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Tea Time
in Europe!

As tea sales drop in the U.K., European sales are steadily increasing. Jane Pettigrew discusses what’s happening around Europe and suggests what is driving the trend.

It seems that despite its traditional image as one of the world’s largest consumers of tea, Britain’s tea drinking habit is waning. Britain is in fact still the largest tea market in Western Europe, representing 86.9% in overall volume terms and 92.6% of volume sales of black tea. But in 2000, sales of tea fell by 0.1% and by 2005, total sales are expected to fall from a total consumption of 127,700 tons in 2000 to 117,100 tons. The market has seen a decline in sales of mainstream black tea bags, a slight increase in consumption of green, organic, and fair-trade teas and a growing interest in the fruit and herb segment.

There have also been shifts in the position of individual companies in the brand league table. Unilever’s Brooke Bond took the lead from Tetley in 1998 and now tops the list with 27.6% of market share. The other three main brands are Premier International Foods, R. Twining, and Taylors of Harrogate.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Europe, a different picture is emerging. In France, sales of tea grew in the year 2000 by 7.7% and by 2005 are predicted to increase from 14 million liters to 21 million liters, an increase of 8.4% since 2001. In Italy, growth in 2000 was 1.8% and total volume is expected to grow from 3,065 tons that year to 3,325.6 tons in 2005 - an overall increase of 1.6% since 2001. In Russia, a fall in sales in 1999 has been reversed and total sales for 2001 amounted to 165,000 tons up by 10% on the 1999 figure. In Hungary, sales of tea grew by 3% in 2000 to 2,758.6 kilos and are forecast to reach 2,908.9 kilos by 2005, up by 1.1% on figures for 2001. In Poland, consumption is growing by between 5 and 10% each year. Sales of tea in the Ukraine grew by 4.7% in 2000 and total volume is forecast to rise from 13,400 tons in 2000 to 16,500 tons in 2005. Over the past 12 years or so, sales of specialty teas in Switzerland have been growing and total sales in 2001-2002 are up approximately 30% in 2000.

The same sort of increase is evident in Spain’s specialty tea sales. And in Austria, consumption of quality tea has doubled in the last 10 years. The German market remains static with total consumption at 19,760 tons in 2000. The patterns and reasons for growth vary slightly around Europe but there are definite trends that account for this new wave of success.

Tea Sales In France
Although coffee remains the preferred beverage in France, its popularity is declining. Kitticha Sangmanee of Mariage Freres explains this as partly due to the fact that coffee offers no perceived extra benefits whereas tea satisfies the current desire for products that symbolize a “fusion” of taste experiences from around the world and also offers a beneficial balance and harmony to both body and spirit. Said Sangmanee, “Our tea drinking public now includes a much wider cross-section of society and because tea offers such dynamic gastronomic experiences (including aspects of health benefits and quality of taste and flavor), it is enjoying a wave of popularity amongst an important sector of society, especially the younger generation. Its success is also due to the fact that tea encompasses an entire ‘art of living’ that fits into the French love and enjoyment of food and drink.”

Specialist shops such as Mariage Freres have noticed that their regular clientele varies according to location of shops but in general the company’s three salons de the in Paris attract a mixture of intellectuals, journalists, business men, and upper class ladies while the retail counters serve a wide-ranging mixture of customers from all walks of life and all levels of society.

Black tea still represents the largest part of the French market with a 50% share of total volume. Standard black represents 21.43%, and specialty black accounts for 28.57%. Green tea now accounts for 10.72% while fruit and herbal infusions account for 21.43%. The company with the highest sales in 2000 was Kraft Jacobs Suchard whose market share totaled 37.2%. Other major companies include Douwe Egberts France, Lavazza France SARL, Segafredo Zanetti France, Legal, and Nestle France.

Of all the tea consumed in France, 65.5% is distributed through supermarkets and hypermarkets while bars, hotels, and other food outlets account for 20%. The range of teas offered in supermarkets has grown markedly in the past few years and in general includes breakfast teas, teas from China and Assam, and more and more perfumed and scented teas. Most stores now stock 20 or so different types and their awareness of interest in the broader spectrum of teas from the consumer has come about largely as a result of the trend started by specialty shops such as Mariage Freres.

