Though a bit cloudy now, the forecast for PL coffee and tea is sunny

The appeal of private label (PL) coffee and products varies greatly between Eastern European and Nordic states, with sales ranging from solid to tepid to even underperforming, but prospects for growth are strong in both categories. By Eugene Gerden 

The private label tea and coffee market in Eastern European and Nordic states is steadily growing this year, thanks to a stable demand and the ongoing expansion of portfolios by leading local players. 

In contrast to Western Europe, where the tea and coffee private label segment has been actively developing since the 1980s, most Eastern European states have registered significant market growth and massive launches of new, private label products in recent years. The same, however, cannot be said for the Nordic states, where the popularity of private label tea and coffee brands, produced by leading local retail chains has always been high. 

One such brand is Norwegian chain, REMA, which is implementing its REMA 1000 private label strategy that involves actively developing its private label brands in both the Nordic states and other Eastern European states. REMA has significantly expanded its portfolio of private label tea and coffee brands over the past few years, and most of analysts expect the company will continue to develop this segment. 

REMA’s current list of tea and coffee brands is wide and includes some iconic brands in the Nordic market. An example of this Kolonihagen, a well-known Norwegian coffee and tea private label supplier within REMA, which in recent years has strengthened its positions both in the domestic market and overseas.  

Arnt Ove Dalebø Englund, co-founder and director of innovation at Kolonihagen, said that Kolonihagen recently entered the premium tea category with a range of four variants. “This is part of the REMA 1000 private label strategy, having alternatives — [opening price point] (Prima), mid-range (R) and now finally also covering the premium through the organic Kolonihagen brand.” He said that this series of teas is nationally distributed and is present in all 650 REMA 1000 stores in Norway. According to the size of the category [in each store] (both shelf space, rotation and turnover), there are four premium products at the moment. 

“We do not have plans to expand the [number of products, [instead] bringing in new flavours [as a] one in-one out. Additional value propositions are also highly relevant and part of a continuous strive to do things better. That is the core of our brand,” said Dalebø Englund. “One example of this is to put regenerative principles (and certifications) on top of the organic standards. Seasonal products are [also always being considered].” 

Dalebø Englund expects Norway’s private label market and that of other regional countries as well as Eastern Europe will show stable growth rates in years to come. “It’s hard to answer this on behalf of competitors in FMCG market in Norway, but in general, the private label category share is lower than that of other Nordic and European countries. [I predict] that moving from 20 percent to between 40 and 50 percent is likely in a two to three-year period, and this will probably be even higher for the tea and coffee category. 

Other major players are also considering accelerating their expansion both in the market of Nordic states and Eastern Europe. 

Bethany Physick, marketing manager at Finlays Europe Extracts, shared that across Europe, Finlays is continuing to help European brand owners tap into the health and wellbeing trend with its Just Add Water solution, a range of sachets containing tea and botanical powder blends that are designed to meet consumers’ desire to drink functional water on the go. “Later this year, Finlays’ new cold brew coffee extraction facility will open in the United Kingdom bringing an exciting range of cold brew coffee extracts to the fast-growing European market,” she said. “The coffee extraction facility will produce for branded and [private]-label suppliers in the UK and European and Eastern European retail and hospitality sectors.” Physick noted that Finlays is already a global leader in cold brew in the United States, and it expects growth in the category in the European market. 

Regarding future market prospects, Sian Edwards, insights manager, Finlays Group, explained that tea in all formats offers major potential in Eastern Europe, in terms of the market scale and growth prospects. “There are big markets, many of which are fast premiumising, as consumers seek a wide range of healthy, functional and indulgent beverages. The ready-to-drink (RTD)/iced tea market was valued at USD $2 billion in 2022, and has yet to reach maturity, with a forecast of 18 percent CAGR between 2022 and 2027, to reach an estimated market size of $5 billion in 2027.” Furthermore, he noted that RTD/iced tea is being bolstered by consumers seeking healthy and innovative alternatives to traditional soft beverage categories. 

“Hot tea and infusions are a more mature category for consumers in Eastern Europe. The category was valued at USD $9 billion in 2022 and is expected to exceed $10 billion by 2027 – with a 2 percent CAGR,” said Edwards. “Per capita consumption in the region is particularly high, with tea established as a habitual, daily necessity in many Eastern European markets. There is continued consumer demand for both RTD/iced tea and hot tea and infusions, and we see private label continuing the play a valuable role in this market growth.” 

PL still strong in Western Europe 

The private label market is traditionally within the interests of some major Western European players. 

Jens Schneider, managing director of Kloth & Köhnken Teehandel GmbH, one of leading tea suppliers in Europe, said the company has big plans for the further expansion this year. “There is an ongoing demand for organic and the wish for a sustainable supply chain throughout the world. The Nordic states, and Eastern Europe are markets we have good contacts in for many years, and we [see] steady, growing consumption [in both]. 

