It’s a favourite topic of discussion of ours: What makes us Canadian? The answer has to be, at least in part, that we are a collection of the world’s best traditions. Drinking tea is as ingrained in our culture as playing ice hockey, even though it is first recorded as being a common drink in China and is a vestige of our British colonialism.
It is fair to say that tea has become a Canadian tradition. And in Canada, no tea manufacturer is as woven into our national history as King Cole Tea, Atlantic Canada’s No. 1 brand.
King Cole Tea is manufactured in Sussex, N.B., by Barbour’s. Since 1867—the year of Canada’s birth—the company has been producing consistent, quality tea. Starting out selling food products in Market Square, brothers George L. and William Barbour grew their wholesale business in the year of Canada’s Confederation, the beginning of almost a century and a half of producing distinctly Canadian food products.
This legacy is celebrated by Barbour’s. “The company is as old as Canada,” says Vice-President Blair Hyslop. “Our employees, shareholders and customers are very proud of that fact—the history is an important part of our credentials.”
King Cole Tea is Barbour’s strongest consumer brand, certainly—it is the No. 1 brand of tea in every major tea category in Atlantic Canada and consistently has four of the Top 10 tea products. “It’s nice to be the No. 1 producer of tea in a part of the world that takes its tea seriously,” says Hyslop.
Proudly Canadian and proud to contribute vital jobs to the New Brunswick economy, Barbour’s is the only tea manufacturer in Atlantic Canada. As quality is paramount, Barbour’s has had Des McCarthy, one of two tea masters in North America, on staff for 25 years.
“At Barbour’s we take great pride in providing our customers with the exact tea blend they require. Our own King Cole Tea is recognized as one of the premier teas sold in Canada,” says McCarthy.
“Having spent a lifetime, over 35 years, tasting and buying teas, as well as having the opportunity to visit tea gardens all over the world, I still get great pleasure in tasting this great beverage. So much effort is made by so many people in providing that unique cup of tea enjoyed by so many people around the world. Tea after all is the second most popular beverage in the world after water.”
Adds Hyslop, “We are one of the few companies that still formulates tea to taste as opposed to cost. It’s quite an art to formulate and manage the flavour profiles of not only our tea but our tea that we co-pack or manufacture for private labels from year to year.”
Not only tea experts, Barbour’s also manufactures a range of nut butters, spices, baking products and organic products. Because of the flexibility of its manufacturing plant, the business also attracts a great deal of business in co-packing and private label manufacturing. “We make a lot of brands that consumers don’t necessarily recognize as Barbour’s but certainly people in the trade do,” says Hyslop.
Barbour’s is expanding its Organic Private Label or co-packing opportunities and co-pack and private label opportunities for tea, spices, nut butters including peanut and almond butters, and also nuts and dry ingredient blends, by providing cost-effective solutions and tailor-made products based on client’s specification.
Private label manufacturing has become a very significant piece of Barbour’s business. The Canada/U.S. equivalency agreement on organics means something produced and recognized as organic in Canada is now recognized in the U.S. and vice versa. “And with Canada now working with the EU on negotiating an equivalency on organics, we are very hopeful that this will lead to growth opportunities for organic products in Europe.”
The company’s manufacturing plant is very flexible and accommodates specs for many different private brands. Barbour’s advantage is that is has “an incredible amount of flexibility in our plant and very low labour rates here in Sussex also allows us to compete with other manufacturers,” says Hyslop. Sussex’s proximity to seaports along the Eastern Seaboard also makes for easy shipping. In fact, Barbour’s products are shipped as far south as Texas, and are increasingly popular in Europe, where the business is being driven by its organic certification.
“We are open for business,” says Hyslop.
Its legacy proves its stability, and its products prove its quality. Barbour’s of New Brunswick is a Canadian treasure, ready to bring favourite foods to the world.