British coffee

Could it be that Britain’s endless love for the classic cup of tea is coming to an end? That a nation famed the world over for its obsession with tea has begun showing signs of an unthinkable shift?

In a word, yes…yes it could.

It may be the kind of scenario our grandparents could never have predicted, but it seems the UK’s addiction to the old-fashioned cuppa is starting to go a little cold. Despite the most frantic efforts of tea-makers to keep us hooked on Britain’s most famous beverage, annual tea sales fell by a full 5% over the last year. Which might not sound like a lot, but actually equates to 64 million fewer cups of tea being consumed than the year prior.

And that’s despite wide-reaching price cuts from many of the biggest brands of the market – a lot of which it seems went unnoticed entirely.

Which begs the question – why? As in what is it that’s brought about such a colossal plummet in tea consumption across the UK?

The answer seems relatively simple – the new love of our lives is coffee. Tea may have suffered a painful dip in sales, but over the same 12-month period, coffee sales swelled by a tasty 3.2%. In total, annual coffee sales rocketed to a whopping £1.14 billion, spectacularly eclipsing annual tea sales of just £520 million.

As the UK market moves slowly but surely into the clutches of coffee, tea manufacturers are having little choice but to resort to extreme measures to get the stuff off the shelves. In some instances, tea bags cost as little one penny each, making tea just about the cheapest drink in the country after tap water. Unfortunately, this marked reduction in the cost of teas has brought about heavy losses for the tea industry. Indeed, the top 10 brands combined have so far lost £60 million in sales over the course of just a single year.

Many are branching out into specialty and gourmet teas, but still finding it difficult to step things back up a gear.

"Heavy promotions on larger packs of tea bags are rewarding shoppers and pushing down price, rather than encouraging people to buy more,” commented Ed John of Kantar.

In addition to dwindling demand, many tea manufacturers are also finding the fallout of the Brexit vote a huge and expensive challenge to contend with. As the British pound continues to falter, it’s getting more and more expensive to produce tea for the UK market.

"Exchange rate movements have an impact on commodity prices, which are a significant part of our cost base,” said marketing director at Tetley tea manufacturer Tata, Peter Dries.

"Tetley prices have not changed for some years as the cost of production has risen. We conduct regular reviews to determine when prices increases might be necessary and we are in the process of a review now."

Interestingly, demand for green tea seems to be faring much better, with health-conscious Brits having snapped up a full 16% more of the stuff over the past 12 months. In addition, fruit tea sales have also increased by 3% over the same period.