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Douwe Egberts and Pickwick too.

Douwe Egberts and Pickwick Too

Adri Siemonsma is a Dutchman who knows something about tea - appropriate enough as the department he manages at Douwe Egberts' sprawling complex in Joure, the Netherlands, is responsible for the buying and blending of about 7,000 tons of tea each year. Siemonsma and his colleagues in the DE Tea Buying Department - a lean, 12 member department that also includes Thijs Kramer, senior tea buyer, and Ale Wuite, senior blender - are sourcing the highly complex blend requirements of the Pickwick line of teas, a family of some 20 blends that is retail market leader in the Netherlands and Belgium. Pickwick holds about 70% of the Dutch market, where 9000 tons are consumed annually. In Belgium, a national market of 1,350 tons in 1989, the brand accounts for 50% of tea sales. In addition to the Netherlands markets, Pickwick has been gaining a wider international reputation as well, with particularly strong positioning in Denmark where the rapid expansion of teabag consumption spurs the market forward.

According to Adri Siemonsma, his department is responsible for about 3% of all Western European tea purchases, and a full 12% of "Continental" purchasing. Guiding rules for tea at Douwe Egberts: provide a top-quality mass market product, ensure blend consistency and continuity, aim for flexibility and independence in blend resources, promote stable consumption and growth through product innovation.

DE is active on tea buying markets worldwide, but has traditional interests in East African teas, particularly from Kenya, and the teas of Indonesia, North India and Sri Lanka (the last especially for the Pickwick line of quality teas). Tea reception is based on a strict system of tasting, in Joure. Siemonsma explains that he and his team are tasting all buying samples, and all lots at shipping, plus a 10% random test tasting when the teas come in to the warehouse. Including blend trials, this means that the department is tasting up to 150 samples every day. Siemonsma, who has worked with Douwe Egberts teas for 20 years, tries in person to taste all the teas at shipment, as well as sitting on the taste panel - a group of seven professionals - which reviews blends for quality control and product development.

Some 90% of the DE tea purchases arrive in full container loads. The chests are warehoused in the company's own specialized Joure tea warehouse, where as many as 24,000 chests can be stored. The warehousing system is also being adapted to allow for efficient handling of tea in sacks. This trove of tea is fed - most carefully - into a highly sophisticated blending and packaging facility that is virtually always in a state of flux as it responds to expanding markets and new product demands. During the past decade, the changes related first to the continued boom in teabag usage, followed in the mid 80's by the swift evolution in flavored teas. Teabags represent 90% of the Pickwick production. Flavored teas (almost all in teabags) are continuing to grow in sales, and already account for 10% of the company's tea business.

The good business of tea employs 200 people at the DE Joure plant, and keeps an army of up to 100 Constanta teabag makers humming along at full speed. A newly inaugurated, specialized flavored-tea packing area is already pressed to capacity, such is the rate of expansion in demand. Once packed, the Pickwick tea products are trucked to Utrecht for distribution to the maze of retail outlets.

"Despite the size of this operation," says Siemonsma of Joure facility, "we do not cut corners, that is not our way. We still `marry' the tea for three days after blending. We have a unique blending system that can give us 60 tons per blend sheet of exactly the same quality, although composed from 40 different estate marks and from five blendings of 12 tons each. Our base blend for flavored teas is of the same quality as for our regular products, and the flavoring is not sprayed on; we do our own flavor breakdown and then blend it in. The blending process itself is kept to a minimum as to unit volume (750 kl) and duration in order to safeguard tea integrity. Before blending stage, each chest is inspected by an experienced `sensoric' team. Actually, in addition to the line monitorings, we use three human checks on the tea - by smell, by eye at chest opening, and yet again as loose tea on the conveyor leading to the sifters."

Pickwick's "English Blend" is the leading tea brand in both the Netherlands and Belgium, in teabag and loose tea segments. Other important blends are "Ceylon" and "China." On its growing roster of flavored teas, the "Forest Fruit" blend is leader. Most of the teabag production is in the 4 g. size that has become standard in the Netherlands, although the newly launched "International" range of Pickwick flavored teas are produced in the 2 g. weight bag.

"Although we control the tea markets in Holland and Belgium," says Siemonsma, "we are aggressively pursuing growth by promoting an expanded overall tea market, and here the key word is product innovation." The Douwe Egberts' effort has been to increase per-capita consumption by using a stronger pot of tea - Dutch tea tends to be on the light side with an average of only 6 g. of tea to a liter, to identify tea more clearly with contemporary lifestyles; and to earn new tea drinkers, particularly among the young, with innovations in the flavored tea area. In support of these goals, the company has distributed millions of clear tea glasses (when people can see the color of tea they make it stronger), and begun such programs as "tea for one" and a free extra bag per box.

"We are admittedly proud of being so lively at more than 200 years of age," explains Siemonsma with a smile, "And to still being here in Joure, where it all began in 1753 with Egbert Douwes' little shop for tea, coffee and tobacco."

PHOTO : The tasting room at dusk, Joure, the Netherlands: Here the Douwe Egberts Tea Buying and Blending Department carries forth a very extensive program on behalf of the range of Pickwick Tea, which is market leader in the Netherlands, and Belgium. Adri Siemonsma, department manager, is in foreground.
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Title Annotation:Douwe Egberts N.V. of Holland and its Pickwick line of tea
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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