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‘Tis the Season—to be upping tea advertising

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” so the lyrics say. Many would disagree noting the crass commercialism that seems to overpower the so-called season of “loving and giving.” The heavy influx of marketing and advertising cannot be denied—or ignored. Every industry steps up its promotional efforts during the crucial fourth-quarter selling season ─ from automobiles and airlines, to jewelry and apparel, to electronics and technology, and of course, toys and food and beverages ─ to target consumers who augment their spending this time of year—every year.

In terms of beverages, there are plenty of coffee ads everywhere. Ads for limited edition holiday flavours…Ads promoting family, togetherness, and tradition…Some ads even showcase coffee at origin and the farmers who grow it. These ads can be found on television commercials, in magazines, online and mobile, as well as on billboards…But what I am not seeing are tea ads. Where are they?

Sure, there are ads for several ready-to-drink brands promoting the higher quality tea and improved flavour or the new unsweetened or “lower sugar” options, but that’s about it from what I have noticed (and I actively look). The tea industry has done a phenomenal job touting the healthy benefits of tea, but what about now promoting the flavour component more aggressively? Tea comes in a variety of flavours and has seasonal options so why do there not seem to be ads for “pumpkin spice tea” or “gingerbread spiced tea” during the holidays? Why are we not seeing ads for people sitting down for a cup of tea in a festive tea pot or cup surrounded by decorations or presents? Or during the winter/cold and flu months, why are there no ads promoting the more medicinal, soothing herbs teas like peppermint, lemon verbena, lavender, etc., that offer comfort?

While coffee consumption is growing globally causing the demand to potentially exceed the supply in the not-too-distant future, tea has the opposite problem. Ian Gibbs, chairman of the International Tea Committee, told audience members at the recent North American Tea Conference in Niagara Falls, Canada, that current tea-production levels are exceeding consumption levels.

Gibbs noted that reversing this trend is possible. In fact, he said it was “as simple as increasing 80% of North Americans’ consumption by one cup a day.” (Per 2014 data, the US is the world’s largest tea importer with a volume of 129,000 metric tons, above the UK with 106,000 mt.) The challenge is how to increase consumption. Coffee is growing in large part to the fact the consumption is rising in regions that had been primarily tea-drinking areas for decades, even centuries.

So how to increase tea consumption? Another speaker at the NATC, Marion Chan, principal at Trendspotter Consulting, highlighted the importance of millennials, which as a group, will increase their spending by 107 percent by 2020. She also noted that 73 percent are willing to pay more for a brand that they see as both authentic and sustainable. However, the authenticity and sustainability aspects must be real and transparent as a recent Mintel Group report (August 2016) found that nearly half of older millennials surveyed (47 percent) and one third younger millennials (35 percent) do not trust large food brand manufacturers. This has negatively affected sales of both tea bags and loose leaf teas—branded and private label.

Again, I ask, where are the tea ads? Wouldn’t this be a good opportunity to increase tea advertising? If millennials are the key to growing tea consumption, tea brands need to be where these consumers are. I don’t have the answers (online and mobile advertising might be good start though). So, while it may not be the “most wonderful time of the year” for everyone, it is an ideal time for tea to step up its ad game.

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