An independent ranking of Australia’s supermarket tea brands reveals useful insights into the global commoditization of tea, reinforces the popularity of tea bags and attests to the power of technology for making practical comparisons of everyday products.
Australians favor tea. Half of the population (9.8 million tea drinkers among a population of 24.6 million) drink at least one cup of tea weekly. Australians drink an averages 9.5 cups per person per week with young people consuming 5.5 cups per week on average and those 65+ drinking 10.9 cups per week according to Roy Morgan Research. While only 32% of those aged 14-17 drink tea weekly, that percentage climbs to 61% for their parents (born 1961-75) and to 61% for their grandparents (born 1946-60). Consumption per capita is estimated at 1.5 lbs. (0.7 kg) in 2019.
In America iced and ready-to-drink dominate and unlike Australia, millennials are the largest tea consumers. Only 1 million Australians (5%) drink iced tea weekly and 1.1 million drink iced coffee, according to Roy Morgan Single Source 2019. Australians born between 1976-1990 drink hot coffee (54%). Hot drinks are consumed by 15.2 million Australians weekly. Both the U.S. and Australia are witnessing soft prices and a decline in demand for commodity teas. “Coffee is growing its lead,” according to Roy Morgan. During the years 2014-18 Australia added 1 million coffee drinkers, compared to 300,000 new tea drinkers.
The Australian tea market is valued at $1.2 billion and is growing at a compounded rate of 3.5% through 2023, according to Statista, a German-based market research firm. Packaged tea is valued at $324 million annually. Tea revenue per capita is $46.99, most of which is spent at supermarkets. Since teabags sell for 3- to 10-cents each, this is roughly equivalent to 10 boxes of 100-count tea annually. All those boxes add up to the 10,500 metric tons sold in grocery stores last year. There is a lively but much smaller specialty tea segment represented by T2, founded in Melbourne in 1996, acquired by Unilever in 2013 and now global with 110 outlets. In grocery, T2 teabags sell for an average 48-cents each.
Choice, a respected consumer advocate offering advice free of commercial bias, evaluated 16 bagged teas, subjecting each to a blind tasting by 62 tea drinkers and delving into the origin, format and calculating pricing by unit. Samples were drawn from stores in Sydney. Testing was completed in June and July 2019 and the interactive report was published last month.
The Choice website is an extension of a consumer products magazine launched in the 1950s. Evaluations are extensive and typically focused on common consumer products and services. These include appliances such as refrigerators and vacuum cleaners, consumer electronics and services such as those offered by banks and insurance companies. The venture is non-profit, financed by members and similar to US-based Consumer Reports. Members pay $18.50 per quarter (AUS$26.95) to subscribe.
In October Choice published a buying guide titled: What’s the best tasting black tea? The report excluded loose leaf, ready-to-drink teas and herbals, concentrating on the most common tea in Australia – black tea in bags (tagged, tagless and round). All the majors were evaluated including global leaders Yorkshire, Lipton, Tetley, Twinings and Dilmah as well as national brands including Bushells Blue Label, Madura and Billy Tea Campfire Brew.
The winner with a score of 80% was Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Proper Black Tea, a British-inspired blend packaged in the United Arab Emirates. Close at heel were Bushells Blue Label (77%) and Lipton English Breakfast (75%); Tetley (76%) and Madura Premium Blend (76%) complete the top five.
Results take into consideration taste and value. While Twinings (priced at 11-cents per teabag) is Australia’s best-selling tea, it scored 73% (below the 75% threshold for a Choice Recommendation). Yorkshire Tea (priced at 5-cents per tea bag) was rated the best tasting. One reviewer called it a “dark tea with a strong flavor. Very pleasant and smooth aftertaste.”
When evaluating supermarket brands, price is a primary consideration. The chart shows that commodity brands, like those in the U.S., are closely grouped around 5 cents per teabag. Specialty teabags are 10x more costly.
Individual brands are evaluated for key characteristics including format and origin. The website’s tools for searching and making comparisons are robust. Readers can make side-by-side comparisons for any combination of the 16 brands or see them all together.
Consumers in-store can also call up an abbreviated list by brand.
Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine observes that “although consumers of both hot tea and iced tea are more likely to be women than men, the average hot tea drinker is likely to be prosperous, well-educated and living in an older household from which the kids have moved out.”
In contrast, more than half the iced tea market is consumed by people under 35 years of age and concentrated in the youngest generation – Gen Z, she said.