Made in Colorado 2017: Celestial Seasonings learns consistency leads to loyalty

85 million cups of tea later, Sleepytime still steals the show

Product: Sleepytime Tea | Made in: Boulder |

As senior blendmaster at Celestial Seasonings, Charlie Baden has been known to sample 100 cups of tea in a single day.

Consistency is "something I pride myself on," he says.

Many of those samplings have been Sleepytime, the definitive blend of chamomile, spearmint and lemongrass that's been the top-selling specialty tea since the invention of the category.

Mo Siegel, the company's founder, came up with the formulation, which Baden calls "a wonderful blend of calming and soothing herbs, with a great flavor profile." Along with Red Zinger, it was one of the initial varieties in 1972 and is Celestial's top-selling brand of all time.

"We sell about 4.5 million boxes every year," says General Manager David Ziegert, a 23-year employee of the company. "That translates to 85 million cups, just in the U.S."

Multiply that by 40-(plus) and the cumulative total is easily in the billions of cups of Sleepytime in 45 years.

The recipe has hardly changed since the first batch, Baden says. One thing that did: the artwork in 2015. The Sleepytime Bear was ripped from his home, in front of a fireplace in his nightclothes and cap, listening to the radio with a cat.

The streamlined packaging turned off some longtime devotees. Notes Ziegert: "They'd cut out the old artwork and put it on the new box."

About 1,500 customers wrote letters and the original art returned a year after the redesign.

But Sleepytime now encompasses 11 different products, including the original Sleepytime Classic, Sleepytime Honey and Sleepytime Sinus Soother. The latest, first shipped in late 2016, is Sleepytime Mint. "That entire franchise continues to grow nicely," says Ziegert, forecasting 4 percent to 5 percent sales growth for 2017.

It's even in the company's address in Boulder (4600 Sleepytime Drive), where 250 employees work today; about half in manufacturing. "We have approximately 100 flavors and botanicals we use here at Celestial Seasonings," says Baden. "We like to mill our ingredients, so we purchase ingredients whole. We do all of the blending here in Boulder."

The supply chain spans 35 countries and includes some farms that have been selling to Celestial for three generations. "About 70 percent of the ingredients that come to us come directly from the people who are growing them," says Baden, noting that many are wild-crafted, hand-foraged in their native environment, as was the case in the early days in the foothills.

The brand drives a loyal following – about 140,000 people visit the factory for a tour every year – and cultivates a similar loyalty in its employees.

"I continue to love the brand," says Ziegert, a 23-year Celestial employee.

Baden is going on 42 years. He joined the company in 1975, when he was 21. "I definitely grew up with the business," he says.

Categories: Made in Colorado, Magazine Articles