Brewing up fresh ideas
With over 100 years of experience in tea and coffee under its belt, Finlay Beverages Limited is an expert in its field and a flexible one-stop-shop for all of its customers’ tea and coffee needs
The history of Finlays dates back to 1750, but its UK business (Finlay Beverages Ltd) started life in 1896. Finlay Beverages has been blending and packing tea in the UK since 1903, as well as roasting and grinding coffee since 1911. Today, this £70 million turnover business is one of the largest tea and coffee packers in the country, with its 300-plus employees helping it to supply a vast range of formats across the retail and foodservice sectors from its 40,000-square metre, purpose-built facility in Pontefract, Yorkshire. From here – and alongside its premises in Hull which specializes in decaffeinating tea – the company packs the equivalent of approximately three billion cups of tea per year, and in 2019 roasted some 900 million cups of coffee.
“Here at Finlay Beverages, we partner with our private label customers to develop tea and coffee ranges across both the retail and foodservice sectors, supplying many of the biggest retailers and foodservice chains in the UK,” explains Managing Director and EU Commercial Director, Ian Bryson.
The company sources, blends and packs tea and infusions from multiple sources into a wide variety of formats including round and square teabags, loose leaf tea, pyramid fuso bags, string, tag and envelope teabags, and multi-serving large teabags for the travel and hospitality sectors. In terms of its coffee offering, it has two roasters, and two speciality and development roasters – to allow it to roast to any profile. As well as packing beans and ground coffee into retail and foodservice packs of up to one kilogram, it can also pack filter pouches, ‘one cup’ coffee solutions, and can work with third party suppliers to cater for the single serve coffee market.
The James Finlay Group – which Finlay Beverages forms part of – owns and operates tea farms in Kenya, Sri Lanka and Argentina, as well as a secondary tea processing site in China. This gives the company access to tea from across these important growing regions. In terms of coffee, it sources this from 23 countries around the world with long-term supply partners in all of the major producing markets throughout the planet’s ‘coffee belt’.
“I believe that the strength of our offering comes down to the key values that we have across the wider James Finlay Group business, which are trust, innovation and sustainability,” Ian continues. “We have always focused on delivering quality products, and on putting our customers’ specifications – which we consider to be sacrosanct – and their consumers first. For instance, customers and consumers want to know exactly where their food products come from, so provenance is absolutely vital. We can trace all of our tea and coffee purchases, the former all the way back to the tea gardens themselves and the latter to the crops, mills or small-holders that we deal with.
“Meanwhile, from a sustainability point-of-view, the Group employs tens of thousands of workers around the world, and we do our utmost to ensure that they are all looked after, confirming they have access to housing, education and healthcare facilities, and giving them what they need from a strong living standards perspective. We also work very closely with our customers in order to demonstrate how we operate in a truly sustainable manner. We are always very open to our customers visiting our farms, which are also certified by external creditors and NGOs such as The Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade, who we also work with to guarantee that our standards and practices are kept at extremely high levels.”
Over the last two years, Finlay Beverages has undertaken what Ian accurately refers to as a very strong capital investment program, strongly supported by the James Finlay Group. “As part of our ongoing investment programme, Finlays has installed a brand-new coffee roaster at a cost of around £3.5 million, and purchased and upgraded equipment for use in our tea factory,” he details. “We have also recently finished implementing the building of three brand-new, high-speed Rovema packaging lines, which will more than double our capacity across our coffee business.
“These are all investments that are being made in line with the long-term plans we have for the business. In the case of packaging, this changes over time and some of our older machines were not as flexible as required. Rovema’s packaging lines give us the opportunity to produce many more formats at a much higher speed than we have been able to in the past, and this in turn opens up a number of new markets and potential customers to Finlay Beverages. We spoke to a number of experienced machine suppliers in advance of making this investment, and Rovema emerged as the best suited to meet our needs for future growth. What we also like is the fact that they also worked closely with us from the off to ensure that all of our people were fully trained in how to operate their equipment properly.”
In looking to the future, Finlay Beverages is also able to leverage the work of James Finlay Group’s Insights Team. Based in London, it is they who are constantly evaluating changes in consumer trends across the world and identifying potential areas for growth or expansion. Through the team’s work, the company is able to see that while the market for tea in the UK and Europe remains relatively flat, demand for coffee products continues to grow significantly. One such area of current growth is the cold brew coffee segment.
“While the cold brew coffee market across Europe is currently worth an estimated $80 million, the compound growth forecasts we have, show that it is expected to grow by an estimated 21 per cent year-on-year over the next seven years,” Ian states. “Finlays has significant knowledge and experience as one of the largest cold brew coffee manufacturers in the United States. We are in a position to leverage this expertise. It presents us with an exciting growth proposition here in the UK and across Europe. It is one that we feel will help drive the business forward over the next five years and more.”
With 2020 drawing to a close at the time of our discussion, and with news of a working Covid-19 vaccine being administered to the first patients fresh in the mind, it fills Ian and the rest of the Finlay Beverages team with hope for what 2021 and beyond holds. “Whilst the retail market has remained strong during 2020, the foodservice and out-of-home sectors have clearly struggled, what with the effects of lockdowns restrictions on movement and so forth. Nevertheless, these sectors will come back, and I truly believe that they will do so extremely strongly,” Ian states. “With this return I feel we will see renewed demand for new, innovative, sustainable and healthy products, the likes of which Finlay Beverages will be well placed to deliver to both existing and new customers in either current or emerging markets.”
It is now eight years since Ian joined the business, and one of things that attracted him to it was the wealth of future growth opportunities that he saw on the horizon for Finlay Beverages. Eight years later, and he still sees the same potential, albeit in different areas where it can bring to the fore its values of trust, innovation and sustainability. “One of the things I can foresee going forward is the Finlay Beverages business expanding out to a much wider European audience,” he declares. “In the process, we can not only help those brands that we work with today to bring new and innovative products to market, but also new customers who have their own exciting ideas that they want to introduce to consumers.
“With our strong business portfolio, track record and established supply chain, Finlay Beverages is very well placed to facilitate the bringing of new ideas to market, and as a company we are driven by our own enthusiasm to see consumers benefit from receiving products that satisfy and delight in equal measure.”