Lipton is one of the world's best-known and best-selling brands of both hot leaf and ready-to-drink tea.
Today, Lipton represents around 10 percent of the world market for tea (in retail value terms) with the key pillar brands:
Under the slogan “direct from the tea gardens to the tea pot”, this entrepreneurial businessman wanted to make tea a popular and approachable drink for everyone – with a high quality but reasonably priced product. The Lipton business was acquired by consumer goods company Unilever in a number of separate transactions, starting with the purchase of the US and Canadian Lipton business in 1938 and completed in 1972 when Unilever bought the remainder of the global Lipton business.
In 1991, Unilever created a first joint venture with PepsiCo, the Pepsi Lipton Partnership, for the marketing of ready to drink (bottled and canned) teas in North America. this was followed by a second joint venture, Pepsi-Lipton International (PLI) in 2003, covering many non-US markets. PLI was expanded in September 2007 to include a number of large European markets. Both PepsiCo and Unilever control 50% of the shares of these joint ventures.
Due to the 2008 Chinese milk scandal crisis, food giant Unilever started recalling its Lipton milk tea powder in both Hong Kong and Macau on 30 September 2008. The tea powder which used Chinese milk powder as its raw ingredient after the company's internal checks found traces of melamine in the powder.
Compared to other tea brands, Lipton has always had a strong focus on innovation, given its continuous launch of both leaf tea and ready to drink tea products. Products target the mass market and are generally positioned in the middle of the price spectrum for tea. Due to its size, Lipton is also a dominant player in tea expertise in the world. The company employs professionals in tea growing, tasting, buying, blending as well as Research & Development teams. Unilever/Lipton owns tea estates in Kenya and Tanzania, making it one of the few companies that is actively involved in the whole value chain of tea, from growing it to marketing it.
Like most branded teas, Lipton teas are a blend selected from many different plantations around the world, from well-known producing countries like India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and China. Lipton Yellow Label is blended from as many as 20 different teas in specialized tasting rooms in seven regional hubs scattered all over the world.
Apart from black leaf teas (with the long-standing Lipton Yellow Label brand), the company also markets a large range of other varieties, both in leaf tea as well as ready-to-drink format. These include green teas, black flavoured teas, (herbal) infusions, Lipton Linea (a 'slimming tea') in Europe and Lipton Milk Tea in various Asian markets. Apart from Lipton Ice Tea, none of their products are available for retail in the UK. Here, only caterers are supplied.
In a number of markets, including Japan, Russia and Australia, the company is advertising the benefits of theanine (which is naturally present in its teas), which is said to have psychoactive properties.
Lipton's own plantations in East Africa — in Kenya (Kericho) and Tanzania (Mufindi) — and third-party tea estates have been working together since 2002 to ensure compliance with the Unilever sustainable agriculture guidelines and the Ethical Tea Partnership criteria. The plantations were recognized by the Global Business Coalition for their fight against AIDS in 2006.
In May 2007, Unilever became the first company to commit to sourcing all its tea in a sustainable manner.. Toward that end, the company asked the Rainforest Alliance, an international environmental NGO, to start certifying tea estates in East Africa. Lipton and its parent company, Unilever, announced they aim to have all Lipton Yellow Label tea bags sold in Western Europe certified by 2010 and all Lipton tea bags sold globally by 2015. Lipton's own tea estates were among the first to be certified. In February 2008, a new advertising campaign was launched in various countries in Western Europe to announce the use of Rainforest Alliance certified tea in its flagship product, Lipton Yellow Label.