Survey data published by market research company Mintel suggests that UK consumers are falling out of love with tea-drinking as other beverages such as coffee, herbal, fruit and speciality teas become increasingly popular.

Sales of standard tea bags have fallen by 16% over the past two years, Mintel said, while sales of loose tea have dropped by 9%. However, sales of herbal and fruit teas increased by 30% between 2002 and 2004.

"The traditional English cuppa is fighting a real battle, against coffee as a hot beverage and against increasing competition from tea alternatives such as soft drinks, bottled water and fruit juice," said Ellen Shiels, senior market analyst at Mintel, adding that the tea industry needs to adopt a more modern image.

"Traditional tea has maintained a relatively staid image and is now competing with more exotic and healthier herbal tea options. There is a need by manufacturers to make traditional tea more of a fashionable beverage," Shiels added.

The market research company reported that total tea sales fell by around 12% over the five-year period to 2004, reaching GBP623m (US$1.1bn) last year. However, the value decline had been exacerbated by price discounting.

Mintel, which surveyed some 25,000 consumers between 2002 and 2004, still found that almost 80% of the UK public drink tea. However, while that figure rises to 85% for people aged 65 and over, it drops to just 72% in the 15- to 24-year-old age bracket.