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McClatchy-Tribune  08/07/2014 10:41 AM ET
Aberdeen company teas off on beverage market [American News, Aberdeen, S.D. :: ]

Aug. 07--Not many people in town know about it, but Aberdeen is home to a well-established tea company that ships its product around the world and to some of the most famous landmarks in the country.

Though it flies under the radar locally, the Native American Tea Company is poised for a big move forward in a marketplace -- tea is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the beverage business -- where the "sky is the limit," according to its vice president of sales and marketing.

"There's really nothing like our product the world over," said Joe Moore, who has a vision to help take the company to new heights. "Not a lot of people know about us because we're not a very visible operation, but we are an established company with a following, and we do business globally."

Invisible tea

When he started with the company in 2012, Moore said he would ask people around town what their familiarity was with the company. What he got was mostly the same response time after time.

"A lot of people had heard of the company, but nobody knew that it was in Aberdeen," Moore said. "People are usually surprised to learn that there's a company in town that is so well-known among tea consumers and ships to 15 different countries."

In fact, Moore pointed out, the tea is a mainstay on the cafeteria menu at The Smithsonian and is available at Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial in western South Dakota. Though sales and production numbers can fluctuate, Moore said tens of thousands of boxes of tea are packaged and shipped from the company's headquarters inside the old veterans memorial building, 421 S. Lincoln St.

With no tea company signage on its exterior, a passerby would never guess the inside of the building carries the pleasant aroma of a mixture -- at any given time -- of six flavors of herbal tea, along with black and green tea. The operation is set up to conduct as much as $5 million in sales annually, said Moore, though he said the company is projecting about $500,000 in sales for 2014.

"Our bagging machine has the capacity to produce about 110 tea bags per minute," said facility manager Jyl Aman, who is the only full-time employee at the factory. "Twenty-five hours of labor produces about 120,000 tea bags. We have several employees who take the tea bags and box them up to be shipped out. There are 12 tea bags in every box of herbal tea and 18 bags in the green and black boxes."

Locally, the tea can be found at a number of retailers, including Kessler's, Ken's SuperFair Foods and Natural Abundance, but individual customers can also place direct orders online, which is what a customer in the Netherlands did when purchasing 320 boxes.

Aman family takeover

Established in 1988 on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana by Joseph Vallie and his family, the small operation was moved to Aberdeen two years later by one of Vallie's sons, according to the company's website. In 2007, Aberdeen businessman Tom Aman and his family acquired a controlling interest in the Native American Tea Company, which is owned and operated as a corporation with multiple stockholders.

With the rising favor for tea, Moore pointed out that industry leaders predict the beverage could overtake coffee in national popularity in the next few years. Tom Aman said it's realistic to think the Aberdeen-based operation could take off.

"No other beverage has been growing like tea," Aman said. "The market is expanding all the time. It's not unrealistic to think that tea could be the new coffee in America. A lot has been said and written about the health benefits of certain types of tea, like green tea, but virtually all tea has been gaining in popularity."

In recent months, the company closed deals with United Natural Foods Inc., a major organic foods supplier, and the supplier arm of regional gaming giant Ho-Chunk. Moore also has plans for the continued expansion of the company's social media presence.

"We have a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and that online visibility is going to be a big part of what we do moving forward," Moore said. "The thing about our customers is that they are extremely loyal. A box of tea only costs a few dollars to buy, but, when you have repeat customers every month, that all adds up fast. There's a lot of room for this company to grow, and we're really excited about that. The (United Natural Foods) deal was a big step for us, and I think there's more to come."

While he said his tea company has room to grow, Aman, a man who has a nose for turning a profit, said owning it is not as much about the monetary aspect, but rather about keeping its tradition alive.

"It's a great story and a great product," Aman said. "The ultimate goal is to have the company back in Native American hands again. There's a great legacy there for a Native American owner."

Follow @bryan_horwath on Twitter.

 

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