Royal Wessanen bought Clipper from private equity player FF&P in 2012 - sales were circa. £14.5m in 2013 up 7.3% year-on-year against an overall market decline of 1.6% - but the UK’s No.1 fairtrade, organic tea brand was founded in 1984 by husband and wife Mike and Elaine Brehme in Dorset.
Rebecca Vercoe, Clipper Teas marketing manager, tells BeverageDaily.com that the brand, which has its own factory in Beaminster, Dorset that produces almost 1bn teabags a year, sees itself as “one of the good guys of tea” along with firms such as Taylors of Harrogate, which counts Yorkshire Tea among its brands.
The Brehmes began by selling Assam tea made in their kitchen at a time when, Vercoe says, the public was looking for something different, “but some of the single estate teas being sold were just rubbish”.
“The UK is a nation of tea drinkers, but amazingly, some people are unaware that what they are drinking tastes rubbish in comparison to some of the good quality mainstream teas out there," she adds.
Beyond this self-punitive behavior though, lies hope...
"However this is changing as people look for great taste and ethical behaviour from their tea brand," Vercoe says.
Step forward Clipper. The Brehmes worked closely with estates and gardens upon a firm ethical base – preventing child labor and ensuring quality, and were instrumental in helping found the UK Fairtrade Foundation in 1992.
UK tea drinkers go green, try infusions...
Clipper launched the first ever green tea into UK supermarkets in 1996 – it is currently the UK’s No.2 green brand after Twinings, and Vercoe says the nation's green tea market "went nuts" in 2013 with sales of £27.961m compared with £23.353m in 2012.
In the 18 months since the Wessanen takeover, Clipper has launched green teas and infusions into The Netherlands, Germany and France, and Vercoe explains that the UK green tea market is tiny compared to, say, France, where 2013 sales totalled £78m and drinkers are more experimental.
“Nonetheless, one of the big trends in the UK is growing green tea and infusions segments, as people leave black tea and try different things, especially in the afternoon,” she explains. “People don’t necessarily want a big hit of caffeine at 3pm or 4pm so are trying infusions,” she says.
Clipper recently conducted extensive research with mostly female infusion drinkers, Vercoe says, to find out how it could be the “first purchase” among brands, since despite great shelf standout “you’re asking quite a lot to get someone to commit to buying 20 bags that they’re not necessarily sure about”.
The last few years had seen a shift towards hostessing after, say, dinner parties, with people giving guests a range of infusions to choose from, she adds, insisting that “one real barrier” to customers trying something new is their fear of being stuck with, say, 20 bags of an infusion that they don’t particularly like.
'Taking Clipper's magic into the coffee aisle'
Thus, Vercoe says Clipper will launch three new 10-pack ranges into Tesco this February “that will hopefully allow more people to try and trust us” – five flavors of fruit infusion in envelopes (£2.99) and also ‘tea tents’ – loose leaf tea in bags.
“At the moment Tea Pigs and Twinings do 15s and 20s, but they’re £4.19, which is a lot of money if you don’t like it. If so then what are you going to do with it?” Vercoe said, adding that retailers also dislike the ‘long tail’ in terms of rate of sale that infusions have traditionally had.
Despite growth for green tea and infusions, Vercoe notes that black tea (worth circa. £500m in the UK) is still Clipper’s “bread and butter” with its Everyday Range, while the brand has also produced coffee and hot chocolate since 1998, with foodservice rather than retail the main sales channel.
“I think there’s more room in tea, whereas Nestle and Kraft have pretty much got coffee sewn up. Kenco Millicano and the like are premium products they can sell at half price. They’ve got massive economies of scale and are category captains,” Vercoe says.
For us it’s difficult to have a voice unless it’s at consumer level, talking to people interested in organic, taste, fairtrade, but we’ve got a new range of coffees launching, to take some Clipper magic into the coffee aisle.”