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Small package, big advantages

Some tea purveyors are avoiding price increases by downsizing packages. Tetley USA is starting smaller, but thinking big. Since late last year, the Shelton, CT, company has been selling a series of eight Tetley® specialty, green and herbal teas in a 20-bag canister that it expects will result in several competitive advantages. The round canister, made to an approximately 3-in. dia, holds circular, tagless tea bags. Tetley dubs it the "new fresh can" prominently on label copy; an ink-jet code on its base suggests a two-year shelf life. This is easy to accept. The canister and tea bags are produced in England through the marketer's parent, the Tetley Group, a Tata enterprise, to exacting specifications.

All canister components are made by Sonoco Products Co. (www.sonoco.com). The body is a double-ply paperboard consisting of 375-micron and 500-micron recycled board with a lacquered, 90-g/m2 paper label, offset-printed in up to six colors. The metal end is tinplate with a tin coating and an external lacquer. A coated aluminum foil/paper liner has integral pull-tab seals on the other end. The low-density polyethylene friction-fit closure preserves the tea's freshness after the consumer removes the liner.

To date, there are eight Tetley teas in the 20-bag canister. The specialty teas are English Breakfast, Earl Grey and Chai, plus a honey lemon green tea. The fruit and herbal teas, all caffeine-free, are Orange/Peach and Rooibus with vanilla and pear flavorings, Natural Chamomile and Pure Peppermint. Not only are the teas differentiated by label design, done internally by Tetley, but also by color coding of the closures, simplifying shelf stocking.

Though it's still too early to predict a roaring success, "initial feedback from retailers has been very positive," Packaging Digest learns from Dana Johnson, senior vp and general manager of Tetley USA. "We've also been receiving very encouraging consumer responses" following initial sales in supermarkets in the Washington-Baltimore area, he adds.

Since that time, the canisters are starting to show up in other parts of the northeast and as far south as Florida.

The canister is an addition to the cartoned Tetley teas in these locations, Johnson says, and adds to the total facings within a given store. Their compactness serves as a distinct advantage in this kind of situation.

"At the same time, the twenty-count package puts us in a situation of having a quantity that is logical without downsizing our cartons and keeping our pricing competitive," he notes. "In the specialty tea area, some companies have been reducing their packages to sixteen and eighteen counts. So this canister is very useful from several merchandising perspectives."

Another one of these is the introductory mailing targeted at tea drinkers, using the 20-bag canisters to demonstrate the freshness of the teas, the faster infusion through ultra-porous paper and the reclosure.

Johnson explains the rationale: "It's sturdy enough to survive the handling through a direct-mail approach, it's a nice size for a sample, and it's an attractive pack" from a consumer's perspective.

Compactness is part of its point-of-sale appeal. At just over 3 in. high, the canister becomes an easy take-along for consumers who are traveling.

In addition to variety-specific descriptions of each tea under the copy line "Simply a Better Cuppa Tea™," on the canister's label, a separate, interactive box solicits comments by thanking the consumer and providing an 800-number and an e-mail address.

The filled canisters are shipped to the U.S. from Tetley Group's manufacturing/ packaging facility in Eagelscliffe, eastern Yorkshire. The line combines engineering ingenuity following "expensive and complicated equipment proposals from two potential suppliers," Tetley factory technical manager Russell Sturman informs PD.

The solution is built around a tea-bagging machine already in use, made by IMA (www.ima.it), featuring two-up filling at 90 bags/min. With this machine, stacked tea bags feed through twin collation tubes sized to process the round tea bags. Engineers designed a conveyor delivering empty canisters two at a time to a cross pusher that moves them under the collation tubes.

"We approached Sonoco," Sturman explains, "for a contact on a machine supplier for equipment to close the canisters. That supplier, Eurocan [www.eurocanltd.com], suggested that we purchase canisters with the membrane and lid already in place, fill the canisters from the bottom, then apply the metal base to the canisters." So Tetley had Sonoco provide the canisters with the liners and closures in place.

Integrated into the line after the filling phase is a seaming machine acquired from Eurocan, which reconditioned and modified the equipment for Tetley's needs.

Designed originally for metal cans, the seamer is the Carnaud Metal Box (www.carnaudmetalboxengineering.com) Model 334CRS. A rotary, turret-style machine, it double-seams between the steel base and the canister's flange.

Also necessitated by the canister's adoption is the installation of automated depalletization equipment, since the canisters are supplied inverted on pallets and are separated by slipsheets. This machine, supplied by BHL (www.bhl-uk.com), transfers canisters from pallets directly to the conveyor for air rinsing prior to filling.

Apart from that, the line's other functions are checkweighing on Mettler-Toledo (http://uk.mt.com) equipment, bottom-coding with a Series A small-character ink-jet printer from Domino Amjet (www.domino amjet.com) and reinversion prior to manual packoff.

The dedicated packaging line is adequate for present demands, since the canister was sold for more than a year in the U.K. and Canada before its U.S. debut. Growing demand may change that.

Dana Johnson suggests that as demand grows on these shores, Tetley may add some specialty and herbal teas to the mix.

That may make the small canisters the next big thing.


More information is available:
BHL, 44 1942 405300. www.bhl-uk.com.
Carnaud Metal Box, 44 1274 846200. www.carnaudmetalboxengineering.com.
Domino Amjet, 800/444-4512. www.dominoamjet.com.
Eurocan, 44 1903 810110. www.eurocanltd.com.
IMA North America, 215/826-8500. www.ima.it.
Mettler-Toledo, 800/638-8537.

http://uk.mt.com.

Sonoco Products Co., 800/576-6626. www.sonoco.com.
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