Food & Beverage

A British pastime is under threat as tea and biscuit sales fall

Luke Graham, special to CNBC

The staples of the British cuppa -- tea and cookies (or biscuits as the British insist on calling them) have declined over the past five years as U.K. consumers turn to healthier snacks and try more adventurous beverages, according to market research from Mintel.

The amount of tea bought each year has fallen, as volume sales have dropped 22 percent from 97 million kg in 2010 to an estimated 76 million kg in 2015. In terms of value, sales in the tea retail market fell by 6 percent over the same period from £699 million ($1.09 billion) in 2010 to an estimated £654 million in 2015.

Meanwhile, U.K. volume sales of cookies/biscuits have fallen from 451 million kg in 2009 to an estimated 413 million kg in 2014. Mintel surveyed British tea-drinkers and found 41 percent do not eat the sweet snacks more often due to concerns about high sugar content.

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According to Mintel, sales of ordinary teabags have taken a big hit. Tea sales of £491 million in 2012 dipped 13 percent to £425 million in 2014.

However, sales of alternative teas have grown significantly. Between 2012 and 2014, sales of fruit and herbal teabags rose by 31 percent to £76 million, sales of speciality teas rose by 15 percent to £63 million and sales of green teabags increased by 50 percent to £36 million.

These sales figures show British tea consumers are becoming more adventurous, says Emma Clifford, Mintel's senior food and drink analyst.

"Sales of fruit or herbal teas, speciality teas and green tea continue to post impressive performances," she said in a press release. "Reflecting a growing 'foodie' culture in the U.K., people are branching away from standard teabags and towards these more interesting alternatives."

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In comparison, ordinary tea has a more run-of–the-mill profile.

"Standard black tea is struggling to maintain consumers' interest amid growing competition from other drinks – held back by a rather uninspiring image," said Clifford. "This has translated into the downfall of the tea category overall."

Mintel found that Britain's biggest tea drinkers were men aged 16-44; 80 percent had drunk tea in the month to April 2015. The group least likely to drink tea are women aged over 65; just 61 percent had a cup of tea during the survey period.

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