Business

PG Tips could be sold by Unilever as cuppa goes out of fashion

Woman drinking tea Image copyright Getty Images

The PG Tips and Lipton tea brands could be sold by consumer goods giant Unilever because they are falling out of favour with the public.

The firm is reviewing its tea business amid a slowdown in sales as more consumers switch to the herbal variety.

It is part of efforts by chief executive Alan Jope to refocus the firm and concentrate on fewer brands.

The announcement came as Unilever announced its slowest quarterly growth in a decade.

The firm said its sales in the final three months of 2019 were up just 1.5%. However, it said it expected a stronger performance in 2020.

Unilever said it would look at "all options" for the tea business, including a partial or full sale.

According to research firm Kantar, the British tea industry is worth £667m a year, but over the last two years, demand for traditional black tea has fallen by 2.7%.

In contrast, demand has risen for other types of tea, with herbal teas now worth £52m and cold infusions valued at £11.2m.

'This is a traves-tea'

On social media, BBC News readers had a mixed reaction to the news of the potential sale.

Although she's not a fan of traditional black tea, Twitter user Helen said the move was "surprising".

Another, James, said the British staple's decline was "probably because loads more products are available now", and suggested consumers are told more often to avoid caffeine.

Mike posted about certain teas being more costly than supermarket own-brand equivalents.

And of course there were plenty of tea-related puns about this being a "traves-tea".

PG Tips: History of a brand

Image copyright Getty Images
  • PG Tips was launched in the UK in 1930 by Manchester-based firm Brooke Bond
  • Its original name was Pre-Gestee, implying that it had digestive properties. Grocers and salesmen shortened it to PG. The "Tips" was added in the 1950s
  • PG Tips spawned the longest-running ad campaign on British TV, running for almost 50 years. It featured chimps dressed as humans and voiced by actors
  • Within two years of the first TV appearance of the chimps in 1956, PG Tips was the UK's top-selling tea
  • Brooke Bond was acquired by Unilever in 1984, but PG Tips continued to sell well
  • Last year, PG Tips was overtaken as the UK's top tea brand by Twinings, which was then in turn leapfrogged by Yorkshire Tea

Despite the question mark over Lipton's future, it is rated by Unilever as one of its seven highest-earning brands.

The others are Dove soap, Knorr food products, Persil/Omo washing powder, Rexona deodorant, Hellmann's mayonnaise and Wall's ice cream (known as Ola, Algida, Kibon and Langnese in different parts of the world), according to the company's website.

Since he took over a year ago, Mr Jope has targeted what he calls "brands with purpose", saying that brands which do not have a clear social or environmental function could be eliminated from Unilever's roster.

He told reporters last year that Unilever was taking a close look at such brands as Marmite, Magnum ice cream and Pot Noodle.

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