A foreign affair

Specialist teas and coffees sourced from exotic-sounding countries are prominent on the shelves of the UK’s supermarkets as retailers try to keep shoppers from going elsewhere in their search for something more sophisticated than the traditional “cuppa”.

To get a sense of private label trends within the UK’s tea and coffee segment, we visited three stores operated by major UK food retailers: Cheshunt, England-headquartered Tesco; Morrisons, Bradford, England; and Waitrose, part of the London-based John Lewis Partnership. All three stores are located near London.

Standard Teabags

The main standard tea bag players in all three supermarkets visited are the big brands Tetley, PG Tips, Yorkshire and Typhoo, which take up the lion’s share of shelf space.

In the Tesco store, the modestly packaged Tesco Original range (in 40s, 80s, 160s, 240s and 480s) takes up much less room and is situated on a lower shelf.

At the Morrisons store, the M Red Label (in 40s, 80s, 160s and 240s) puts in a good effort; its red packaging is almost as distinctive as that of shelf-mate Typhoo. Value version M Savers is on the bottom shelf.

The Waitrose store puts its own-brand Gold and Essential ranges at eye level — along with a good range from specialist suppliers.

Specialist Teas

On the specialist tea side, Tesco’s top-end own brand, Tesco Finest, is strong. There’s a highly visible selection of attractively packaged products at eye level, including Earl Grey, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Chai, Vanilla Chai, Chocolate Tea, Assam, English Breakfast and Black Tea. Also available in the Tesco Finest range are teabags from Rwanda, Kenya and Ceylon, in attractive giftable caddies. Big brand Twinings is also well-represented in this category, while there’s a small selection from Tetley and small suppliers such as Teapigs and Pukka.

Waitrose also goes big on own brand in this category, with a showing as wide as that of the big brand Twinings, offering the likes of Earl Grey (and the lesser-known Marquess Grey), Assam, Lapsang Souchong, and Darjeeling — some in both loose tea and bagged versions.

Morrisons is more low-key; it gives most shelf space to Twinings, sticking to a few own-brand products such as Earl Grey, Assam and Chai.

There is growing interest among the multiples in own-branding the kind of teas traditionally found in delicatessens and speciality shops, according to Rahul Kale, London-based director of international business for Typhoo Tea Ltd., which supplies tea for supermarket own brands and under its own.

Instant Coffee

Instant coffee has continued to see more innovation than any other coffee segment, according to Mintel. It has been through a “premiumisation push”, including whole-bean instant coffee (finely milled coffee beans added to instant coffee to provide a richer flavour). This is largely in an attempt to maintain market share against competition from freshly ground coffee and pods.

At the Tesco store, there is a modest offering from own label, with a handful of Tesco Finest (from Columbia, Ethiopia and Costa Rica) and, on a low shelf, the cheaper Classic and Gold mid-ranges and Everyday Value. The big brands, Nescafé, Maxwell House and Kenco, are dominant in coffee mixes (latte, mocha and cappuccino).

In the Waitrose store, the Waitrose own brand in the distinctive yellow is available near more-expensive Colombian and Italian blends at eye level, while the basic Essential Waitrose version sits discreetly on the bottom shelf. A new product — a Colombian microground instant Fairtrade version, is situated more prominently.

The Morrisons store places its M Classic coffee on lower shelves in three sizes, including a 500g tub, its red packaging similar to Nescafé’s own. There is also an option from the higher-priced M Gold brand and, at the other extreme, a packet version from the M Savers brand.

Ground Coffee

Foreign influences are hugely noticeable in all three supermarkets’ own labels in the ground coffee category. According to Mintel, “Detailed origin resonates with a niche audience of affluent buyers”.

The Tesco Finest own label has a particularly good showing, with offerings from a wide variety of countries displayed at eye level. Plain brown paper bags are used to package premium coffee from Galapagos, Jamaica, Australia and Hawaii. Bright colours draw the eye to the large Fairtrade selection from around the world (Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Kenya, Ethiopia, Honduras, Guatemala). Less noticeable are the cheaper own-label Standard and Everyday Value products.

Waitrose continues the theme with a good range of specialist ground coffee in classy black packets from around the world, including Colombia, Kenya, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Rwanda and South America. There are also some blended coffees like “after-dinner” and “breakfast”.

Morrisons also gets in on the foreign act with an eye-level range of ground coffees in the M Signature range, offering a reasonable variety of origins, including Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Kenya. Further down the shelves is the more basic M offering of several blended varieties.

Pods and Capsules

Big brands occupy the vast majority of the space given by the supermarkets to pods, capsules and bags used in coffee makers.

At the Tesco store, brands such as Dolce Gusto (Nescafé), Senseo (Douwe Egberts) and Tassimo (Mondelez) dominate. Tesco’s own Podpronto and Tesco Finest products have a small section on the top shelf.

At the Morrisons and Waitrose stores, the in-house offering is minimal compared with that of brands such as Taylors, Nescafé and Tassimo.

Whole-Bean Coffee

The Tesco store devotes little shelf space to whole coffee beans, giving the bulk of the space to Lavazza, Taylors, Illy and Percol. There is a small selection of Tesco Original and Tesco Finest beans.

Waitrose, on the other hand, has a nice range of private label products on the lower shelves, packaged similar to the ground versions, with two price points, the more expensive one packaged in eye-catching silver foil.