Still, according to Schneider, after three years of continuous challenges with consequential influences in sales channels, filled stocks and market movements, “it is currently difficult for the company to predict what trend or demand it really has in the market. [However], the focus on and trends toward organic, transparency and sustainable sourcing will be ongoing and rising.” 

PL optimism fades in the Nordics 

Representatives of some leading Nordic and Northern European retailers are less optimistic, regarding further prospects of the private label market, particularly in the coffee segment. Juhani Haara, a senior sales manager, S Group, a Finnish retailing cooperative organisation, said that private label, the coffee segment in particular, has decreased. “According to our sales data, there is a clear decline in private label coffee sales volume – a nearly 19 percent drop – this year. The reason for this is the increased campaigning with branded products both in S-Group and in the market. On the other hand, private label tea sales volume has increased significantly, by about 25 percent, during this year,” she said, adding, “this is certainly influenced by the economic situation. We expect this trend to continue towards the end of the year.” 

Haara said that new private label products have been added to the tea selection this year: two Kotimaista herbal teas and four different X-tra products. “There hasn’t been any promotion in tea products, but our own PL products are remarkably affordable compared to brands. This year there have been no private label novelties in coffee yet, but we are developing our selection.” 

Most independent analysts also do not expect sharp market growth rates in years to come. Julija Poliscuk, a senior consultant at global market research firm, Euromonitor International, believes that private label tea and coffee items are not growing as quickly as in other food and drinks categories. “The slow dynamics in current value and flat or declining volume share can be attributed to these products’ association with rituals and thus, the demand for high-quality offerings, reflecting the cultural and image significance they hold.” 

She said that in 2022, the current value share of private label in Nordic countries for coffee and tea increased slightly, reaching 9.3 percent. “This cooling trend aligns with stabilised consumer financial confidence and desire to spend after the challenging years of Covid-19. Notably, the volume share of retailers’ own brands in coffee rose by 0.7 percentage points, reaching 11.8 percent in 2022, signaling better performance compared to the overall coffee market in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark combined,” Poliscuk explained. “In Eastern Europe, historically known for brand-oriented preferences in tea and coffee, the current value share declined by 0.2 percentage points in 2022, reaching 5 percent. Coffee’s volume share was 7.2 percent (versus 7 percent in 2021), which pales in comparison to the strong growth of discounters and retailers’ own brands’ performance in other categories.” 

She added that many Eastern European markets offer big promotions for national tea and coffee brands, which reduces price gap between those products and private label ones. This market situation, according to Poliscuk, favours branded products. “When the price difference is marginal, consumers opt for familiar brands, purchasing them on discount. This hampers the development of private labels in tea and coffee in the region.” 

Poliscuk said that the hyperinflation in Eastern Europe, did not boost private label in 2022, as consumers inertially continued their ‘revenge’ spending after the Covid-19 period. “However, 2023 might bring a different outcome as consumers already started downtrading, potentially making private label a more attractive option. The level of sophistication and price segmentation within private label is more prominent in countries with well-developed modern grocery retail.” Additionally, recent launches of private label coffee and tea products in the Nordics target audiences seeking added value, which leads to the appearance of more specialty coffee (eg, specific bean origins). “Retailers are also expanding their assortment to align with sustainability strategies, offering more organic teas and coffee in modern, environmentally friendly packaging.” 

Per Poliscuk, private Labels primarily are considered ‘anti-crisis products’, allowing consumers to save or maintain their preferences without compromising on quality. The hyperinflation in Eastern Europe during 2022 and continuing into 2023 will impact consumer behaviour and drive the surge in private label adoption. As people seek cost-cutting measures, price increases in coffee and tea will push them to revise their previous preferences. “While Private Label won’t dominate the hot drinks market due to the nature of these products, its expansion alongside aggressive discounters will positively influence retailer’s offerings.” 

In Nordic countries, Poliscuk said the volume of private label hot drinks is expected to stagnate, even decline, but the value share will increase alongside the price. More premium coffee and tea aimed at quality seekers eager for better prices will emerge. “More caffeine-free and health-improving teas are expected, while coffee offerings will focus on specific beans and roasting variations. Retailers in these Western countries have the expertise to develop premium store brands based on specific needs like sustainability or fair trade.” 

Despite the impact of war on logistics chains and prices, with a small private label market and a decreased national brands presence, Eastern Europe expects a stronger demand than ever before for retailers’ own brands. 

  • Eugene Gerden is an international freelance writer, who specialises in covering the global coffee, tea and agricultural industries. He worked for several industry titles and may be reached at [email protected]. 

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