Before we look at who is winning the Australian tea wars, it’s probably most instructive to look at what type of tea is winning. Because, as you will see, one is clearly influencing the other.
To illustrate what is going on in the Australian tea market, I have concocted this graph in the form of a planogram. I call it a planograph.
Here we have a planograph of the types of tea that Australian tea drinkers were enjoying back in 2012, according to the Retail World Annual Report.
And here we have a planograph of the types of tea that Australian tea drinkers enjoyed just last year – 2015.
So what can we tell from this?
To begin with, black tea, although still by far by the dominant tea in Australia, the mainstay of the Australian tea market whose bitter goodness has given generations of Australians something to dunk their biscuits into?
It remains what most people think of, when they think of a nice relaxing cup of tea.
It is however a category in decline. According to the scan data quoted in Retail World’s Annual Report black tea made up 70% value market share in 2012, but that has fallen down to 64.5% in 2015. Not a revolutionary shift perhaps, but certainly a significant one.
Let’s look at another data source. Australia’s tea import figures, as quoted by UN Comtrade. Since – other than the quite popular Madura and Nerada brands – the vast majority of tea in Australia is imported, these should give us a good idea of the condition of the market. The caveat has to be made of course that not all of this is being sold through supermarkets. Some is being served in cafes, and wherever else people drink tea. Probably a lot of old aged homes.
But it should serve well as a guide. A guide that is pointing downwards.
Australian tea imports have fallen from 22.1million kgs in 2012 (which was something of a high point) down to 20.9million kgs in 2015, with the black tea figures showing a decline from 19.1million kgs down to 18.3million kgs. Again, not a revolutionary shift perhaps, but certainly a significant one.
So what are the tea drinkers of Australia drinking? Green tea? Yes, and – making up 11% of the retail tea market, up from about 8% in 2012 - it is growing at a decent rate. But that’s certainly not all.
The biggest change is the growing popularity of what Retail World’s Annual Report has decided to call “herbal and fruit infusions.” This category made up 18.2% of tea sold through Australian supermarkets in 2015, up from 13.9% in 2012. This is the stuff that is changing the game!
And this – as any black tea enthusiast will tell you, and any glance at the ingredients list on a box of “herbal and fruit infusion” will confirm – is a deeply ironic situation. For the vast majority of “herbal and fruit infusion” teas do not contain any tea at all.
The fastest growing segment in the Australian tea market essentially contains virtually anything that is not actually tea!
Or, as the commentssection of a Guardian article on the rise of “craft tea” put it rather more bluntly:
“Half the crap they're drinking isn't even tea.
Y'know, a random scraping of rainforest humus and that potpourri that great aunt of yours has in that little dish on that hallway table where she keeps the telephone isn't tea.”
But that doesn’t stop it from being quite lovely stuff.
I haven’t mentioned the final category of tea: “milk/latte style teas,” which is mostly made up of chai tea. This too is a category in decline. As recently as 2012, milk/latte style teas sold almost as much as green tea. Now it’s only about half as much.
I would suggest – based I admit on nothing more than personal experience - that this is because whilst it has been difficult for the cafes of Australia to convince the tea drinkers of Australia that they can brew a better cup than you can in the privacy of your own home, this is not the case in relation to chai tea. Your local café can almost certainly serve you a better cup of chai than what you can get at the supermarket. If they can’t, it’s time to find a new local.
All of which is great news for growers of camomile blossoms or strawberry petals. It is not good news at all however for tea farmers. And is most definitely not good news for Lipton, who until a couple of years ago was Australia’s favourite tea brand, and a brand whose product assortment is strongly skewed towards black tea.
So based on these trends, what brands are winning the tea battle of the brands?