We're used to the idea of coffee as a speciality drink, but few caterers try to persuade their customers to go for different teas. Ian Boughton reports.
It has been confidently predicted that 2010 will be "the year of good tea" - it was also supposed to be last year but the climate was unhelpful.
This does not imply that we do not have good tea at present - rather, it recognises that the catering trade has under-sold the product. At the very point where the customer could be encouraged to value tea, and maybe trade-up to a better one, too many hotels and restaurants miss the big chance and simply offer "a selection of teas".
On Radio 4's Food Programme in January, Ed Eisler of Jing Tea commented that the display of tea in supermarkets did nothing to excite consumers, and Bill Gorman of the UK Tea Council agreed that marketing of tea could be abysmal. This means that if the retail world does not inspire consumers to expect great tea, the hospitality trade has to work all the harder to upsell.
"Seventy-five per cent of buying decisions are made at point of purchase," says Andrea Stopher, marketing manager at Twinings. "And your customers will generally only ask for products they can see on menus and counters." It follows that at the very moment the customer makes their decision, they should see more than a sign saying: ‘selection of teas available'."
Follow the coffee trade, says Nick Kilby, tea evangelist at Teapigs. "It grates on us to see a menu with the one word: ‘tea'. You can say as much to sell your tea as with everything else you offer, but very few do. That's why we supply tea menu artworks - and we know they work, because they ‘walk' with the customers."
Think outside the venue, he adds. "The coffee companies showed us the way, but still nobody has yet promoted tea outside the door. Where you see Illy signs and A-boards, we believe ‘Teapigs served here' signs may well persuade customers to choose tea, when maybe they wouldn't have done so."
Tetley's brand development manager Peter Haigh agrees. "Tea hasn't exactly been over-branded out of home - less than 10% of tea in the UK is consumed out of home. For a nation of tea drinkers that's a pretty poor return, so let's get the branding out there."
Several companies now use tea posters. Peter Kirton, managing director of the Esquires café chain, did so to promote taking on the Suki tea brand and his seasonal and special edition teas. Tetley produced an almost-generic one and Unilever Foodsolutions has posters, in addition to window stickers and table talkers, for PG Tips, plus a wooden presentation box for Lipton teas.
Both Teapigs and Suki have turned to glass-jar displays for tea - they bring the item out from "under the counter" and achieve appreciable interest from customers. In the same way, more suppliers are creating 3D tea menus featuring clear pockets containing real tea leaves for the customer to see. Such a well-prepared bespoke table menu for tea can increase sales by up to 40%, says David Cooper, managing director of Cooper's in Huddersfield.
Then talk about them, says Jon Marlow, head of sales at Cafédirect. "There are drivers to attracting attention at point of sale. First, ‘disruption' is something that makes them reconsider their choice - it could be just a tea menu in the right place. The idea of staff as ‘point of sale' is overlooked, but they do have influence in encouraging choice. And sampling is a great driver at point of sale - it builds interest, and we get fantastic success from it."
Remember the staff, but don't forget the obvious, says Ralph Lutton, managing director at Brodies. "Use the chalkboard - it's still the easiest way of telling a story, and it gets attention.
"A place that has trained its people to tell a story is the Balmoral hotel, in Edinburgh. The chef has shown that staff can be enthused about tea. When I went there as a mystery shopper, I loved to hear the staff say: ‘you'll really like this'
"That's what I want to see on chalkboards - ‘you'll really like this tea try it'."
0845 060 1867
Coopers 0800 298 2802
Jing Tea 020 7183 2113
028 9033 0938
020 8568 2345
Tetley 0845 606 6328
UK Tea Council
020 7371 7787
0800 783 3728