Tea time

Halssen & Lyon has continued its legacy of innovation, scooping two awards for its teatogo take-away tea product

Located in the warehouse district of Hamburg, Halssen & Lyon is arguably the world’s most revered tea trading firm. Its history, which dates back to 1879, is steeped with examples of innovation that are responsible for shaping the sector today. To illustrate, the company was the first to produce decaffeinated tea when production started in 1935. Further examples include the production of instant tea, which began in 1959, and the flavouring of tea leaves, which was introduced to the market in 1967.
Halssen & Lyon Issue 4 2008 c
The company has established a worldwide reputation over its 100 plus years in the tea sector, for both quantity and quality of produce. Halssen and Lyon offers its customers a number of choices, including green and black tea, fruit and herbal infusions, flavoured and decaffeinated, a plethora of speciality and organic options as well as tea extract. The abundant nature of the company’s product portfolio is, according to chief executive officer, Dietmar Scheffler, what truly sets it apart from the competition. “We are the only company in the world that covers all aspects of tea,” he says “Whereas most of our competitors tend to specialise in either speciality or mass market, in either black and green teas or herbals, in either leaf teas or tea extracts, we employ specialists for all facets of the product. Our motto is ‘the world of teas under one roof.”

Elaborating on the growth and forward thinking that has characterised the operations of Halssen and Lyon to date, Dietmar continues: “The company has always been family run, and is currently in its fourth generation. It began with the import of black tea, which led to export shortly thereafter. With each generation the tea sector has expanded and become more diverse, so the operations have become more complex. But what has always remained is an entrepreneurial and innovative spirit.

“The father of today’s owners built the world’s first instant tea factory in Sri Lanka almost 50 years ago, with the vision of producing fully soluble tea powder from the finest tea gardens. He was thinking ahead of his time because there wasn’t a market for the product, but that came with the popularity of ice tea some 30 years later. The facility still remains as one of the very best technical sites for the production of tea extracts. It is a fine example of the spirit that ran through the leaders of the company then, and is still prevalent now.”

One of its most recent concepts, the ‘teatogo’ take-away tea creation, was acknowledged in April this year at the inaugural Coffee Innovation Awards. Fighting off tough competition, the design was nominated as the winner in the ‘crossover to tea’ category. It was the product’s second award, having already won the much sought-after prize at the WorldStar Packaging Awards. The system, which is covered by a worldwide patent, is a unique concept that guarantees easy handling and high-quality tea. Teatogo combines a double chamber lid with a matching tea bag containing premium leaves, which fits on mugs or paper cups. Once a customer pulls the tag into the lid, the bag is removed from the liquid and brewing is completed, with the main advantage being the lack of mess, as the teabag is dispensed with the cup once the beverage is finished.Halssen & Lyon Issue 4 2008 b

As Dietmar explains, the concept is a direct result of a poor tea drinking experience suffered by one of the company’s employees. “Three of our staff were in a well-known coffee shop chain in New York, with two ordering coffees while the other had had a tea. The tea drinker was given what was basically a cup of lukewarm water with a teabag in it, which wasn’t amusing. From that we came up with the idea to develop a concept that would make high-quality tea readily available in such shops or convenience stores. It fills a gap that certainly exists in the market; when five friends visit a coffee house, at least one will be a tea drinker. They pay the same price but are given a cheap tea bag, they must feel like being cheated – that is why we have developed teatogo.”

It is a clear illustration of the visionary nature of the business; one that has kept Halssen and Lyon at the forefront of a market that Dietmar believes is progressing at a faster rate than ever before. “The sector has moved and developed more quickly in the last decade than in the previous 100 years,” he comments. “There are opportunities to expand but the company has to be very knowledgeable to take full advantage of them. The real secret to success, both now and in the future, is having the ability to differentiate between trends that will come and go, and the long-term drivers and products that will shape the market for years to come.”

It is an ability that the organisation has shown in abundance since its foundation. It currently holds prominent market positions in the lucrative tea markets of Germany, Austria and France, and is increasing its presence in the Eastern European sector year-on-year. The company also believes that it can significantly increase its activity in countries where tea originated from, such as India and China; exciting times indeed. Looking forward, Dietmar concludes: “In the coming five years we’ll be pushing for healthy growth through strengthening partnerships with companies who we feel can complement us. We will develop through a combination of these relationships and the continuation of the innovative approach, for which we are known. The goal is also to stay independent, as it is a clear advantage over others who are governed by multi-nationals. We believe that tea is not a commodity but a philosophy.”