Without even a single illustration, the plain, orange tea packet that started to appear on grocers’ shelves in 1977 did not look a likely candidate to ignite a consumer revolution.
In army-style lettering redolent of something still on the ration, it proclaimed that it was “blended in Yorkshire to suit Yorkshire people and Yorkshire water”. Hardly anyone outside the Broad Acres even knew of its existence.
But after four decades, and despite a national trend towards trendy frothy coffees, Yorkshire Tea is crowned today as officially Britain’s best-selling brew.
With more than 28 per cent of the market’s value, the beverage that has supplanted ‘terrier’ and ‘pudding’ as the most popular Yorkshire suffix, has overtaken its main rival, PG Tips, in the traditional “black tea” market.
The news was greeted at Pagoda House, the Harrogate office building that is the brand’s global headquarters, with typical understatement.
“We’re very proud but we’re not gloating,” said Andy Brown, managing director of Taylors, the family firm that has been behind the brand since its inauspicious debut.
“We tried to keep it low key. We handed out celebratory mugs and bottles of Prosecco to our staff.”
The news was not entirely a surprise – Yorkshire Tea’s market share had been growing steadily over the last decade and two years ago it passed Tetley, the one-time market leader, with its stereotypical Yorkshire “tea folk”, as the number two brand.
But while the latest milestone, confirmed in the industry’s monthly sales figures, might have been only a matter of time, it had not been a target. “It was never our objective to become the number one brand. We set out to be a brand with some purpose behind it, and we’ve grown by staying true to our values and doing things properly. Becoming number one is an outcome of that,” said Mr Brown.
“The theory was always to build and produce, and the drinkers would come.”
Yorkshire Tea’s market share was still in single figures when he joined the business, but increased distribution across the country, and advertising campaigns that played up the county’s virtues struck a chord with consumers.
As awareness of Yorkshire itself was heightened among people who knew it only as a name on a map, the firm found it was pushing at an open door.
“Everything that organisations like Welcome to Yorkshire have done – the Tour de France, that kind of thing – has given Yorkshire a higher profile nationally,” Mr Brown said.
“When we launched Yorkshire Tea in Australia about five years ago, people could see that it was English and quaint but they had no idea about the county.
“Now we’re a reasonable size brand over there and the familiarity with the county because of cricket, cycling and TV programmes, is enormous.”
The brand has had a long relationship with cricket in particular, having sponsored the England team for several years. But its packaging – which has come a long way since the utilitarian orange box of the 1970s – no longer features as prominently the batsman in his traditional whites, nor the shepherd with his dog and crook that were once its signatures. Now, a rolling Dales landscape, with a stile over a dry stone wall, is what represents the county.
Meanwhile, a new generation of tea drinking “evangelists” on social media had helped spread the word, said Dom Dwight, Yorkshire Tea’s marketing director. But it was the authenticity of a family firm based in the county that had resonated most, he added.