ARGO TEA IMPROVES PRODUCTIVITY 500%

WITH EQUIPMENT FOUND AT PACK EXPO

Arsen Avakian, General Manager, and Daniel Lindwasser, Procurement Manager, for Argo Tea (Chicago, IL), a provider of natural tea-based drinks with expanding Chicago retail café operations, will return to PACK EXPO International this October to research the latest labeling and beverage packaging technology. Following a successful visit to the previous PACK EXPO International, Avakian and Lindwasser purchased automatic filling, capping and brewing equipment that has helped Argo Tea increase productivity by an impressive 500%.

Sponsored and produced by the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI), PACK EXPO International 2006 will take place October 29 – November 2, 2006 at McCormick Place in Chicago, Illinois.

Heating It Up

Argo Tea is a growing Chicago-based company that strives to bring natural and tasty signature drinks to those looking for healthy alternative beverages and lifestyle experiences. Since opening its first café in 2003, Argo has quickly become the toast of the Windy City. Five cafés are currently in operation, with each brimming with community events and garnering headlines.

Dedicated to delivering what it calls "The Argo Experience" through consistent quality and with a "one customer and one cup at a time" approach, Argo’s friendly, neighborhood cafés feature traditional black, green or white, and herbal "loose" teas served hot or iced, along with pastries, desserts, and snacks.

But what makes Argo Tea one-of-a-kind are its Teappuccino Signature Drinks. These tea-based concentrates are brewed in advance and then mixed with milk or water directly at the café. Crafted to appeal to the younger and more adventurous customers raised on Starbucks and other specialty flavored coffee purveyors, Argo Tea’s exotic range of Signature drinks include such fare as Chai Latte, energizing Mate LateTM, Tea SangriaTM with hibiscus iced tea and fresh fruits, MojiTeaTM with cool mint and lime juice, vitamin-rich Hibiscus SteamerTM blended with hibiscus tea and apple cider, decadent Chocolate Mint, and effervescent Bubble Tea.

Boiling Growth

While such rapid growth is appealing to businesses on many levels, it can also result in operational challenges. In the case of Argo Tea, the primary challenge was producing the volume of concentrate required to keep up with demand.

"When we opened the original café, the brewing and bottling of our concentrates was accomplished manually, right on-site and on a case-by-case basis," says Lindwasser. "Once we opened two additional locations, however, things became problematic."

Deciding to centralize production in an 8,000 sq. ft. renovated former concert hall, Argo Tea quickly discovered that the manual process it had relied on for smaller capacity production unearthed issues of consistency and quality of the complex Signature drinks between cafés and even between batches.

With demand for its tea-based beverages continuing to outpace supply, Lindwasser and Avakian knew it was time to introduce automation into the company’s production processes. The pair headed to PACK EXPO to investigate technologies that would enhance the efficiency of Argo’s brewing and bottling methods, as well as ensure the uniformity of Signature drink concentrates.

With more than 1,600 exhibitors at PACK EXPO, the Argo team was able to discuss their production challenges with many packaging experts.

"Being able to meet with so many different exhibitors and get different points of view was invaluable," says Avakian. "The show really offers one-stop-shopping, which is incredibly convenient when you’re looking for several pieces of equipment at the same time. It makes it much easier to figure out if the various systems are compatible and what steps need to be taken to integrate them with existing equipment."

Steeping

After evaluating the information obtained at PACK EXPO, the Argo Tea team decided to purchase two EE-100/208/C Steam-Jacketed Kettles from Groen Equipment, a division of Unified Brands (Jackson, Mississippi).

With a stainless steel design that meets the latest hygiene and sanitation safety standards, the 100-gallon kettles feature self-contained electric heating units, which greatly facilitate tea handling during the production process. Possessing perforated strainers that help filter tea leaves, the kettles also provide quick and uniform heating to ensure consistent quality for large volumes of Argo Tea beverages.

"The Groen kettles allow us to control quality while concurrently producing much larger batches for our five locations," notes Avakian. "This advantage is vital to the success of our growing operations."

To continue efforts to optimize production, Argo Tea also purchased a FOFVL SAN4 Filling System and a CAPBH Benchtop Capping System from Inline Filling Systems (Venice, Florida).

Offering superior versatility, the filling and capping systems are highly heat-resistant and can accommodate both glass and plastic bottles/containers in a number of sizes, ranging from 8-ounces to 1-gallon. Engineers from Inline Filling Systems worked with Argo Tea and Groen Equipment to connect the filling and capping machinery directly to the self-contained kettles to facilitate production processes. This connection allows hot tea products to be filled and capped at high speeds in order to maintain optimal packaging container integrity. The 4-headed filling system can also be expanded up to 16 heads to meet the growing needs of Argo Tea in the future.

The kettles and filling and capping systems permit Argo Tea to bottle, store, and ship Signature drink concentrate to affiliated cafés more efficiently while also ensuring a uniformity of flavor that customers have come to come to expect. With the new equipment, the amount of beverage products that the company used to produce in one month can now be produced in less than a week. The Argo Tea team estimates that the combination of centralized production and automated packaging for its Signature series has resulted in a nearly 500% increase in productivity. Additional cost-savings have resulted from the company’s new ability to purchase ingredients and materials in bulk.

"We’re seeing an incredible return on investment for the equipment that we purchased from Inline and Groen," says Lindwasser.

Contentedly Sipping

With concentrate production and office operation comfortably housed in a centralized Chicago location, Argo Tea will return to PACK EXPO this fall to search for additional packaging equipment as it smartly plans for future growth, both in the Chicago area and for its burgeoning, web-based mail-order business.

"We’re looking forward to the upcoming show so we can meet with people on the packaging and labeling side of the equation," says Lindwasser. "Engineering and food processing techniques aren’t our particular specialty, so it’s great to learn from qualified experts."