The Lipton tea plant is shown in this 1955 photo shortly after is opened. After 58 years, the company on Monday announced its intention to stay in Suffolk. (Courtesy of Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society)
The Lipton tea plant is shown in this 1955 photo shortly after is opened. After 58 years, the company on Monday announced its intention to stay in Suffolk. (Courtesy of Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society)

Archived Story

Lipton has long history in Suffolk

Published 10:48pm Monday, March 11, 2013

After 58 years in Suffolk, Lipton Tea has committed to an even longer relationship with the city after announcing a $96 million investment during an event Monday.

The plant was built in 1955, supply leader Billy Kelly said Monday. The company was started in 1893 as the Thomas J. Lipton Company by Sir Thomas Lipton, a Scotland-born entrepreneur. He aimed to provide tea, once a drink enjoyed only by the wealthy, at affordable prices.

The Suffolk site was chosen by Lipton himself.

“He chose well,” Kelly said, noting the site’s accessibility to the port, which was one factor in the packaging plant remaining in Suffolk.

Sue Woodward, a member of the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society, said part of the plant was built in an old Coca-Cola bottling building, which had been constructed in the 1940s. That building is the easternmost on the site.

“Teenagers used to have dances upstairs there,” she said.

When the plant opened, it was one of only two in the country that packaged teabags for Lipton, Woodward said. Now, it’s the only one.

The plant has kept roughly 300 employees for most of its history, Kelly said on Monday. But its output has grown significantly — more than 500 percent since it opened.

Kelly said many employees have been loyal to the company for decades. He said he believed good benefits, good treatment of the workforce and the chance to work for an iconic brand keeps employees around.

“When people come to work here, they want to stay,” he said.

Woodward said the plant employed a British tea-taster for many years, but he eventually gave the job up to an American woman whom he trained to fulfill the role.

The plant has had some momentous occasions in recent years, as well. In 2009, it became the first of Lipton’s facilities to become “zero-landfill,” which means it either recycles, composts or incinerates all waste generated at the facility, from employees’ lunch packaging to the remnants of the tea processing.

In 2010, the company won a Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award for the initiative.

Lipton is the world’s leading tea brand and is sold in more than 150 countries, according to the Lipton website.

  • happyGoLucky

    Great history and all..but I know anyone that still drinks Lipton tea..who is drinking this stuff?? Do they make K-cups??

    Suggest Removal

  • Peanutbred

    Since Sir Thomas J. Lipton died on October 2, 1931, and Unilever bought the Thomas J. Lipton Co., based in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1938, Thomas Lipton had absolutely no role in the tea firm’s 1952 decision to build a modern tea plant in Suffolk, to produce its newly-patented Flo-Thru Tea Bag.

    In fact, it was Lipton’s one-time neighbor and sometime competitor – Maxwell House Tea – that brought Suffolk to Lipton’s awareness, after Maxwell’s parent, General Foods, established its Electri-Cooker division on Hall Avenue, in 1950, bringing with it a few of its Hoboken employees, in a failed effort to acquire Planters.

    The British tea-taster, John Terry, did not so much give up his Suffolk position, as much as he was transferred by the firm, along with other Suffolkians, including the late Charles Garratt, to Lipton’s Santa Cruz, California, facility when it was under construction, in 1971. He and his wife, Joan, who was a nurse at Obici, now live in Winter Springs, Florida. Lipton closed its Santa Cruz plant in 2002.

    Suggest Removal

  • Jaeger1

    Glad to hear that Lipton is staying. I remember well before the “zero landfill” policy, Lipton tea crates being available to the community. One served as a doghouse and many round cutouts were the basis for school project “salt maps”. Mine was Saudi Arabia.

    Suggest Removal

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