The Bell Tea and Coffee Co building in Hope St. Photo by
New Zealand's oldest tea company, Bell Tea, is set to
shut its Dunedin factory next month, ending more than 100 years
of tea production in the city.
Bell Tea and Coffee Co chief executive Mark Hamilton
travelled to Dunedin yesterday to tell the factory's 10 staff
the cost of earthquake strengthening and other required work
- estimated at more than $1 million - meant its operation was
no longer viable.
Staff were ''shocked'' when told about the plan yesterday,
but were more understanding when told the decision was
because of staff safety, Mr Hamilton said.
Consultation over the plan would finish on Thursday next
week, but in ''all likelihood'' the factory's 10 jobs and
equipment would be shifted to Auckland, he said.
If the staff wanted to relocate, they would be guaranteed
jobs at its East Tamaki factory, which now has 180 staff and
produces the majority of its tea.
Closing the factory was a ''tough decision'' given the
company had invested ''a lot of money here over the years'' -
including spending a significant amount of money on new
machinery five years ago - and its long history in the city.
''Dunedin has been producing Bell tea since 1898 and in that
plant since 1924, so it's been going on a long time with a
lot of history,'' he said.
The decision comes after a review of the earthquake standards
of its buildings was prompted by Christchurch's February 2011
The quake destroyed its Christchurch building, which housed
''That building was subsequently demolished and we were very,
very lucky that no-one was injured then.''
The company went in with the intention of upgrading its
Dunedin factory - which was found to be less than the minimum
of 34% of new building standard for earthquake strength - but
the extra work required to meet fire regulations and other
standards meant it was going to cost ''well over a million
The need for earthquake strengthening was not being used as
an excuse to shut the facility and it was nothing to do with
the company being sold to Pencarrow Private Equity by
Foodstuffs New Zealand last September, he said.
He was keen to point out there would be no interruption for
its customers and the product would stay New Zealand-made.
''We are fortunate ... that we have got an Auckland facility
that is producing exactly the same product, so we are able to
keep our production in New Zealand by transferring our
equipment to Auckland.''
''The majority of our tea is already produced on our Auckland
line. That's approximately three million tea bags per day.''
The Dunedin factory produced tea for the South Island market.
Auckland staff would be told about the plan today.
If the plan went ahead, the building would be put on the
market and Mr Hamilton believed it would be a ''fantastic''
site for accommodation or housing.
Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said it was a ''great shame'' a
Dunedin ''icon'' was going to leave the city.
The news was more evidence that old-style jobs were ''moving
on'' from Dunedin and the city's future was in high-tech
industries, Mr Cull said.
''I contrast it with the fact we are getting 60-odd more jobs
at Fisher and Paykel design centre,'' he said.
Tea brands produced by Bell Tea in Dunedin included Bell Tea
and some of the Twinings range.
The Bell Tea and Coffee Co was founded by Norman Harper Bell,
who was born in Melbourne and gained his expertise in the tea
industry with the Robus Tea Co.
He arrived in Dunedin in 1894 and joined R. Wilson and Co and
in 1898, the trademark Bell Tea was registered.
In 1905, having dissolved the partnership with R. Wilson and
Co, and bought Bell Tea and other trademarks, Mr Bell and two
new partners started trading as the Bell Tea and Coffee Co.