When Ruth Campbell Bigelow was mixing up a blend of black tea, orange rind and sweet spices in her Manhattan kitchen in 1945, she just wanted to make a better cup of tea. She scarcely could have imagined the heights her family’s company would reach 75 years later. Today, Fairfield-based Bigelow Tea is the top-selling specialty tea brand in the country.
“Making tea drinking a memorable experience is important to us,” says Bigelow’s third-generation president and CEO, Cindi Bigelow. “We want every cup to be perfect.”
How one prefers to take their tea is a personal choice, and choices they have; the Bigelows have made sure of that. Over the past seven-plus decades, the family has traversed the globe, tasting botanicals, spices and teas of all kinds to come up with 150 different varieties. “No, I don’t have a favorite,” Cindi says with a smile. “That would not be fair to my other 150 teas.”
Before taking the helm in 2005, Cindi spent 20 years in various roles in the company that her grandmother founded before moving it to Connecticut with husband David in 1955. While Cindi is just as committed as her grandmother to high-quality tea, the current CEO has made strides that might have sounded like science fiction back in the ’40s.
Under Cindi’s leadership, Bigelow Tea has been a pioneer of “green” practices, becoming one of the first companies in Connecticut to install solar panels and recently announcing that its facilities are powered by 100 percent renewable sources. All electricity for Bigelow’s facilities in Fairfield; Boise, Idaho; and Louisville, Kentucky, comes from renewable, carbon-free sources — 90 percent wind and 10 percent solar. Bigelow was also designated a “Zero Waste to Landfill” company in 2012, for diverting more than 90 percent of its waste from landfills. And Bigelow is registered as a Benefit Corporation, recognized for meeting rigorous verified standards of positive social and environmental performance.
“It’s about doing the right thing and finding a balance,” Cindi says. “Bigelow Tea is a long-term player. Our purpose has always been about more than making profits.We’re committed to good citizenship, ethical business practices, accountability and transparency, protecting the environment, sustainability and supporting our communities.”
Of course, it all still comes back to the tea for this homespun business. “A tea party follows me wherever I go,” says Cindi, who often spends time in the kitchen preparing tea mixes.
You can be sure she has plenty of tea on her annual week-long summer trips to Appalachia with the Greenfield Hill Congregational Church of Fairfield. The project is a home-repair mission to make homes warmer, safer and drier while enabling teens to grow in service and compassion. “It’s a wonderful experience and always a very special time for me,” Cindi says.
Bigelow also contributes to local nonprofits and preserves history. In 2003, Bigelow purchased and restored the Charleston Tea Garden, a 127-acre tea farm on Wadmalaw Island in South Carolina. There, visitors learn how tea is grown, harvested and what the withering process is, a method that Cindi and her parents, David and Eunice (now both in their 90s), know all too well and often discuss during their weekly games of golf together. “My parents are my role models,” says Cindi, adding that her parents are still involved in Bigelow’s tea-buying process.
With aspirations of keeping the family business in the family, Cindi has hopes that her son may one day take over and keep the Bigelow legacy alive. For now, she is looking to future successes, exploring more ways to incorporate environmental and community mindfulness into her business, and mixing up new tea recipes to enjoy. Above all, Cindi says her job is a gift she is grateful for every day. “It is an amazing opportunity, to run my family’s business.”