Sangmanee explained that before Mariage Freres opened its specialty tea retail shops, the only teas on offer in France were smoked China tea, Ceylon, and Assam. “We created and developed a catalog of 500 teas, were the first to invent new blends with, for example, green tea, and gave tea a refined image like that of wine we now talk about ‘grands crus’ and ‘great gardens’ - expressions about tea that did not exist previously in France. We have also developed the market for tea accessories, gourmet foods made with tea such as tea jellies, tea flavored chocolates, muslin iced tea bags, etc. We have noticed that the brands distributed in supermarkets largely follow out initiatives. The small specialty shops set the trend, not follow it - a little like what happens in the great fashion houses.”

The Italian Tea Market
In Italy, there is an enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge about tea. Tea events attract large visitor numbers and more and more small specialty tea businesses are opening - in Rome, Florence, Milan, and other main cities. Carmen Marcat, owner of il giardino del te in Rome says she thought tea’s success was growing in Italy. “Italian people travel and visit foreign countries more now, especially the far east. They discover new realities such as tea and they appreciate the fact that they can now find it also in Italy. People are also interested in natural foods and tea belongs to this category. A lot of magazines now talk about tea and people are beginning to look around and want to know more.

Tea is very trendy. Chiara Bedini of Babingtons in Rome confirmed that “people are very interested in tea, black teas are still preferred but green teas are becoming more and more successful.” The biggest growth in consumption of tea is amongst those people between 25 and 40 years of age, middle class, and educated. As in France, Italian supermarkets account for the largest distribution of tea with 51.9% of total volume, while hypermarkets and superettes account for 28.1%. Standard black teas still have the biggest appeal but flavored varieties are creeping up in both popularity and availability.

Unilever Italia ranks number one in volume terms, with D & C in second place and Star Stabilmento Alimentare in third position. Compared to the range offered 5 or 10 years ago, the choice has increased dramatically. In the past, many people in Italy still believe that tea is a tonic beverage that one drinks when ill, so quality was not an issue. Now Italians have discovered that there is more to tea than that, many have discovered it initially in the supermarkets but have now started looking for something more.

This is where the specialty retailers come in and are benefiting from the growing interest. Those consumers who really love tea, have perhaps experienced it in England or France during holidays etc., want quality and variety so they go to the small retail teashops.

Trends In Hungary
The expansion of the tea market in Hungary is mainly due to a growth in consumption of fruit flavored and green teas. Traditional consumption is of black tea brewed using teabags which, as Georgij Zavalnij of Demmer in Hungary, explained, “70% of tea is in bags, which contain much less substance than in good old England, starting from standard bags containing 2.5 grams down to a shameful 1.5 grams. And many people use one bag for a one liter pot.” Distribution through small specialty retail teashops is minimal, with supermarkets and food stores accounting for 61% or total volume. “The big central supermarkets devote four or five shelves, each three to five meters long on one side of an aisle, usually opposite coffee or confections, to a variety of between 20 and 40 tea varieties,” said Zavalnij. “Between three and five will be leaf teas, three or four might be oddities such as Rooibosch or green teas, and the rest are mainly a choice of ten or so types from two brands”.

The largest company is Douwe Egberts with 39% of market share. Other prominent companies are Maspex Ekoland, Unilever Magyarorszag Kft, Herbaria, and Star Line GmbH. Zavalnij reckons that it is these brands that will benefit the most from an expansion in tea consumption. “It is Unilever and Sara Lee (Douwe Egberts) that are doing best with their teas. They have a dozen or so of the most popular brands on the shelves including the privatized Hungarian brands.”

Switzerland, Austria, Poland, and Spain
In Switzerland, sales of specialty teas have been rising over the past 13 years or so. Sales in one of Zurich’s new specialty retail outlets for 2001 were up on figures for 2000 by 30%. The growth is mainly in the green tea sector. The growth of sales is evident mostly among students and mothers with children because, as Kathy Buhler of Teehaus Ch’a in Zurich says, “They need a healthy lifestyle and some calming beverage. For younger people, it is very ‘cool’ right now to have tea or chai at home. Health is a very important reason. Many people especially in the cities have stomach problems that do not agree with coffee. There are also more possibilities to buy different kinds of tea than before.”

As elsewhere, the small specialty shops have started the trend and the supermarkets are following. As Kathy Buhler remarked, “The small shops start a new lifestyle and in the end the big companies steal their ideas and make big profits. The big companies will benefit from the increased consumption of tea in Switzerland.”

