Unilever buys up Bristol-based tea company Pukka Herbs

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PG Tips owner Unilever is upping its bet on the rise of herbal teas by snapping up Bristol-based Pukka Herbs for an undisclosed sum.

It gives the consumer giant a stronger foothold in the global herbal, fruit and green tea market, estimated to be worth around EUR1.6 billion (£1.46 billion).

Unilever - which did not disclose the terms of the deal - championed the brand in its announcement, saying it had just snapped up the "fastest growing organic tea company".

Pukka, founded in 2001, reported a turnover of over £30 million in its last financial year, with annual turnover rising around 30% in each of the last three years.

President of Unilever's refreshment category Kevin Havelock said: "The acquisition strengthens our tea business, addressing a gap in our portfolio.

"Pukka is a premium player in the natural, organic, health and wellness segment which is fast-growing, attractive and scalable. We look forward to bringing Pukka to even more consumers."

The company said Pukka will be managed separately from Unilever, with co-founders Tim Westall and Sebastian Pole remaining at the helm.

Pukka management also assured the tea firm would maintain its ethical roots.

Mr Pole said: "Pukka will remain true to its values - 100% organic, a B Company, a champion for fair trading through pioneering schemes like Fair For Life, and we will continue to donate 1% of sales to global environmental charities annually."

Tea bag in cup
PG Tips owner Unilever says Pukka will continue to be managed separately from the company (PA)

The acquisition expands Unilever's tea portfolio, which already includes the likes of PG Tips and Lyons.

Unilever shares were slightly higher following the acquisition announcement, up 0.5% or 23.5p at 4,520.5p.

Earlier this summer, the company reported a 27% rise in pre-tax profits for the first half of 2017 to EUR4.6 billion (£4.2 billion) up from EUR3.6 billion (£3.3 billion) the year before.

Unilever - which also owns Marmite and Pot Noodle - said underlying sales rose 3% over the period, with sales - excluding its spreads business - expanding by 3.4%.

It flagged weak consumer demand across Europe, noting a slowdown in the margarine market in the UK and Germany knocking overall growth.

The Anglo-Dutch firm, which employs 169,000 people worldwide, announced in April that it would offload some of its best-known brands - including Flora and Stork - after fending off a $143 billion (£109 billion) takeover attempt from Kraft Heinz.

It plans to sell or de-merge its underperforming spreads business, which could yield up to £6 billion.