The availability of sustainable tea in Belgian supermarkets

This study carried out by Facts Figures Future in the name of the Trade for Development Centre aims to give an overview of the current and future availability of sustainable tea in the assortments of major Belgian supermarkets. Tea has been divided into three product groups: black tea, flavoured black tea and herbal tea. This study focuses on the regular packages that contain between 20 and 25 tea bags per package.

The word ‘sustainable’ can be interpreted in various ways. In this study, we include all of the above tea variations that carry a sustainable label, such as UTZ, Rainforest Alliance, Max Havelaar/Fairtrade, or a bio label such as EU organic or Agriculture Biologique (AB).
A major part of the research consisted of store visits to 1 or 2 branches of the twelve major Belgian supermarket chains, conducted in the period 22-24 November 2011.

Belgian tea consumption is quite small, amounting to around 0.14 kg or 4.9 oz per capita in 2009. This level is significantly lower than the EU average of 0.48 kg or 17 oz per capita. Green tea consumption amounted to 715 tonnes in 2010, which increased by 1.7% per year between 2006 and 20101.
Unilever has a large tea processing factory in Belgium; they produce tea for the Lipton brand. 95% of their production is exported, mainly to other European countries. They have an extensive sustainability policy and mainly make use of the Rainforest Alliance label.

Leading brands

Leading tea brands in Belgium are Lipton, Pickwick and Twinings. Lipton is the absolute market leader at a 26% retail value share in 20102. Each brand is equally represented within the three different product groups.
Herbal tea is by far the largest product group within the tea assortments of major Belgian supermarkets, representing almost two-thirds of the total tea assortment.

Share of sustainable tea products per supermarket

Black tea
The average share of sustainable black tea in the assortments of major supermarkets in Belgium is 35%. The percentages vary greatly per supermarket. Makro (64%) and Colruyt (63%) come out top while Smatch and Spar come third and fourth at 40% and 38%.
After that, there is a big group hovering around 30%: Carrefour (35%), Intermarché (33%), Delhaize (29%), Champion (27%) and Cora (27%). In Lidl stores, 25% of the black tea was sustainable, Match offered 11% sustainable black tea and Aldi sold none.

Flavoured black tea
The average share of sustainable flavoured black tea is 12%. Here the percentages also vary greatly between supermarkets. Makro offers the most sustainable packages (30%), followed by Colruyt (29%), Smatch (25%) and Carrefour (21%). Delhaize (10%), Champion (9.5%) and Cora (5.6%) lag behind. Other supermarkets in the survey did not sell sustainable flavoured black tea.

Herbal tea
The average share of sustainable herbal tea is 15%. Spar offers the largest percentage of sustainable herbal tea to its customers (32%), followed by Delhaize (27%), Makro (26%), Colruyt (22%), Champion (21%) and Carrefour (18%).
Intermarché, Cora and Match offered only 9.5%, 4.5% and 3.4% sustainable herbal tea.  The other supermarkets did not sell any sustainable herbal tea.

Shelve space
Sustainable tea was remarkably evenly distributed among the non-sustainable tea variations. Very rarely was sustainable tea only available in a separate ‘sustainable corner’3.

Future expectations

Currently, demand for sustainable tea is limited to a small group of consumers. Belgium’s largest tea processor and most popular tea brand, Lipton, is currently in the midst of a large campaign to certify all their tea with the Rainforest Alliance label. Their main motivation is to become a sustainable organisation. They do, however, predict a growth in awareness among consumers that will lead towards higher demand for sustainable tea.
There is slightly bigger demand for sustainable herbal tea than there is for other sustainable tea variations. This is mainly due to the fact that sustainability-conscious consumers are generally also concerned about health issues. Within this group, it is well known that herbal tea is generally better for your health than black tea.

Lipton and Pickwick are currently working on increasing their share of sustainable tea, which became very obvious during the store visits. Some tea variations were sustainable in one supermarket, but carried no label in the other. Interviews with producers revealed that the labelled packages are so new that the old ones have not yet sold out in some supermarkets.
Because many supermarkets and producers are increasingly interested in sustainable tea, it is becoming more and more available to consumers. Although the consumers who buy sustainable tea are not buying this tea because of its sustainability, the sales of sustainable tea in Belgium are increasing rapidly.

1. CBI Market Survey: ‘Green tea in Belgium’ (2011)
2. Summary ‘Tea in Belgium’ report by Euromonitor (2011)
3. Store visits November 22-24 (2011)