In Austria, coffee sales are shrinking and tea sales have increased by 40% over the last 10 years, due mainly to an understanding of tea’s health benefits. “Quality tea consumption has roughly doubled in the last 10 years,” says Peter Sunley of Demmer Teas. “Green tea consumption has grown from about five to twenty-six percent of our total sales which include fruit and herbal infusions. We are of the opinion that, through the tremendous surge in the opening of tea specialty shops, the consumption of high class tea has grown considerably.”

Teekanne, Milford, and R. Twining are the strongest brands in Austria, apart from the private labels of the major supermarket chains. And as Sunley said, “There are quite a number of tea specialty shops but most of them need to sell other articles such as giftwares in order to make a living.” But both supermarkets and small specialty retailers in Austria are set to benefit from the increased interest in tea. In Poland, consumption is increasing by 5-10% each year. Tomasz Cieslik, owner of a chain of Tea-Time shops in Warsaw, says, “Polish people tend to drink tea with every meal and teabags are the most popular in this country. But the number of customers interested in high quality loose leaf tea is still increasing and the number of tearooms is consequently also growing. In Warsaw, there are now 10 tea-rooms - of those one belongs to Whittards, one is a Demmer Teehaus, and five are ‘Tea-Time’ English style tearooms.” About 60% of the market is black tea, the rest is green tea, herbals, and fruit infusions. The most popular brands are Lipton, Tetley, Posti, and Dilmah and favorite varieties are Earl Grey, Yunnan, Ceylon, and Assam. In Spain, consumption is still low but is expected to rise from a total volume of 1,000 tons in 1999 to 2,500 tons in 2002.

The Russian Market
The tea market in Russia has over the past few years depended heavily on the general state of the economy. During 1999-2000, consumption fell slightly but picked up again as the economy settled. During the difficult years, international companies such as Dilmah, who had gone into Russia as the markets began to open up, pulled out again in 1998 and did not return until late last year. Today in Russia, the trends tend to be rather different from those in Western Europe where sales of specialty loose leaf teas are growing as connoisseurs seek out better quality and variety than is offered by the major brands in their tea bags. In Russia, consumption of tea brewed with teabags is growing and loose leaf teas now account for a smaller part of the market than before. However, some consumers are buying quality brands, especially in Moscow where, “there has been a notable change in attitudes to tea - towards a demand for and an appreciation of higher quality. Muscovites are good consumers.”

Black tea still dominates the market and Russians have so far shown little interest in green and flavored teas. However, the health benefits of tea, as discussed in magazines and newspapers, is without a doubt adding to consumer interest and is expected to help grow the green tea market in the future. At the moment, only about 15% of sales is accounted for by herbal infusions, green teas, and specialty teas.

Unilever leads the market with its Lipton, Beseda, and Brooke Bond brands, with Dilmah’s Sri Lankan brand having notable success in second place. Merrill Fernando’s company now reckons that it will have sold 9,000 tons of tea in Russia in 2001. Tata Tea also has plans to enter the Russian market. Local brands, Orimi Trade and Grand, are doing less well. This is explained by the fact that imported brands not only offer higher quality but also have the added appeal of sophistication and class associated with foreign goods.

No doubt the interest in tea will also be enhanced in Moscow when the First Russian Tea Festival takes place in September this year. Competitions to find the best specialty tea will form a part of the festival and it is hoped that international exhibitors will attract interest from caterers, the consuming public, and business generally.

The availability of a good cup of tea in Europe
The availability of a good cup of tea varies enormously throughout Europe. In many major cities now, top five star hotels usually offer tea but do not necessarily know how to brew it and serve it correctly so the customers still gets a jug of lukewarm water and a tea bag brought to their table instead of a piping hot pot brewed in the pantry with quality loose leaf tea and boiling water for black and oolong tea, just less than boiling for green tea varieties.

In Italy, it appears that there is still no culture of offering tea in restaurants, only in tearooms, hotels, motorway service stations, and bars. In Paris and other French cities, there is a good choice of salons de the serving quality tea. In Austria you will be hard pressed to get tea in a fast food café or restaurant, motorway service station or on a train. In Switzerland and Hungary, tea is generally available everywhere.

Tea & Coffee - January/February, 2003
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