PG Tips Quietly Discontinue Their Pyramid Bags

Those of a certain vintage will remember when PG Tips, the tea manufacturer, released their pyramid teabags, saying that the design allowed for a better brewing of the leaves. The design lasted for years before the company eventually decided to go back to the more typical rectangular-shaped bags. It left consumers pondering exactly what the truth was, given the fact that they had spent years believing that they were getting a better brew by opting for the pyramid bag. The question that was at the forefront of most people’s minds was whether or not they had been lied to or whether there was actually a difference in brewing.

The Pyramid ‘Revolution’

PG Tips PyramidBrooke Bond was an independent tea-trading and manufacturing company in the United Kingdom that decided to launch the PG Tips brand in the 1930s. Back then it was known as Pre-Gestee, a variation of the original name of ‘Digestive Tea’. The idea was that it would be drunk before food as a digestive aid, with salesmen and grocers soon abbreviating it to ‘PG’. In the wake of the Second World War, new rules meant that tea could no longer be labelled as a digestive aid, so by the start of the 1950s the PG name had been adopted entirely. The word ‘Tips’ was added on account of just the top two leaves and bud of the plant were used.

In 1985, the company launched PG Tags, which were tea bags with a string that you could pull in order to strain out more of the tea’s flavour. It was 11 years later when the tetrahedron-shaped bags were launched under the label of ‘Pyramid Bags’. The sales pitch said that the shape allowed the leaves to move more freely, following the manner in which loose leaves would move around a tea pot. The notion was that it would create a better infusion, with a 2011 version of the bags claiming:

The PG Tips pyramid tea bag gives the tea leaves 50% more room to move around than a flat conventional tea bag. So the tea bag works more like a miniature teapot. This allows for all the freshness to be released for the best-tasting cup of PG.

The move was seen as something of a revolution for the tea industry, which had sold their bags in rectangular shapes pretty much from the moment that they were first launched. In spite of this, no other company followed the lead of PG Tips, keeping the old-style bags rather than looking to make the switch to a pyramid shape instead. Whether this was because the company owned the rights to that shaped tea bag or other tea manufacturers simply didn’t feel that they made any sort of difference isn’t clear. What we do know is that the pyramid-shaped bag remained PG Tips’ go-to shape for more than 27 years.

Selling PG Tips

PG Tips logoIn 1984, Unilever bought Brooke Bond as the multinational fast-moving consumer goods business looked to strengthen its grip on the UK market. It was a deal worth around £390 million and was the company’s first successful takeover. In the nearly four decades that followed, the habits of British drinkers slowly but surely began to change. In 2020, Unilever essentially hung a ‘For Sale’ sign around the tea side of its business, citing the fact that younger people preferred to drink coffee or herbal teas, whilst older tea drinkers were dying off. This resulted in a drop-off of the sale of black tea in general for the company.

As a result, Unilever chose to sell Ekaterra, its tea business, in a deal worth in the region of £3.8 billion. As well as PG Tips, the sale also included the Pukka brand, which Unilever had bought four years earlier. It was bought by CVC Capital, a private equity firm that saw off the interest of similar firms in order to make the acquisition. It was seen as an opportunity to take the tea market to its ‘full potential’, with PG Tips having once been the nation’s favourite tea only to lose that tag to Twinings. One of CVC Capitals first moves was to rebrand Ekaterra Tea to become Lipton Teas and Infusions at the start of 2023.

The PG Tips Relaunch

PG Tips boxPG Tips as a brand has known its fair share of controversy over the years, such as in 2015 when it emerged that the pyramid tea bags were reducing the amount of tea per bag whilst staying the same price. Early in 2023, tea drinkers began complaining that the company’s famous pyramid bags, which had been changed in order to make them biodegradable, were breaking easily and sending tea leaves into the mug, making it difficult to drink. In other words, whoever has owned PG Tips over the years has not been afraid to make some controversial calls if it was felt that doing so would be necessary for a better brew.

The decision to change the nature of its tea bags in 2023 came about following two years’ worth of development as well as more than £50 million of investment. The major driving force behind the redesign of the bags was research that showed that the majority of people allow their tea to brew for less than 30 seconds, which is nowhere near the 3-4 minutes recommended by the British Tea Council. The blenders at PG Tips came up with a new tea that was aimed at those who spend a lot less time brewing their team than they should with the redesign apparently including a new bag that would work better than the pyramid.

The new bag, they said, is the optimum size to allow the leaves to infuse rapidly, yet being compact enough to stop it from folding in on itself and therefore limiting the infusion. The tea, meanwhile, is of the correct particle size in order to move freely around the bag and therefore allow for quick and constant brewing. The General Manager of PG Tips UK & Ireland, Liam McNamara, said:

PG Tips is one of the best known and best-loved drinks brands in the country and by far the best-known tea. However, our tea-drinking habits and tastes are evolving. With that in mind, our expert tea-blenders have spent two years developing a new and better blend that delivers high quality taste to tea lovers. Our new PG Tips blend means consumers can expect a quicker infusion and a brighter, smoother, more consistent cup of tea that is full of flavour every single time, even for the nation’s impatient tea-drinkers. We hope our new PG Tips inspires a fresh perspective with every sip, because it’s our most perfect, full-bodied and refreshing blend ever.

So Was It All a Lie?

The obviously question, then, is whether the original sales pitch from PG Tips about the pyramid bag allowing for a better brew was actually just a lie. If it wasn’t, is the switch the square-shaped bag that has happened as part of the redesign a lie? It is also possible, of course, that no lie was told during the making of this tea and instead it is just a matter of changes being made to fit in with the modern world. It is obviously not easy to tell for sure, but what we can do is look at what happened when the Advertising Standards Authority looked into complaints about the claim by PG Tips back in 2014.

The ASA is the advertising watching and doesn’t stand for it when a company makes a claim in order to sell its product that turns out to be a lie. When Tata Global Beverages, the company behind Tetley Tea, complained to the body about PG Tips’ adverts, the ASA stepped in. Tetley’s claim was that the advert, which showed a pyramid bag brewing more efficiently than a standard one, was exaggerated and would therefore be misleading to viewers. The Advertising Standards Authority looked into it and chose to side with PG Tips saying:

We considered consumers would interpret the visual demonstration to be a representation of a simple consumer experiment and would not interpret it as a representation of a detailed scientific test. We considered consumers would interpret the demonstration to mean that, in general, a pyramid tea bag was more efficient at brewing tea than a round tea bag. Unilever provided test results which showed that the infusion of tea, at 40 seconds and two minutes into brewing, was greater when using a pyramid tea bag than when using a round tea bag. We therefore concluded that the ad did not exaggerate the capability and performance of the advertised product and was not misleading.

In other words, PG Tips had not lied all those years ago when they said that you would get a better brew using a pyramid-shaped bag. The question then becomes about why it is that the company has decided to abandon its previous shape in favour of a square tea bag. We obviously aren’t far enough down the line yet to have seen the likes of Tetley complain and the ASA investigate, but it is likely that PG Tips are instead just reacting to the market’s demands. After all, if people really aren’t brewing their tea for as long then it makes sense to try to change the way that tea bags infuse to allow their cuppas to taste how they are meant to.

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