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Reborn in the U.S.A.

Packaging quality issues and counterfeiting in Taiwan lead Revolution Tea to produce its teas in the United States, where new cartons tout unusual packaging.
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Most companies use their packaging to promote the product(s) contained in the package. Phoenix-based Revolution Tea’s cartons do just that, marketing the company’s “inspired” flavors such as White Tangerine Tea and Southern Mint Herbal Tea. But the cartons also tout primary and secondary packaging.

For example, a side panel on a shrink-wrapped 30-count carton is printed with the headline, “The Infuser Bag.” Beneath that header, printed copy points out that the blended teas “are packaged in the most innovative tea bag available. The Infuser Bag™ allows you a clear view of the premium, full-leaf tea you are enjoying. As you pour hot water over the tea leaves, watch them expand and infuse.”

Beneath that text and a small photo of cartons containing Infuser Bags is a second headline: “Great Things in Small Packages.” Here the copy tells consumers, “The T-Box Revolution™ is our award-winning single service box with one Infuser Bag tucked inside. Each box is a unique tea gift.”

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The Infuser Bag holds between 1.65 to 2.2-g of tea, depending on the variety. One Infuser Bag fits into one T-Box folding carton that’s overwrapped in cellophane, much like a cigarette pack. Thirty overwrapped T-Box cartons are packed into an outer carton. A carton sent to Packaging World contained six individual servings of five different flavors. The 30-count cartons are sold primarily to foodservice accounts that in turn serve the individual T-Box cartons containing one Infuser Bag of tea.

For the retail market, Revolution Tea sells a 16-count carton. Inside this carton, 16 Infuser Bags are contained within a clear, hinged thermoformed tray.

Six-color printing

Cartons are designed and manufactured by All Packaging Co. (www.allpack.com) and sourced through distributor Pioneer Packaging (www.pioneerpackaging.com).

All Packaging receives 16-pt SBS board from Potlatch (www.potlatchcorp.com) in rollstock form. It then cuts the board into sheets for printing on a six-color Mitsubishi (www.mhi.com.jp) press. Instead of matching PMS colors for the different images used to identify Revolution’s tea varieties, All Packaging uses what it believes is a more economical six-color process printing that incorporates the four-color process (using strong magenta and cyan concentrations), plus fluorescent orange and green, to produce the colorful contemporary cartons.

Upstream, the prepress process uses a sophisticated software system to separate computer-generated art into six colors. The electronic files enable direct-to-plate laser imaging onto the printing plates for precise color control. That results in fine, small dots, and a 215-line screen resolution.

After printing, All Packaging die-cuts the board, glues a side seam and a bottom, and ships knocked-down cartons to Revolution Tea for packaging. Carton blanks measure 134”x78”x114” for the T-Box carton that holds a single Infuser Bag of tea. The 16-count outer carton is 518”x258”x318”; 512”x411⁄16”x22732” for the 30-count tuck-top, auto-bottom carton.

Overseas challenges

Revolution Tea has good reason to take pride in its colorful cartons, particularly since it stopped outsourcing manufacturing and packaging operations to Taiwan in 2004.

Although labor costs were attractive in Taiwan, “we had issues with the quality of the product and the packaging,” says Jeff Irish, Revolution Tea’s creative director. “We had ongoing issues with some of the packaging,” Irish continues. “The retail boxes were okay, but there were instances where you could remove the outer shrink film and it would literally lift the ink right off the sleeved carton. They weren’t using UV curing, but were applying a coating technology from the 1950s or 1960s.”

The company used local suppliers for the inner tea bags and paperboard cartons to better control costs, but that also posed challenges. For example, “We would spec a paperboard such as 22-point and they would find a supplier that could come close to matching it,” Irish says.

On top of those issues, counterfeiting was also a problem. “Counterfeiting is a terrible problem, mainly in China and Taiwan,” says Irish. “I think it’s a cultural difference in what we believe in ethics and business practices. They honestly think there is nothing wrong with it.”

Revolution Tea’s dissatisfaction with overseas packaging led to its decision to move back to the U.S., where it operated a warehouse and corporate office in Tempe, AZ. But the company needed more space to store raw materials and finished goods so it moved to a larger facility in an industrial area in west Phoenix.

Irish admits the move “was a huge expense. We set up a manufacturing facility and almost quadrupled our warehouse and manufacturing space.”

In-house packaging

The Phoenix plant accommodates two packaging lines. One line is dedicated to the production of the 16-count carton sold at retail, the other for the 30-count cartons that contain the T-Boxes. Both lines run two shifts, five days per week, with an occasional third shift as necessary.

The individual nylon-based Infuser Bag rollstock is sourced through a Japanese firm in roll form. Each of the two lines begins with two Japanese “Fuso” vertical form/fill/seal machines that employ ultrasonic sealing. Each machine operates at 80 bag/min speeds. “The first two were installed two years ago, then the other two about a year later,” says John Dolezal, Revolution Tea’s production manager. He says the company plans to add more of these machines.

For the 30-count line, the filled and sealed Infuser Bags are conveyed toward a Tisma (www.swfcompanies.com) machine that erects the T-Box carton. Operators manually fill a bag into the T-Box and close it. A quality control person then visually checks to make sure each T-Box has one tea bag. The box passes a checkweigher that checks the weight to make sure the bag of tea is in the box.

A Scandia Packaging Machinery Co. (www.scandiapack.com) machine overwraps each T-Box in cellophane. The T-Box’s are manually placed into the 30-count carton. A Videojet Technologies Inc. (www.videojet.com) ink-jet coder applies a produced on, expiration date, and lot number.

 Cartons are then overwrapped in film on an Arpac Group (www.arpac.com) machine. A Lantech (www.lantech.com) shrink tunnel neatly shrinks the 60-ga polyolefin center-folded film around the carton prior to downstream packaging functions.

For the 16-count packs, two of the Japanese-made Fuso machines form, fill, and seal the Infuser Bags. These are manually placed into a 17.5-mil food-grade PVC thermoformed tray from Pioneer Packaging. Operators then close the hinged tray, place one tray into a carton that again goes through the Arpac and Lantech equipment before downstream packaging and distribution.

Revolution Tea sells teas globally, in the U.S., Europe, the Mideast, Australia, Far East, and Canada. Products distributed internationally are sold at retail. In the U.S., Irish estimates that three of four packs are sold retail, 25% to foodservice and institutional accounts.

Revolution Tea is aware that the new carton graphics not only attract consumers, but also retailers, where the tea competes with other brands for shelf space. “The packaging aesthetic is very important to us,” says Irish. “Packaging is a critical component to moving product off the shelf.” He says that added sales provided the economic justification for Revolution Tea’s decision to set up shop in the United States.

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