If the US is transforming into a nation of tea-slurping geezers, Unilever does not want to miss it.

January 23, 2013
January 23, 2013

Starbucks isn’t the only company betting on an uptick in tea consumption in the historically coffee-fueled US. At its heart, the wager on growing tea sales is based on US demographic trends. Would-be tea sellers think that as baby-boomers continue to age they will want to downshift their intake of heart-rattling java, and switch to a more healthful alternative. And tea sales have been rising in recent years, including a 2% increase in 2011, according to market research firm Euromonitor.

But Anglo-Dutch consumer products giant Unilever doesn’t plan on taking any chances. In a conference call with analysts after its strong earnings results today, Unilever chief Paulus Polman spotlighted plans to beef up investment in Unilever’s Lipton brand of teas. Lipton is the best-selling tea in the US, with about an 18% share of sales. But its sales have been declining. In 2011, they dropped about 3%.

Frankly we have under supported the Lipton brand – tea brand there, literally under supported in quality and product. And that is never a long-term strategy. We’ve reinvested and continue to reinvest in quality and product and you start seeing the results. So, I am fairly positive that that business—bar a quarter here or there for different reasons—but that business is on the right trajectory.

As to whether the US will ever switch to a nation of tea drinkers, count us skeptical. (It’s something you drink when you’re sick, right?)

Expect to hear a bit more about Starbucks’ vision for tea in the US when it reports earnings on Jan. 24.

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