The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Sustainability Series: Choice Organic Teas

Sustainability Series: Choice Organic Teas


December 26, 2010

Choice Organic Teas debuted in 1989 with four certified organic tea offerings: Green, Ban-cha, Twig and Oolong. Today, the Choice Organic Teas product line is comprised of dozens of classic and traditional teas, gourmet blends, loose leaf teas, whole leaf teas in tea pyramids and the “Good for All” brand, which benefits the Jane Goodall Institute. As the first Fair Trade Certified tea in the U.S., Choice Organic Teas is extremely committed to moving the tea industry towards more social and environmental sustainability with thoughtfully produced, innovative new products and packaging. We talked to Ray Lacorte, Head of Operations for Choice Organic Teas, about how sustainable business practices are important to everyone. 

How does your business define sustainability? 

Operating in the most environmentally and socially responsible means possible, while maintaining company standards for food safety, product quality, customer satisfaction, and profitability. This includes using sustainable packaging materials, using energy efficient equipment, and purchasing from growers that, by virtue of their good agricultural and social practices, will be around for the long haul.
How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?

First and foremost, business decisions are weighed against our mission statement to provide high quality teas while moving towards more social and environmental sustainability. As North America’s number one selling exclusively certified organic tea line since 1989, Choice Organic Teas has promoted the growth and development of organic agriculture in tea estates worldwide. In 2000, we were the first tea company in the U.S. to introduce Fair Trade Certified Tea. In 2010, we were the first tea company to be verified by the Non-GMO Project. We purchase Renewable Energy Certificates supporting wind energy to offset 100% of our facility's electrical usage, and have smart lighting that automatically regulates lighting with natural light and motion detectors. We continue to work with Seattle City Light Conservation Resources Division and their rebate program to reduce our energy consumption by purchasing more energy efficient equipment, such as our new energy efficient air compressor. 
We recycle, reuse, retool as often as possible and aim to reduce waste from our manufacturing process up to the consumer. When we purchase new materials, we opt for the most sustainable, environmentally responsible option without compromising on quality, and apply this philosophy when choosing like-minded suppliers. Choice Organic Teas avoids petroleum-based materials whenever possible and uses 100% recycled paperboard for all our retail tea boxes. Our tea bags are made of natural fiber, unbleached filter paper, and our tea pyramids are bio-mesh. The packaging for our best-selling Original line is completely biodegradable with staple-free tea bags and compostable paper envelopes. Our bulk loose leaf tea is packaged in 100% biodegradable kraft paper bags lined with glassine. We use 100% recycled content for the majority of our printing projects.
Sustainability includes supporting our local and global community as well. For every kilo of tea Choice Organic Teas purchases from Fair Trade Certified gardens, we pay an additional $1.10 premium directly to worker-managed funds, empowering workers to improve their own lives and benefit their community. Over 10% of profits from our five new teas go to support the Jane Goodall Institute. For every box of tea purchased at PCC Natural Markets, Choice Organic Teas donates five cents to the PCC Farmland Fund to secure, preserve, and steward threatened farmland in the Pacific Northwest, and we donated over $10,000 of in-kind product to non-profits in 2009.
What are your short term and long term goals? 

Automation upgrades, more efficient production, and innovative packaging that meets our quality standards. We want to continue to produce high quality, affordable teas, reach a wider audience, and expand our range of offerings without compromising our sustainable mission statement.
Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact?

Choice Organic Teas has quietly but effectively influenced the tea marketplace by establishing and promoting the awareness of certified organic and Fair Trade organic teas. As we expand our reach to a wider audience of consumers, we expand the awareness and importance for supporting sustainable practices. On the supplier side, the increase in demand for more sustainable products drive the innovation and incentive for better options of sustainable materials.
How do you measure your progress?

We measure our progress by the longevity of customers, suppliers, and staff, and by increased sales and sustainable practices. 
How do retailers factor into your efforts?

Retailers are key. Support and consumer education promoting sustainable issues and products through end-caps, in-store publications, signage, shelf-talkers, and demos helps sustain like-minded manufactures.  
Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry and why are they important to the consumer?

Sustainable practices act as a beacon of what is possible, and by definition will allow a healthy innovative robust industry to thrive. Consumers expect and deserve safe, high quality, value-added innovations, and ultimately affordable products from these practices. These practices empower customers, providing them with greater options of brands they can choose to buy, thereby pushing food manufacturers and retailers to analyze their own practices and discover the overall commercial viability of sustainable business.

In upcoming issues, we will feature interviews with food companies that are making strides in their sustainability efforts. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing to get involved please contact Allison Bloom