Ask Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee Inc. how it’s doing these days and it will tell you that it’s recovering quite nicely, thank you.
“Like many companies, we had a soft year in 2009, but unlike many others, we’re having an excellent 2010,” reveals Sean Bredt, vice president of Coffee and Allied Products for the Canadian-headquartered company, the leading North American producer of quality private brand products.
How is it that the company is faring better than others? First, it turned a negative into a positive. “The down economy provided us an opportunity to step back and take a hard look at, and then fix, some of the inefficiencies that slowly crept into our business,” relates Bredt. “That helped us lower our costs and become even more competitive.”
Second, Mother Parkers is fortunate in that it purveys a product that possesses a built-in advantage: People simply like and need coffee. As the company points out, consumption has gradually but significantly increased during the past two decades.
Third, new information about coffee’s health benefits – obtained via scientific and medical studies – has boosted its products’ perceived value. “Recent studies related to caffeine consumption – and this includes both coffee and tea beverages – indicate specific health benefits such as increased antioxidant intake and lowered cholesterol levels,” reports Bredt, adding that coffee represents the original energy-boosting beverage, and caffeine is a naturally occurring substance.
In fact, for many people, coffee is the top antioxidant resource in their daily diet, he adds. “And with tea, the health benefits are even broader and deeper, particularly for products such as green tea or white tea,” he observes. “It has been demonstrated that daily consumption of one cup or more over a period of time has a beneficial impact on an individual’s health profile.”
As such, Mother Parkers’marketing team tracks consumer trends to foster new product development. “A phenomenal future is shaping up for coffee and tea and the associated hot and cold beverages,” says Bredt. “They represent a natural way to consume naturally occurring stimulants.”
This points to a fourth element in recovery: innovation, a term now synonymous with the company name. Mother Parkers is an innovator, not only when it comes to product but packaging. “We’ve doubled our efforts toward innovation and become much more competitive in the marketplace,” relates Bredt. “This helped us capture new business in the food service and retail sectors, which now has us growing our top and bottom line at very strong rates. While 2010 is shaping up to be an excellent year, we’re looking at an equally great 2011.”
HERITAGE OF INNOVATION
Established in 1912, Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee developed into one of North America’s largest private label coffee and tea manufacturers, thanks to the Higgins family ever-present commitment to innovation. Indeed, through the years, many innovations in coffee and tea production and packaging emerged from Mother Parkers’ research and development efforts. Consider these milestones: The company made the first freeze-dried instant coffee and the first nitrogen-flushed food service coffee. Also, it was the first to pack instant coffee in plastic jars, made the first microwave coffee bag and was the first company to place a resealable tie on gourmet coffee bags for consumer convenience. Also, in tea production, Mother Parkers was the first to use a high-speed IMA tea-packing machine in its tea production facilities.
Through its commitment to technology and innovation, Mother Parkers can now provide business partners and consumers the highest quality products via time-honored methods of roasting, blending and grinding accomplished at its production facilities. At the same time, it succeeded in delivering the best possible service to its expansive network of distributors, retailers and food-service operators.
The company has two main coffee facilities, in Mississauga, Ontario and Fort Worth, Texas, according to Bredt. The organically certified Mississauga operation is the largest of Mother Parkers’ roasting facilities, and it houses state-of-the-art Probat roasters and cutting-edge control rooms for batch and specialty roasting production. Completely automated, and featuring hands-free production, the facility ensures optimal quality and freshness according to stringent industry values as well as the company’s strict, self-imposed standards.
The Fort Worth operation deploys the most advanced technology and automation in every stage of the production process – from unloading and roasting, to packing and delivery. Also organically certified, the facility features the most advanced control room and Probat deliver and roasting systems. The plant produces a full range of roast and ground coffee products as well as iced tea. The organization’s facilities also include its Ajax, Ontario site, known as Sandra Tea and Coffee. One of North America’s first instant coffee operations, this organically certified plant is now Mother Parkers’ main tea blending and packaging facility. Here, the company produces a variety of traditional black and green teas, as well as an integrated line of herbal teas and infusions. The facility also produces other hot beverages such as hot chocolate and instant cappuccinos.
The company’s Qusac decaffeination facility – which was established in 1996 to satisfy the increasing demand for decaffeinated coffee – positioned Mother Parkers as one of three North American companies possessing direct integrated decaffeinating capabilities. Finally, in 2008, Mother Parkers opened a specialty roasting facility to handle its growing specialty and premium and organic business. “All facilities boast the most modern equipment, which represents the Higgins family’s commitment to consistenly invest back into the business,” comments Bredt.
STEEPED IN TRADITION
Family commitment extends far back. Stafford Higgins established the tradition-rich company in Toronto in 1912 as Higgins & Burke Ltd. Initially the business functioned as a modest-sized wholesale grocery distributor (supplying flour, sugar, coffee, tea and other staples to local food stores and railway and highway work camps). When Higgins’ son Paul came into the business in 1930, he helped develop a product strategy. Two years later, the Mother Parkers brand was born. By the end of the decade, the company’s coffee was the top-selling brand in its region.
Growth proceeded at a steady clip. By 1948, the company purchased land in Toronto, where it built the era’s most modern tea and coffee plant. During the 1950s, and pursuing the demand for instant coffee, the company purchased an 11-acre site in Mississauga (at the time, the most technologically advanced instant coffee plant). Then, as the retail paradigm shifted from corner stores to large supermarket chains – accompanied by the private labeling concept – Mother Parkers soon became a major player in the new and rapidly expanding market. At the same time, the company entered the highly competitive food service industry, serving as a supplier to hotels, restaurants, and institutions.
To keep pace with growth, the company expanded its facilities and made a significant addition to its Mississauga plant, which enabled it to position instant coffee, regular coffee and tea production beneath a single roof. The expanded facility represented North America’s most modern complex.
