Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Celestial Seasonings Factory Tour

Before going to Denver, I had posted to facebook requesting ideas for what to do with the half day that I had available. Different friends posted or emailed me different things such as to check out a restaurant or the wine scene among other serious and not-so-serious ideas. To cover all my bases I did lots of in-depth research ( = I googled: "things to do in Denver") and one of the first things I found was factory tours at the tea-making company Celestial Seasonings. Wow! Denver, Boulder, AND a factory tour? Some people love a parade. Me? I love a factory tour so off I went to watch them teabagging!

The Celestial Seasonings' facility is in the middle of a suburban neighborhood on the edge of Boulder. I'm guessing that they bought the property before there were a bunch of houses in the area because I can't imagine them being able to build a factory there now. Regardless, their facility is very nice when you're outside and it kinda' looks like a school in a lot of ways. Stepping inside, you're greeted at the door and given a small sample pack of peppermint tea as your tour "ticket". The tours start about every hour so you get to hang out and sample some of their teas while you wait.

The waiting area has a few tables to sit at while you drink your tea. They also have a collection of the original artwork that's used for their packaging and a bunch of photos of the founders and employees over the years. This display case holds a prom-looking dress that's made out of individual tea bag packages:

The factory tour starts with a 20-minute video that talks about how the hippy founders started collecting "herbs" near Boulder and selling them to health-food stores in the area. Seeing some of the photos, I can imagine that they may have offered a few "special blends" back in the day...

The original Celestial Seasonings company was purchased by Kraft in the 80s, sold back to the local management after a failed merger with the tea-company Bigelow, and merged with the natural-foods Hain Group in 2002. The company is probably best known for it's line teas with funky names like Red Zinger and Morning Thunder but their best sellers are still their mint teas. During the tour, they take you through the raw-materials' storage area (shown below) including a visit to the room where the various mint raw materials are stored. As soon as I went into the room my eyes started to water from the strength of the mint. It was pretty amazing actually.

The factory is highly automated with conveyors all over the place. Unfortunately, I visited on a Saturday so production wasn't running. All I got to experience was some maintenance guys blasting heavy metal over the PA system while they were repairing equipment. Overall, I'd give the factory a grade of a B compared to other factories I've been to due to large quantities of raw materials, unclear process flows, and lots and lots of conveyor belts (rather than cellular setups) but what do I know. God help the factory manager that needs to depend on all those conveyors to make his half-millon-bags-per-day target. On the positive side, the facility was relatively clean, it appeared safe, I saw almost no finished-goods inventory, and it seems like it's probably a nice place to work.

The tour ends in true Disneyland fashion through an exit into their gift shop. They had a little of every possible gift and souvenir along with the entire Hain product line of foods and beverages. I was surprised at the variety of products they had on hand that I recognized and wasn't aware were all under the same relatively-small corporate umbrella.

Like I said, I'm biased. Even a bad factory tour is really fun for me. This one was by no means bad. You should stop by if you get the chance. The guide was good and the tea was flowing! If you do go visit, one tip that you'd be smart to take is that you NEED to stop by the restroom before going into the factory because all those free tea samples WILL come back quicker than you expect!

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