How Yorkshire Tea grew from a local brand to be the nation's cup of tea
It's enough to make the Tetley tea folk pack up their flat caps and hit the hard stuff. They have been overtaken as Britain's number two tea by a Yorkshire original.
The runaway success of the tea blend that bears the county name has seen it leapfrog the competition in the space of a decade, and the latest industry figures, out this morning, confirm Yorkshire Tea as the nation’s second favourite with just under 23 per cent of the traditional “black tea” market.
In contrast to Tetley, whose stereotypical Yorkshire cartoon characters disguise the brand’s Indian ownership – it now belongs to the same conglomerate as Tata Steel – Yorkshire Tea is still produced in Harrogate by the family firm that founded it 40 years ago.
The market leader, PG Tips, is no longer made by Brooke Bond but by the multinational Unilever, while the one-time favourite Ty-Phoo, now also in Indian ownership, appears to have gone off the boil.
“Ten or 12 years ago, Ty-Phoo was probably double the size of us but we are now significantly bigger,” said Kevin Sinfield, head of brand marketing at Taylors of Harrogate, where Yorkshire Tea is blended. “PG and Tetley have been the market leaders for years and years, so this is quite a landmark moment.
“They are famous British brands and icons of British advertising as well, and we feel this represents quite a shift change.”
Yorkshire Tea was launched as “a Yorkshire blend for Yorkshire people”, but increased advertising and better distribution in recent years, coupled with the product’s sponsorship of the England cricket team, have given it a national profile.
The deal with cricket’s governing body “laid down a marker as a national brand”, Mr Sinfield said.
“We look on the name Yorkshire as an asset. It sums up the business culture,” he added.
“We don’t see the word as being limited or regional at all.
“It really helps reinforce who we are, what we stand for and what we believe in.”
When Yorkshire tea made its debut in 1977, after Taylors was bought by another Harrogate institution, Bettys, many drinkers still preferred their tea in quarter-pound packets.
Today, around 90 per cent of sales are in teabags – but the loose-leaf variety is making a comeback. It’s got a bit more theatre about it,” Mr Sinfield said. “As more premium cafes and restaurants are opening up, they tend to be serving loose-leaf tea.”
However, the overall market for tea is shrinking, as drinkers sample what those in the trade call “a broader repertoire” of beverages, especially coffee, bottled water and the explosion in fruit teas. “The black tea market has been in long-term decline for as long as I can remember,” Mr Sinfield said. “More than 70 per cent of people drink tea, but they are drinking less of it. That’s the real success story of Yorkshire Tea – we’ve managed to buck that trend and increase our sales while overall consumption is declining.”
Taste unchanged for 40 years
The taste of Yorkshire’s traditional brew has remained unchanged for 40 years.
“We still blend to the same taste profile,” said Kevin Sinfield at Taylors of Harrogate. “That’s down to the skill of the tea blender.
“We’re proud of our Yorkshire heritage but we certainly don’t play to Yorkshire stereotypes.
“We’ve maybe been guilty of that in the past, but our advertising campaigns now just try to reflect the best elements of Yorkshire personality.”
The product’s devotees include the pop star Noel Gallagher, who takes a caddy with him when he plays abroad. “As any tea-maker knows, it’s the only bag,” he has said.