In 1972, the company opened the instant coffee plant in Ajax. Four years later, it expanded the facility with a 100,000-squarefoot addition that housed its tea facility. As a result, the Mississauga site then focused exclusively on roasted coffee. In 1978, the Higgins family expanded its tea operations when it purchased, from Italy, two of the world’s fastest tea bagging machines (each boasted a 2,500-per-bag-per-minute capacity).
In 1981, the company invested more than $2 million into the purchase of a “brick” coffee packaging machine. Four years later, the company completed a $10 million expansion to the Mississauga roasted coffee plant. This enabled the company to produce all available packaging formats including vacuum cans, brick packs and valve bags, in various sizes.
As the company headed into a new decade, it recognized the need for a quality supplier of private label tea, coffee and instant coffee products in the United States. Mother Parkers assumed that role. In 1992, it once again expanded its business when it opened a U.S. site in Iselin, N.J. and a plant in Amherst, N.Y. As a result, the company became a supplier to eight of the top 10 U.S. food service chains and a supplier of private label products to more than 40 U.S. retail chains.
Meanwhile, technological development continued apace. In 1998, at the Ajax facility, the company installed a new IMA C-2000 tea bagger, the most technologically advanced machine for the production of double-chamber tea bags. That same year, Mother Parkers also launched a new gourmet roasting facility in Mississauga.
Also in 1998, U.S. market success led to continued expansion: The company acquired Tetley USA’s coffee roasting facility in Palisades Park, N.J. Production began under the Mother Parkers’ name in February 1999. A year later, growing customer demand called for more capacity, and this led to the establishment of the Fort Worth state-of-the-art coffee roasting facility and distribution center. The $60 million project boasted the most advanced technology in roasting, grinding, packing, production control and quality control operations. Subsequently, Mother Parkers continued its U.S. expansion by acquiring Savarin, Beech Nut, Martinson and Brown Gold retail brands. In 2003, the company partnered with Alexander Gourmet Imports, a Mississaugabased full-service tea manufacturer that creates, produces and distributes unique tea products on a global basis.
Today, the company serves food service operators and grocery retailers. “We work with most of the major food service chains in North America, and we’re a leader in the convenience retail segment in the United States and Canada,” reports Bredt. “Our business partners are the who’s who in every business segment in which we operate and are the leading name brands for North American consumers. We are the leading North American provider of private label branded solutions in both food service and retail segments.”
But, in the two countries, Mother Parkers is a major presence in all market segments including restaurants (from quick service to high end), OCS and retail. “What has taken place for us in the retail marketplace has been phenomenal,” enthuses Bredt. “We’ve essentially re-launched our business in that area through many innovations, such as moving from tin end to easy peel end and from tin cans to composite cans, among others.”
This culminated in the company winning a sizeable chunk of business from the leading U.S. retailer. “In the past several years, we’ve really been on a roll as far as retail is concerned, we have partnered with four or five new accounts, which has more than doubled our retail volume in the highly competitive U.S. marketplace – and we are not done yet, ” relates Bredt. “Retail has always represented a significant piece of our overall business. We wandered a bit for several years but are now experiencing tremendous growth, due to product and packaging innovation. In the retail marketplace, we address what our customers ask for. When you’ve got the right product, the right packaging and the right price, you’ve got a very competitive offering.”
COMPREHENSIVE PRODUCT LINES
Today, Mother Parkers provides coffee and tea products under well-known brands and offers its own Higgins & Burke Specialty Tea business, the Brown Gold Specialty Coffee brand, and Martinson and Mother Parkers brands of coffee and tea.
The company’s broad selection of coffee blends offer “just roasted” freshness. A completist when it comes to customer solutions, Mother Parkers offers a comprehensive line in a variety of package options. Products include roasted whole bean, roast and ground, certified organic, certified fair trade, flavored, soluble and microwave coffees, as well as espresso pods and single-serve pods. “In terms of this core product, we have one of the widest, if not the widest, selection of coffee and tea capabilities,” observes Bredt.
As far as teas, Mother Parkers blends tradition and innovation to produce a broad selection of quality teas and herbal infusions to meet ever-changing consumer demands. Its tea line includes traditional hot teas, specialty herbal infusions, green teas, iced teas and certified organic and fair trade teas. The company combines its infusions and green tea offerings with various herbs, leaves, roots, dried fruit and flavorings to create unique tastes. Mother Parkers also offers a wide variety of specialty instant beverages that can be served hot or cold, including cappuccinos, lattes and steamers that deliver authentic café flavors.
For its coffees, Mother Parkers uses only the finest quality beans from the world’s leading coffee producing countries. The company gets its fine Arabica beans from Central America, Mexico, Columbia and Costa Rica. Its coffee also comes from Brazil, Kenya, Tanzania and Vietnam. The same focus on quality goes into its teas.
“We are second to none when it comes to business capabilities: our production plants, the quality and variety of the beans, our roasting capabilities, and our packing and packaging capability,” says Bredt. “I doubt that very many players can handle our level of complexity. Also, few companies can provide solutions to clients that are as cost-effective and customized.”
Quality is highly formalized at Mother Parkers. Through the years, the Higgins family continuously invested in this element, and the company is now an industry leader in the science of quality control – from raw material, to QA protocols, finished product and, finally, delivery. “Making good coffee is both an art and a science,” comments Bredt.
Such commitment has earned the company numerous industry quality certifications and several awards.
Quality commitment, product mix and innovation have made Mother Parkers Tea & Coffee the beverage partner of choice for many companies. That’s why the company’s health is as robust as the aroma arising from a great cup of coffee. “The future looks bright for us because we believe that we provide ‘a better beverage solution’ for our business partners and their consumers,” concludes Bredt.