Bigelow Tea invests $2M into Fairfield facility as trade grows

FAIRFIELD — Investment, expansion and automation were the topics of the day at the Bigelow Tea Co. headquarters on Monday.

State and local officials came to tour the building’s warehouse after $2 million worth of improvements were recently completed. The new factory floor was abuzz with the whirring of machinery, and robotic carts moved pallets of tea across its main floor as part of a now partially automated packaging process.

In addition to the robotic arms packing shipments and the self-driving carts moving tea around, Cindi Bigelow, Bigelow Tea’s president, said the factory floor was also reinforced to allow for offices to be built in the mezzanine of the warehouse.


“This is a huge investment for our organization,” she said. “This was a warehouse. What we then had to do was move to a warehouse in Orange. We emptied this out. We reinforced the floor for about $500,000. We put mezzanines in for additional offices, and then we installed all this equipment.”

The Orange site is remaining open, she said.

Govt. Ned Lamont said the investments Bigelow made demonstrate innovation, showing it can be down outside of big companies like Amazon or Facebook.

“Here you have Bigelow Tea going all the way back to 1945, they have as modern and computerized distribution system as you can ask for,” he said. “So, there’s room for innovation everywhere.”

The Fairfield location makes more than 750 million bags of tea a year — a 400 percent increase since 1990, Bigelow said.

That type of growth necessitates investment, she said, adding she anticipates installing more equipment there.

“This allows us to grow while maintaining the number of people we have in our workforce,” she said, noting Bigelow has 200 employees in Connecticut and 450 system-wide.

Bigelow said workers were very worried when the company notified them of the coming improvements, but many conversations took place with them about how the automation would not threaten their jobs.

“When these machines came in, we very much kept our finger on the pulse of their attitude and how employees were,” she said. “Now that this equipment has been in for two months, they realize that they’re needed more than ever. It’s really been a good thing.”

Bigelow said the investments have slightly changed how her employees’ jobs work, but they are still an integral part of the process. She said the new offices added to the building help prepare for the future.

“As the business doubles, I don’t want the people to double,” she said. “So, let’s say the business doubles, maybe the people go up 30 or 40 percent.”

Bigelow said state programs, such as ones that help fund training for employees, free up funds for the company to buy new equipment.

Bigelow said the company that shares her family name was not built on strong margins, but to ensure quality of product.

“It makes it very difficult in times of high increases of wages, materials, distribution,” she said. “We don’t have any fat as a business. We’re not a greedy organization. We don’t spend a lot of money.”

The investment she made into the facility furthers the mission of ensuring a quality product, Bigelow said, adding she does not mind investing money for the future.

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