Unilever has described tea as the ‘hottest beverage’ in the global drinks landscape, and one with unlimited opportunities as a natural product with scientifically proven health and wellness benefits.
Executive VP of global beverages at Lipton tea brandowner Unilever (beverages account for around 12% of the firm’s business; €6-7bn in terms of turnover) Winfried Hopf, was speaking at the 2013 Innobev Global Beverages Congress in Warsaw, organized by Zenith International.
“For me and Unilever, it’s the hottest beverage in the beverage landscape”, Hopf told delegates, and one that increasingly appealed young consumers, particularly in cold RTD form, and due to social media support from celebrities such as Rhianna, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga on platforms such as Twitter.
“It’s a category with power, because it serves half of our population. And it’s a category with scale, with one trillion cups of tea served every year,” Hopf said.
Unlimited opportunities for industry and consumers
Tea held “really unlimited opportunities” for both industry, Hopf said (Unilver estimates that the category is worth €145-150bn worldwide) and consumers, with the latter searching for real goodness inside brands and products.
“Tea is the category and the product that delivers against those requirements, because it’s not just a delicious drink, it’s more. Firstly, it’s natural, healthy, revitalizing,” Hopf said.
“It gives focus for your brain and wellness for your body. It’s full of goodness and it stimulates body and mind in the most positive way.”
Discussing tea’s health and wellness benefits, Hopf added: “Additionally, it is a quite affordable treatment, in a world of increasing health concerns and restrictions, and we expect it to accelerate, with such functional benefits and growth as a category, even more so versus today.
And tea’s health benefits were not simply a marketing story, Hopf said, since there was scientific proof, for instance, that its antioxidants and flavonoids helped CVD and cancer and slowed the ageing process.
Taking tea upmarket
Tea’s category sales spanned both hot and cold servings, Hopf said, noting that tea was one of the few drinks to do so successfully, with sales split almost equally between the two segments.
“While hot tea is the category creator – building credibility, trust, talking to a much more adult consumer, cold tea brings a huge amount of dynamism to this market, and opens up a new consumption occasion, and access to a much younger consumer,” he said.
Unilever’s fascination with tea stemmed from its scale, growth and the fact that – despite accounting for 29% of global beverage volumes, the category only commanded around 13% of value. “That is the point that makes us at Unilever so excited, because there is a real opportunity to uptrade this category,” Hopf said.
He added that premium growth opportunities lay in tea machine capsules (where firms like Nestle sell its Special-T system capsules at a x6 premium to normal teabags), and in out-of-home, since 82% of tea consumed is now sold via grocery channels.
Nestle’s best-selling tea machine SKU was blueberry muffin, Hopf said, a flavor that has little to do with tea, while bubble tea’s success also took tea in a “sweet treat and indulgence” direction.