Back on the boil?

PG Tips may be at the centre of a pitch rumour, but its first concern is to regain market share lost to more modern infusions, says Ian McCawley

When Unilever decided to sideline the PG Tips chimps in 2002, it needed a hot new idea to reignite an iconic brand in the declining UK tea market. Flying to the rescue came the T-Birds, plasticene creations from Aardman Animations, the production house behind Wallace & Gromit. The animated birds, designed to appeal to a younger market, are expected to return later this year for a major football World Cup promotion (MW December 15).

But Unilever has caused a stir at its long-serving advertising agency DDB London with the news that it has invited Mother to pitch on a new brief for PG Tips (MW last week). For the time being, the consumer goods giant is refusing to say whether this represents the early stages of a full-blown review of the brand’s &£10m advertising account.

Instead, it is concentrating on building its share of the UK tea market. Last year, Mintel predicted that the market would decline by 3% between 2004 and 2009, reducing its value to &£601.5m in three years’ time, compared with &£623m two years ago. Mintel also states in the report that PG Tips’ value share of the market fell by more than 12% between 2002 and 2004.

But Unilever is bullish about PG Tips’ performance. A spokeswoman says: “After decades of decline, tea’s share of the beverages people drink grew by 1% in 2005. Market value and volume share in normal tea grew, and PG Tips had a great year. The [brand’s] 75th anniversary, and the Wallace and Gromit work, contributed to PG Tips being the first brand in more than five years to take over a 35% value share of the normal tea market during the fourth quarter. As a result of both of these activities, PG Tips’ penetration jumped by four percentage points.”

Tea analysts are brimming with confidence over the future of the nation’s favourite hot beverage. UK Tea Council executive chairman Bill Gorman says: “The number of people drinking tea daily, and the number of cups drunk per day, is increasing. This is on the back of several years’ work by all the major brands to reposition their advertising.

“Drinking tea lives in the world of habitual comfort; you take it without thinking, a bit like breathing. And the health messages are percolating through.”

While marketing tea may not initially appear to be the most challenging task, some observers claim boosting the tea brand in a country that has embraced the high street invasion of coffee shops and flavoured water and juice launches in recent years, is no mean feat. One senior advertising source maintains: “Working with any tea company is like watching paint dry. Traditionally it has been a very slow-moving market, run on price and promotion.”

He concedes, however, that the introduction of fruit and green infusions, by PG Tips’ rival brands such as Twinings and Tetley, and other innovations such as PG Tips DCaf, have acted as a tonic.

The Unilever spokeswoman adds: “The DCaf variant is performing well in a continually growing sector, which currently represents 4.4% of the tea market in value terms.” She points out, though, that the overarching PG Tips strategy is to push traditional black-tea bags, drunk mainly by women over 35. Black tea accounts for 85% of the market, she says, with other areas in growth but still relatively small. A combination of fruit, herbal and green tea represents less than 10% of the whole market’s value, she adds.

Yet analysts remain unconvinced about the long-term growth of PG Tips. BMRB Enlightenment director Sandy Livingstone says: “PG Tips has a younger, more urban and upmarket consumer base. These consumers are increasingly switching to herbal, fruit and green teas. Conversely, Tetley has held it core older and more traditional market, and has also been more successful with its one-cup variant.”

Another source believes Unilever should be more nimble about targeting those consumers who are prepared to try a less traditional brew. He says: “It has not adapted as well as the other tea brands. Twinings has been at the forefront of speciality tea; Tetley has done a great job with flavoured and green. Some of these [newer niche] brands will die like dogs in a ditch, but the market now has an energy in product development that it hasn’t seen for decades.”

Corporate Edge director Michael Levy concludes: “There’s a generic family moment about having ‘a nice cup of tea’ that is a huge part of British culture. PG Tips managed to tap into that with the chimps, by giving them human qualities and playing on the soothing effects of tea. The challenge it faces is to do that all over again.”

Facts and Figures

⢠Brooke Bond unveiled PG Tips in 1930. It was previously called Digestive, but post-war labelling rules mean it could no longer be claimed to aid digestion. The brand name was altered to “pre-gest-tee” (pre-digestive tea) and shortened further. “Tips” refers to the fact that the top two leaves and bud of the tea plant are used in the blend.

⢠In the 1960s, PG Tips was the first brand to introduce tea bags. This overtook leaf tea in the 1970s.

⢠PG Tags – tea bags with a string – were rolled out in 1985, and pyra

mid-shaped bags followed in 1996. In 2004, PG DCaf, a lower-caffeine brew, was launched.

⢠PG Tips celebrated its 75th anniversary last year with a limited-edition golden pack.

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