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Tea's Tumultuous Takeover

Tea's Tumultuous Takeover

A drink steeped in tradition, witness to history and oftentimes protagonist in its making, enjoyed around the world in as many ways as there are cultures and customs. As the most consumed beverage in the world after water, tea has seen a renaissance over the last years as people’s pursuit of wellbeing and thirst for new experiences boomed.

From traditional cup to the hard stuff and everything in between, tea brands old and new could learn a thing or two from each other as they fight to stay relevant and grow market share.

Stirring Up a Flavour Storm 


Whilst black tea is still declining with retail sales volume dropping by 10% in the five years to 2019 across the UK and the US (Euromonitor), other tea varieties such as herbal tea (take Salada for example), botanical infusions and green tea have boomed with younger drinkers for whom health is the new wealth. In a Hartman study (2019), 57% of people associate health with the aptitude of managing stress, 47% with being alert/bright minded, and 45% with relaxation. And brands are rapidly adjusting to these needs.

Wellbeing, alcohol and convenience in one place? Enter hard tea. A category that is being revitalised as an alternative to conventional alcohol and seltzers in particular, and is fuelled by consumer desires for lower sugar, natural ingredients, clean labels and sophisticated flavours. From CBD to THC, from Owl’s Brew matcha to LQD’s agave limeade, whether you’re seeking function or taste hard tea is quick to trial new ideas with consumers, becoming not only a lesson in convenience for traditional brands, but in fast innovation too.

And more is yet to come. From China’s growing Heytea brand to the bubbling scene of boba shops in large metropolitan areas across US and UK, trends such as bubble tea and cheese tea are gaining popularity worldwide, bringing with them a whole new spectrum of sweet and savoury tastes that could stir up a storm of flavour in conventional tea spaces.

Set Free The Brand Equity 


Deep heritage and longstanding market presence can sometimes be the nemesis of modernity. Weighted down by tradition and a reluctance to change some brands end up with rigid or even fragmented visual identities and cliché messaging that’s easily forgettable. 

But if there’s one thing they can learn from brands such as T2 or Starbucks’ side-hustle, Teavana, is that the medium is still the message and own media is still the most powerful way to leverage brand equity. In other words, maximising the impact of every touchpoint your brand has, from packaging to social media, to brick & mortar and so on, and delivering a distinctive and cohesive look & feel is a good step forward.

Not all brands might have the luxury of theatrical experiences on their own premise, but why not make the pack the most memorable expression of the brand at least? Be that an innovative format or a distinctive design. Move past clichés to find what makes you unique, and convey that with confidence and modern panache. After all, the store shelf is one space you should never blend in.

Hard tea owes its success not only to its visually exuberant design, but also to bold attitudes, stories and points of view that brands bring to the category. Take Wild Leaf for example - a call to adventure and time spent outdoors, paired with a drive to protect the rainforests. Whilst Loverboy invests in a frivolous and carefree attitude to having fun without the guilt, and Truly wants to be seen as the gold standard of taste and quality. Hard teas are claiming their territory. More traditional, established brands could take a leaf out of the hard tea book, taking a stance and standing for something in order to stand out from the crowd.

Culture Cravings


When it comes to building relevance and increasing its appeal with drinkers, hard tea could teach others a thing or two. With a knack for popular culture and a natural flair for buddying up with other sectors to increase their cachet, hard tea brands don’t shy away from engaging in brave collaborations and partnerships. 

When done right, the halo effect can propel their fame and expand their meaning in their audiences’ eyes, helping them transcend their categories and increase their desirability. Just look at Arizona x Adidas already launching their second collection, or the Heytea x Fenty drop aimed at winning over younger Chinese consumers. 

Whilst traditional tea brands prefer the cosiness of their own space, venturing no further than the familiar, there are plenty more untrodden avenues for them to create waves of excitement, connect with people’s aspirations and lifestyles, and ultimately, amplify their brand salience.

Fresh Change is Brewing


As we emerge from these tumultuous times reflecting on the habits and behaviours we want to take forward for our own betterment, the time is ripe for tea of all formats, flavours and strength to rethink and redefine how to move in sync with us and our changing needs. After all, we all need a big sip of feel-good after the year we’ve had.

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