Barry’s or Lyons: What Ireland’s different tea camps can tell us about branding

While Brexit’s Remainers and Leavers might be taking up the bulk of the airwaves currently, it doesn’t come close to the eternal debate that has been raging in Ireland for years. That of whether Barry’s or Lyons make the best cuppa!

Ireland is the second largest tea drinking nation, per capita, in the world. And although supermarket shelves are stocked to the brim with multiple different tea brands, it’s Barry’s and Lyons that have the biggest market share in the country. What’s more, these two brands have captured people’s social imagination in a big way.

A brief history of Ireland’s two tea giants

Barry’s Tea, one of the gifts Cork has bestowed on the world, came about thanks to rationing. Until then, Ireland was importing most of the tea consumed within the country through the London Tea Market. In 1941, rationing was declared and Ireland lost 75% of its tea supply overnight.

The Minister for Supplies, Sean Lemass, responded immediately by setting up Irish Tea Importers Ltd. Much of the tea imported by this new enterprise came from Kenya, and other African countries, whereas the tea being imported from London was mainly of Sri Lankan and Indian origin.

It turned out that the African tea leaves blended perfectly with Irish water. A cup of golden liquid was the result of the chemistry between the two, and an authentic Irish brand emerged.

The Lyons Tea brand began life in the shadows of Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin. Started by the J. Lyons family, the tea blend was originally sold through the tea shops the family owned. Shortly afterwards, the company started exporting their tea to the UK and other parts of the world. Today, Lyons Tea is the number one tea brand in Ireland.

Authentically Irish brands – is heritage everything?

It’s clear from these brief histories that both Barry’s and Lyons are heritage brands in Ireland.

As such, both brands have a long and proud history to look back on. But does heritage account for the full story of why Irish people hold these two brands in such affection?

There’s no doubt that longevity plays some role when it comes to building a brand. A cup of Barry’s or Lyons tea has no doubt been around through many generations of Irish families. Whether it’s a cup of tea during a mealtime, or a quick one catching up with a friend, it’s likely that these two tea brands have been part of the stories of our lives.

That said, there’s more to branding than just being around for a long time.

To build a strong brand, one that people take to their hearts, you need to understand what it is about your product or service that your customers value.

I recently spoke to The Sunday Times about how a brand should be treated as a bridge between a company and its customers.

One of the examples I shared was how Avoca overcame the challenges of the last recession.

By all rational explanations, Avoca probably shouldn’t have survived the (almost) complete annihilation of Irish people’s disposable income. However, by communicating successfully through its brand that some things are important, such as time with loved ones, the brand came through the financial meltdown with flying colours. Avoca essentially said, “yes, you can get scones cheaper elsewhere, but it’s important to us that you enjoy the experience.”

Barry’s and Lyons have also understood the connection between their product (tea) and their customers.

It’s not just a hot beverage at midday with a biscuit (and what biscuit makes the ideal dunking companion is a whole other debate). Instead, a cup of tea provides an opportunity to emotionally connect with a person’s Irishness and reinforce identity (in the best Irish tradition,  there’s humour and seriousness in the meaning around being a Barry’s or Lyons tea drinker).

Connecting with your customer

Both Barry’s and Lyons have capitalised on the cultural aspect of their brands. This shows a two-way conversation between themselves and their customers.

For example, Lyons, understanding how seriously the Irish take their tea drinking, commissioned a survey last year to really analyse Ireland’s tea drinking habits.

The result was a highly engaging piece of research that explored how Ireland’s counties take their tea.

If ever we wanted to know who brews their tea for the longest time, well, now we do. Kildare. Longford drinks the milkiest cup of tea. Residents of Offaly make the sweetest cup of tea and Sligo natives make the strongest.

This was a clever tactic since much of the Barry’s/Lyons debate centres around Dublin and Cork. By surveying the whole country, Lyons brought an inclusiveness to the tea debate.

Anne Marie Finucane, Lyons Tea Brand Manager, said, “Research shows that the provinces of Ireland have different personali-teas and at Lyons Tea, we know the importance of making the tea drinking experience a personal one.”

Barry’s Tea knows that Irish people are famous for travelling with some of their preferred tea bags when they go on holiday. In fact, Barry’s Tea is even making its way to Japan for the Rugby World Cup. Sharing stories like this shows how intrinsic Barry’s Tea is to Irish modern day culture.

What it takes to build a brand

We recently shared a post on the two sides to the branding coin. To build a strong brand, you need to get the technical and social elements working in tandem.

Barry’s and Lyons are two classic examples of how to do this well. By building, and maintaining, a consistent relationship with their customers, these two tea brands have come to represent more than just tea.

So #teamBarry’s or #teamLyons? Ah, now that’s the question! Think I’ll make a brew and think it over.