient, low cost formats, it is not where growth is going to come from. Loose leaf – with its potential to be more sociable, more comforting and more experiential – is surely where the growth lies.