Bigelow CEO Working on Variety, Sustainability
Idaho Business Review | Brad Iverson Long
January 30, 2015
Bigelow Tea, a national company with a plant in Boise, is working hard to create new products and stay ahead of its competitors, its CEO said on a visit to Boise.
CEO and President Cindi Bigelow said her company has to explore new products and release new varieties to stay competitive with larger companies that have tea-selling subsidiaries.
“I need to always make sure I have a portion of our portfolio that’s always really moving,” said Bigelow, who was in Boise Jan. 21 as part of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce’s CEO Speaker Series. The company, based in Connecticut, has a Boise facility that produces one-third of the company’s 1.7 billion teabags per year.
Bigelow Tea has a 23.4 percent share of the tea market, according to a Nielsen report from the end of 2014. That puts it ahead of competitors Celestial Seasonings at 19.3 percent and Twinings at 11.6 percent. It’s also competing against tea brands owned by larger companies like Starbucks and Nestle. But Bigelow also said creating new choices is important because tea drinkers want an array of teas—black, green and herbal—in their cabinets.
“The tea consumer really does love to see variety,” she said. Recent new products launched by Bigelow include an American Breakfast tea, which touts the company’s U.S. ownership and also donates part of its sales to the United Service Organization, which supports American troops and their families. The company has also launched a new ready-to-drink iced tea, though it isn’t yet available in Boise and other western markets.
The company rebranded its products in 2013. Bigelow said that was necessary because the company has launched new teas on-and-off for the past 70 years and they lacked a consistent look.
“You would not believe how many people drink our tea and don’t know they’re drinking Bigelow tea,” she said.
Bigelow Tea was founded 1945 by Cindi Bigelow’s grandmother, Ruth Campbell Bigelow, and Cindi Bigelow is the third generation of Bigelow to run the company. Ruth Campbell Bigelow helped promote the company’s Constant Comment tea, based on an old Colonial tea recipe, by placing a jar of tea leaves near cash registers for customers to smell.
“This little whiffing jar is what put us on the map,” Cindi Bigelow said. Her parents, former co-CEOs Eunice and David Bigelow, still mix nearly all of the company’s Constant Comment tea.
The company has been in Boise since 1983. Cindi Bigelow said her parents picked Boise because it needed a western location for logistical reasons and Boise had a strong workforce. The plant employs 62 people at its Boise plant, said plant manager Tony Greer. Bigelow Tea has about 350 workers in all, Greer said.
Cindi Bigelow said very few companies make it to third-generation family ownership, in part because of management problems. She has run the company since 2005 and said she counsels other family-owned businesses on transferring control to younger generations.
“Sometimes I can’t believe what I’m hearing out of the next generation,” she said.
One of Bigelow’s priorities now is making the company greener environmentally. The company has reformatted its packaging to reduce its use of cardboard and plastic and also diverted most of its waste from landfills. Close to 92 percent of the Boise plant’s waste is diverted from landfills, she said. The company’s other two plants, in Connecticut and Kentucky, keep all their waste out of the landfill. The Connecticut plant has solar panels on its roof and Kentucky plant will get them soon, though Bigelow said there aren’t any plans for Boise yet, in part due to the design of the Boise roof.
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