By Jamie Siebrase | Dec 14, 2015
Publicly traded (NASDAQ: HAIN)
Employees: about 300
When Mo Siegel and a small group of passionate individuals began harvesting herbs in the foothills in the 1960s, they had no idea they were casually building one of the most iconic tea companies in the U.S. With their blends of local herbs, these founders introduced a new product to consumers -- one that, decades later, remains relevant and renowned in an overcrowded market.
Prior to Celestial Seasonings' inception, tea had traditionally been done with black leaves, explains Ziegert. The founding team ditched the humdrum, and combined herbs -- chamomile, spearmint, and lemongrass -- to create "the iconic teas we're known for today, such as Sleepytime, which is still our number one seller in the specialty tea category," Ziegert says.
The manufacturing process was simple back then: Individuals used tablespoons to hand-measure herbs into loose leaf bulk boxes that were sold out of the back of VW Buses around Boulder. Very quickly, the teas gained regional and then national traction, and today, Celestial Seasonings makes 1.6 billion cups of tea annually, and sells its products in 40 countries worldwide.
From Sleepytime and Red Zinger, the $100 million dollar brand has mushroomed to include 90 varieties, and attracts around 140,000 visitors to its manufacturing facility annually for a free tour and samples.
It's a brand that might have been derailed in the mid-'80s, when Celestial Seasonings was purchased by Kraft Foods and almost sold to Lipton. Ultimately, though, the company landed back under local ownership, and it 2000 it merged with Hain Food Group to form the Hain Celestial Group -- a partnership that's been a much better fit.
"Hain," Ziegert explains, "is a fantastic organization of like-minded brands focused on natural products that are better for consumers and better for the earth. It's great being part of a larger corporation that shares our same focus."
Better products start with better ingredients, and some of Celestial Seasonings' are still wild-crafted and harvested by individuals in their natural environment.
Today, the company also sources ingredients from around the world, and works directly with suppliers. "In some instances," Ziegert says, "we're working with third-generation farmers." Quality standards are unmatched, he adds: "Seventy percent of all submissions we receive are rejected for not meeting our standards."
Local manufacturing also gives Celestial Seasonings an upper hand; all bagged teas are still processed in Boulder. In fact, about half of the ingredients Celestial Seasonings purchases arrive in whole, uncut form, and the company has honed its own milling process.
Many of the founding principles still guide the company. "What amazes me," says Ziegert, "is how visionary the founders were."
Long before anybody talked about sustainability and corporate responsibility, Celestial Seasonings had established a practice whereby its individual tea bags weren't overwrapped in plastic. "That simple process saves 3.5 million pounds of packaging material from going into landfills annually," Ziegert says.
Some packaging material is necessary, of course, and, the folks at Celestial Seasonings found a way to make waste more meaningful, adding to boxes commissioned original oil paintings and thoughtful quotes in order to deliver a total tea drinking experience.
It's this sort of innovation that has supported exponential growth. Celestial Seasonings is still the leader in herbal teas, and it has expanded into green, black and chai varieties, too, as well as organic teas. Beyond the bag, Celestial Seasonings responds to customer demands by, for example, making K-Cups and Kombucha.
"It's widely recognized that Boulder is the epicenter of the natural and organic food industry as it exists today," says Ziegert. "Being from Colorado, we've maintained a great relationship with that."
Challenges: The folks at Celestial Seasonings don't perceive challenges. Everything, says Ziegert, is another opportunity. And, the biggest one currently is "to continue to innovate with the Celestial brand, and ensure we are meeting consumer expectations in all that we do," he adds, offering, "The tea usage occasion is changing, and with that we intend to evolve the brand with high-quality products that have a wide variety of flavors."
Opportunities: See above.
Needs: Celestial Seasonings is always looking for people with great ideas that'll help drive the company forward while matching its core values.