We spoke to Yorkshire Tea’s Kevin Sinfield about growth, cricket, the Tour de France, and not playing up to the Yorkshire stereotype too much
Here at London Loves Business, we drink a feck of a lot of tea.
So after recently reporting that Yorkshire Tea had made a surprise splash-down in YouGov’s 2015 Brand index buzz, coming in at number seven on the UK’s favourite brands list, we had a cup of tea, and then jumped at the chance to find out more.
Yorkshire Tea is enjoying a boom in popularity at the moment, outperforming the market and growing during a difficult period for black tea.
It is still based in Harrogate, Yorkshire, where family owners, Taylors, employ almost 400 people.
We spoke to Yorkshire Tea’s head of marketing Kevin Sinfield about the boom Yorkshire Tea has seen over the last decade.
Well done on the recognition
Yeah, it’s thrown us a bit of a curveball, but a very welcome one. It’s been good. It’s tremendous to be recognised in the list so we’re really excited.
They gave us a heads-up a couple of days before, and it was all amazing really. It’s definitely come as a very pleasant and humbling surprise.
Was it down to YouGov adding you to their list, or is it more than that?
Definitely the interest in the brand has grown a lot. So it’s more than just us picking up the phone to YouGov and asking if we were actually in it. But putting it on their radar means they have gathered feedback throughout the year, and we’ve managed to come out in the top 10 brands.
How has the company grown over the years?
We’re a family-based business that’s still got its home in Harrogate, and Yorkshire Tea is a brand of Taylors of Harrogate, which is the biggest in our portfolio. The brand value at the moment stands at around £78m.
Over the last decade, in the years one to five, we had plenty of distribution opportunities that we were going for. It was really about getting more distribution in major supermarkets.
But once you’ve hit a certain point, those wins become much harder to get. So then we began looking at changing the levels of promotion we did in store and the advertising expenditure.
So how did you pitch that to the company then?
Well we don’t have investors, we’re family-owned, so it’s very much an internal process. But we’d had a fairly good indication through rate of sale and distribution and in terms of the promotions that we wanted to run we were able to model those and show what the potential uplifts could be.
In terms of the marketing investment, it was purely saying “if we want to compete alongside the likes of PG and Tetley then we need to increase our levels of spend to somewhere in that ballpark”.
So we took an icecream van off to America and did lots of epic landscape shots with this little van driving round this huge country. It was symbolic for us really. We’re a family business and we’re up against some of the biggest multinational companies in the world. So it was to get a bit of a sense of that scale as well, with a bit of quirky Yorkshire charm along the way.
What mistakes have you made that you’ve learned from?
I think our advertising in the past was maybe less effective because we played to the category norms about tea rescuing people, or saving the day.
We maybe played up to our own Yorkshire stereotype, which when we were doing research we found that people in Yorkshire didn’t really like, and people outside of the county couldn’t really relate to it.
When we broadened our campaign and made it all about us, and an expression of our values and our beliefs, our passion and our dedication to doing things properly, we feel that that was the real turning point and we’ve just kind of tried to push that on with each campaign that we’ve done.
Was the Tour de France a good opportunity for you?
We still do lots of the little things that we think really communicate the brand personality, so for example, everyone who’s on our mailing list, gets a birthday card every year.
So with the Tour de France we went to the business and said “look, Yorkshire is going to be in the spotlight, across the world, and we should really be a part of this”.
It was an ideal opportunity for us. The celebration of the grand depart, we thought was something we should be part of – a way we could express our values and personality and it was very much that rather than thinking ‘this is going to drive 3% sales growth’.
We were able to distribute nearly half a million sample packs of tea, and got the product into people’s hands in a big scale over three days in a way that we wouldn’t normally be able to do.
It worked fantastically well.
And there’s also your cricket sponsorship
Yeah, one of the key things we’ve done over the last couple of years is partner with the English cricket team. And we really wanted to quash this idea of us being a regional brand, so we were looking for an opportunity to do something on a national scale. This was perfect. The idea of properness and dedication and doing things properly fitted.
There aren’t any other sporting events that stop and take time to have a cup of tea. We thought these two great things could collide and create something fantastic and that’s been a hugely successful partnership for us.
What’s written in the tea leaves for 2016?
We launched our latest campaign in July and since then our sales have grown by 7%. In a declining category we’re well outperforming the category. Black tea has been in long-term volume and value decline for a number of years, so for us to deliver any growth at all is pleasing and really bucking the trend and outperforming the market.
We’re very quickly closing in on Tetley which is the number two brand after PG Tips [in the black tea category].
We’re partnering with England cricket again, we’ve got a new campaign coming as well as a couple of exciting developments that I can’t tell you about…
No, not necessarily Earl Grey, but there’ll be more information in the summer!
The main thing we’ve done over the last 10 years is to not rest on our laurels. We’re still very ambitious and determined to keep growing the brand.