Can it be true ? Are the British - a nation of tea-lovers - really turning down a nice cuppa in favour of alternative beverages ? According to a new report from market analysts Datamonitor, although the average Brit sips their way through 1000 cups of tea a year, the appeal could be waning.
The analysts report that although British consumers bought 127 million kilograms of normal teabags in 1997, this figure has since dropped to 114 in 2002. The British really are cutting down on their tea consumption - and their per-head tea drinking could soon be overtaken by India's.
So what are they drinking instead ? Not, apparently, coffee. Instant coffee sales are falling, and even sales of ground coffee dropped in 2002.
At first sight, healthier options appear to be taking the slack with volumes of fruit and herbal teas increasing by almost 50 per cent from 1997-2002. British consumption of fruit and herbal teas has risen by more than a third over the last five years, and green tea consumption in 2002 was more than 20 times the 1997 figure.
Skillful marketing or an urge to get healthy ? For Datamonitor, it remains unclear whether health concerns alone have a large impact on hot drinks consumption - after all, sales of decaffeinated coffee are declining in the UK and the USA. "It's more about image," said John Band, Datamonitor consumer analyst."A stereotypical decaf drinker is a recovering caffeine addict, while a stereotypical fruit tea drinker is perceived as 'stable', 'modern' and 'with it'."
So who does top the tea table ? Statistics from Datamonitor reveal that Turkish people have taken the number one slot, drinking 2.3 kilograms per capita of tea in 2002. But British are next in the tea league, they are just ahead of Ireland and Hong Kong, with 2.2 kilograms of tea consumed per person a year, or over a thousand cups. However, this figure compares to 2.6 kilograms in 1997. As British tea drinking continues to shrink, Indian consumptionis forecast to outstrip Britain's by 2004.
So, writes Datamonitor, why did Indian tea giant Tata buy the UK's second largest tea brand Tetley in 2000? In fact, Tetley (alongside archrival PG Tips) increased its UK sales in 2002. Cut-price supermarket brands, not the market leaders, have been the biggest losers from the market's decline.
Sales of 'instant' hot drinks are also showing signs of decline rather than growth, writes Datamonitor. Sales of instant tea in the UK have declined far faster than sales of regular tea - and sales of instant coffee have fallen by 1 per cent per year even as volumes of ground coffee and coffee beans showed overall growth.
"While we may focus on health and convenience more than ever, we are no longer willing to settle for something that's fast or caffeine-free but unpleasant," added Bland. "People increasingly prefer to pay for a take-out of premium coffee, rather than making instant at home - and if consumers are avoiding caffeine, they would rather drink strawberry tea than fake coffee."
Turning to coffee stakes, it would seem that the Scandinavians are the coffee fiends. According to Datamonitor, the Danes gain the top slot for the world's biggest coffee drinkers. The average Dane dranktheir way through 7.5 kilos in 2002, the equivalent of around 75 regular-sized cups of coffee. And overall, the Scandinavians are the world's biggest coffee drinkers, with the Nordic countries Norway, Finland and Sweden taking the next three places.
"This could partly be explained by high alcohol prices," said comments John Band."These mean caffeine can be a far more cost-effective way of getting wired than drinking. A shot of home-drunk espresso in Denmark costs six US cents, while a 250ml beer at home costs almost ten times as much." Or alternatively, in an exceptionally cold climate, people like to be warmed up by a hot drink with a kick !
Further information about the report, The Global Hot Drinks Market to 2007, can be obtained from Datamonitor.