North East tea brand Ringtons takes brews to the US

The Newcastle firm has signed distribution deals with two firms, helping to tap into a market worth more than $2bn

Critical Tortoise.Com Simon Smith, Ringtons CEO and John Lucas from North Atlantic Imports
Simon Smith, Ringtons CEO and John Lucas from North Atlantic Imports

Family firm Ringtons has stars – and stripes – in its eyes after confirming two distribution deals which will see its famous tea sold across the US.

The 107-year-old Newcastle business, whose customers include luxury grocer Fortnum & Mason, has seen significant market growth over the last year, thanks to its traditional doorstep delivery service, business-to-business and private label divisions all strengthening within this timeframe.

After revealing a heady year in its accounts to June 2013, in which profits grew 26% to £4m on turnover of £47.3m, substantial investments were made in IT and production facilities to meet rising demand from export markets.

Now those overseas sales are set to soar after distribution contracts were signed with two US firms – both run by fellow Geordies – in deals which see Ringtons tap into a market worth more than $2bn.

Ex-pat John Lucas will be distributing Ringtons tea to consumer and wholesale markets in the east of America from his bases in North Carolina and Michigan where he runs his company North Atlantic Imports.

Critical Tortoise.Com John Lucas and Simon Smith signing the USA export contract
John Lucas and Simon Smith signing the USA export contract

Meanwhile, fellow North Easterner Ian Geddes, of the firm Finest English Tea, will be serving the west of America from California.

Simon Smith, from Ringtons, said: “We’ve always been keen to grow our export offering and knew there was interest from the American market for a ‘proper English cup of tea’ so we are delighted to have found terrific partners in John and Ian.

“Thanks partly to their North East roots, both Ian and John fully understand the Ringtons brand, our ethos as a family business and our commitment to quality and transparency. They are dedicated to serving up a great cup of Ringtons tea to American tea drinkers.”

Ringtons was established in 1907 by Samuel Smith who sold tea by horse and cart to doorsteps across Newcastle.

Today the company is headed up by the fourth generation of the Smith family and employs more than 500 staff across more than 20 sites throughout the UK, including its North Tyneside factory where all of its tea and coffee is blended, roasted and packed.

Working closely with the new distributors, Ringtons has modified its packaging to conform to US FDA guidelines and launched a new website to direct American audiences to their online stores.

John Lucas, co-owner of North Atlantic Imports and East Coast distributor said: “As a child growing up in the North East, deliveries to the door were a common sight particularly for my grandmother – deliveries of milk, eggs, fish and pop were all a regular occurrence but my favourite was always the Ringtons tea man in his iconic green and gold van.

“Despite moving to the US 25 years ago I remained a Ringtons fan and my family are still customers of the family business.

“As my own business interests grew and discussions about importing Ringtons to the east coast of America continued, I learned more about the company and I began to understand the Smith family’s deep commitment to producing the best possible products for their customers.

“I now know the people involved, have witnessed their expertise, seen their operations and have tested and tasted the products against their competitors. I have come to agree with my grandmother that Ringtons is the best, and I am sure tea lovers in the East coast of America will become true Ringtonians like me in no time.”

Ringtons already has existing partnership with distributors in Japan and Australia and is looking to further build its export business in coming years as a wider audience discover the quality and range of Ringtons teas.


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