Break time – end of the office tea round?

Press/Media: Expert Comment


Break time – end of the office tea round? THE kids are back at school, cafes and restaurants are open again and many are returning to the office. As post-pandemic normality resumes, will we, as consumers, revert to our old habits or will the effects of lockdown continue to shape what, when, where and how often we choose to eat and drink? Take the office tea break. It had been a key component of office culture in the UK – a chance to discuss work issues with colleagues, bounce around new ideas and generally unwind. Since April, when lockdown restricted our access to cafes and restaurants, spending on takeaway hot drinks plummeted by 90 per cent (Kantar, 2020). It’s led to huge café chains like Costa and Pret a Manger announcing significant job cuts across the UK. While it will take time for out-of-home hot drink sales to bounce back, as we return to old routines, it’s a different story when it comes to what we put in our supermarket trolley. Curiously, even pre-Covid it seems fewer of us were buying tea and coffee during our grocery shop. The number of us choosing conventional “builder’s” tea had been slipping and while more are opting for the decaf or herbal alternatives, it didn’t prevent an overall decline in tea sales – dropping by an eighth (13 per cent) between 2015 and 2019 (Mintel). The pandemic appears to have reversed this trend. Kantar (2020) reported that in the UK shoppers spent £24m more on teabags and coffee in the four weeks leading up to July 12 compared to the same period last year. In support of new working from home routines, some of our national tea brands even developed memorable campaigns encouraging us not to forget to ‘take a break’! In May, for example, tea brand PG Tips launched a ‘National Tea Break’ campaign at 3pm each day to encourage people to take a break with family members or neighbours. While the lockdown helped to support sales for at-home hots drinks, it is important this category continues to innovate and capture the next generation of tea and coffee drinkers post-pandemic. Here are some trends within this category to look out for in 2020: FunctionaliTEA Over the past year top tea brands have focused on adding functional benefits to tea. For example, Tetley’s new range of Super Herbal teas or Twinings new Wellness blends both contain an array of multivitamins. Mintel (2020) reported that functional claims will continue to dominate this category and have appeared on approximately a fifth of new products entering this market over the past five years. Hot drinks which promote weight management and good gut health will also continue to increase in popularity, for example, brands like TummyTox tea or Dr Stuart’s slim caffeine free tea. A feel good brew Linking tea with relaxation and general wellbeing among other positive emotions continues to prove popular, placing emphasis on decaffeinated and herbal teas. This year Teapigs launched its feelgood range containing active ingredients to support wellbeing, like its calm tea containing valerian, claiming to help maintain a natural sleep and good cognitive function. Brands are also diversifying into cold brews to capture this younger generation. For example, Twinings launched its Cold In’fuse range and more locally Suki with its sparkling iced tea Infusion. SustainabiliTEA! Tea and coffee drinkers alike want to know about the provenance and ethical stance behind the brands they buy. According to Drinks Insight (2020), “43 per cent of global consumers said that how ethical, environmentally friendly or socially responsible the product or service is always or often influences their product choice”. Mintel  (2020) highlight that while provenance is inherent to certain types of tea, like Assam, taking its name from the Indian region, opportunities exist with the herbal and fruit tea market for UK sourcing of ingredients.  They reported that a third (35 per cent) of adults expressed interest in tea with ingredients sourced from the UK. Turn over a new leaf!  With consumers working from home new rituals around tea and coffee may appear with a willingness to invest time in preparing their hot drinks to recreate that café feel. These behaviours will contribute to the trend for premium hot drinks at-home and may lead to opportunities for tea and coffee subscription services, loose leaf teas and the development of syrups and sweeteners. For example, Twinings recently launched a new premium tea range called The Dark Collection with stronger tea, including flavours like dark caramel, dark mint and dark chai, while Teapigs recently introduced a limited-edition flavour, jelly and ice cream. Trying to figure out what new innovations can occur in what was (pre-Covid) a category in decline can benefit from shock changes in the environment as well as innovative thinking. Within the Food and Drink Business Development Centre we are launching a new programme to support NPD activity within companies. If you are interested in learning more about our new MSc Food Design and Innovation then feel free to contact me for a virtual cuppa and chat! (l.hollywood@ulster. 

Period10 Sept 2020

Media contributions


Media contributions

  • TitleBreak time – end of the office tea round?
    Degree of recognitionRegional
    Media name/outletFarm Week - Irish News Ltd
    Media typePrint
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    PersonsLynsey Elizabeth Hollywood


  • tea
  • trends