THE family firm which has been delivering tea to homes across the North East for over a century is expanding after winning new business including the contract to supply high class London store Fortnum and Mason.
Newcastle-based Ringtons, which is also about to start supplying teas for Sainsbury’s upmarket range, is delivering to more customers across the country.
It saw turnover rise last year to nearly £40m, which is up £32m in 2009, as it wins more business not only in door-to-door deliveries but in supplying retailers including Waitrose and Marks & Spencer.
And it is also investing more than £1m on extending its fleet of 200-plus delivery vehicles improving its tea packing, blending and flavouring plant on Tyneside.
And chief executive Simon Smith is expecting a further rise in revenues in the year to the end of June as the famous brand continues to flourish despite rising tea prices and a fall in consumer spending.
“Our brand is very well known and that is one reason why we are doing better than many other companies in the field. Business has been really strong despite the recession and we are actually growing the number of customers, which is really encouraging,” he said.
“Perhaps it is because more people are at home, or that in hard times they want a brand they can trust. A lot of our customers are older people and they like having us come round to deliver to their door.”
The firm now has a sales force stretching from Scotland to Plymouth, albeit with no presence inside the M25, and a growing national franchise of dealers serving more than 300,000 customers. Last year it bought eight new franchise vans and has so far this year invested £500,000 in its transport fleet.
Smith said that the company is working to target supplies more to hotel and catering businesses and is bringing in new training for staff to do so. Over the last year it has expanded its workforce by more than 30 to 485 staff.
After landing the contract to buy tea for Piccadilly store Fortnum’s last year and preparing to serve Sainsbury’s from this year it has invested around £650,000 in improving production such as its teabag packing equipment and fruit and herb blending plant.
Its online retail business is popular and although the company is making its website more customer-friendly Ringtons said it is unlikely to become a big part of the business due to the cost of delivering relatively low-cost products such as tea, coffee and biscuits.
Simon Smith, the grandson of company founder Samuel Smith and one of several members of the family involved in running the business including its executive chairman Nigel Smith, said although revenues are growing Ringtons is a “traditional family” business and did not aspire to huge growth at the expense of sustainability.
He said: “It has been a difficult market for the whole of the trade, with tea prices up and our good name and winning the new business with Fortnum and Mason and Sainsbury is helping us through these challenging times.
“We have been growing our product range and improving our products to provide the quality our customers expect. ”