Only Available on the Bottom Shelf, Eh? Pity.

Anyone over 40 will remember Red Rose Tea, for a while in the last century, the quintessential Canadian Tea. Tea so British that the English were disappointed it was not available to them.

If your parents were born in the 60's, you may still be familiar with the brand if you have come across the iconic Wade figurines that were included in packages of Red Rose, starting in 1967. These figurines followed a tradition of premiums including tea cards and even fortune-telling, bone china tea cups at one time.


Through the late 1960's and 70's, these figurines adorned shelves and windowsills. They were the silent loyalty guardians – reminding purchasers that there were more, just like them, waiting to be brought home the next grocery trip. There were two series in Canada: animals and nursery rhyme characters.  Wee Willie Winkle is not a name heard much these days.

In days past, there were two mainstay Canadian tea brands: Red Rose and Salada. The red box or the orange box. The Two Solitudes. Salada would do its thing and include humorous sayings in their boxes and Red Rose included premiums. All was good in the world as Red Rose sat in a comfortable place.

A little too comfortable as it would turn out. Unilever (who also own Lipton and PG Tips brands) bought the brand (for Canada) in 1985 and later bought the Salada brand (1990, also in Canada).

The 1990's saw Tetley and their game-changing round tea bag hit store shelves. And hit airwaves with their little dancing elves.

How did Red Rose respond? For a few years, they brought back the premiums – several series of charming little teapots – then nothing. After all, why bother? When you own the top collection of tea brands in the country, is there really any need to differentiate? Any need to stay close to your roots?

Red Rose and Salada packaging in Canada.

Apparently not. Consolidation was the remedy. Economies of scale.

2013: Quality Tea. Quality Moments Together.™ Not. Even Kidding. Say that out loud. Quali-tee-tee. Such a rich heritage, reduced to meaningless, pedestrian positioning and resplendent sameness within the company's tea category.

How have so many venerable Canadian brands fallen to the wayside over the last quarter-century? Apathy, that's how. Brands bought by behemoths who are not set up to be nimble and adaptable fall into the trap of easy management and cost-efficiency. Earnest brand and category managers who are stretched thin by the drive for shareholder value make decisions that defer the bill for considered brand planning until a massive brand overhaul (and accompanying marketing) is required to regain market share.

In the US, the Red Rose tea blend is different but the premiums live on. In fact, the line extensions are also to be commended  – additional blends, loose tea, flavoured tea, single-serve cups – there are many hooks to grab tea drinkers.

While Red Rose in Canada languishes as a commodity on the second-from-bottom shelf, Red Rose US offers mugs, cups, iced tea pitchers, gift baskets, thermoses, totes and other items for tea fans to show their Red Rose colours through the US Red Rose site. Notice how the brand is deserving its own identity and packaging, separate from the Salada brand which RedCo also owns in the US.

From the outside, it would appear that the Red Rose brand that began in Canada is being better cared for in the US by a US company (RedCo Foods, who also own the Salada brand). Pity.


Red Rose and Salada packaging in the US.