Dualit to destroy the humble teabag

Luxury toaster maker Dualit is hoping to revolutionise the British kitchen
with new tea capsules that are brewed in just 30 seconds

Dualit, known for its iconic toasters and heavy-duty kettles, has a few new
irons in the fire. The British manufacturer is now competing directly with
Nestlé in the coffee capsule space, and plans to take on tea giants Tetley
and PG Tips with a new range of “almost instant” high-quality
tea capsules.

“We’re the new tea pioneers,” says Dualit boss Leslie Gort-Barten, 64. “When
the tea bag was invented, people said, ‘Why bother when loose tea is fine?’

“We’re going to shake up the market just like the tea bag before us.”

Dualit’s capsule business took off after the company won a landmark case
against Nestlé last year.

The High Court ruled that Dualit’s coffee capsules, which can be used in
Nestlé’s Nespresso machines, as well as in Dualit’s own-brand coffee makers,
did not infringe the consumer giant’s patents.

Retailers nationwide immediately began stocking the rival line of quality
coffee pods. “We’ve never seen a product grow as fast as the coffee capsules
business,” says Alex Gort-Barten, 36, the third generation of the
Gort-Barten family to work in the business. “Sales were up 550pc in the year
to June.” In 2012, coffee capsules represented just 1pc of Dualit’s
turnover. Last year that climbed to 6pc.

Founded in 1946 by Leslie’s father Max, a German-born engineer, Dualit’s
business is now divided between retail and commercial customers. The success
of the range prompted today’s father and son team to look at new products to
take to market.

Tea was an obvious choice, Leslie, a self-confessed “nutty professor”, says:
“We’re a nation of tea drinkers after all.”

On Friday, Dualit began manufacturing a range of tea capsules at its Sussex
base, and the range will be stocked across the firm’s existing customer
base, including Dualit’s biggest customer, John Lewis. The new tea pods
allow consumers to make a cup of tea — using a Nespresso machine or one of
Dualit’s own-brand versions — in just 30 seconds. Developing the product,
however, took some considerable time.

“It took me a year and a half to make the capsule,” says Leslie. “It was a
challenge to depressurise the capsule in the right way and make sure there
was no froth in the tea.”

The tea capsules come in different flavours — “We see the herbal tea market as
being a fast-growing sector,” says Leslie, and with a shelf life of
two-and-a-half years, Dualit is receiving significant interest from hotel
and restaurant chains.

Dualit has invested £1m in a new tea and coffee capsule factory to meet
expected demand.

According to Leslie, the tea pods are just one of several new ideas that will
emerge over the coming months. A new juicer has just been launched,
apparently containing a smart new filter system that increases the amount of
juice squeezed from the fruit.

John Lewis buyer Rob Hennessey says that his shoppers haven’t balked at the
product’s £100 price tag.

“They are wooed by new technologies,” he says. “If they see a product that
gives them a new way of getting the food or drink they love faster, more
easily, or in a healthier way, there’s a thirst there.”

Dualit also constantly revamps existing designs.

Leslie is particularly pleased with his “quiet ball” invention, which ensures
that Dualit’s kettles no longer scream when water is boiled. The tweaks were
made in response to customer feedback: Dualit receives “hundreds of letters”
about each one of its products, says Leslie.

“We’ve made it 20pc quieter. It’s more of a rumble than a scream now,” he

Alex adds: “First time we tested it, I thought it didn’t work.” While some
innovations are “nice to have”, others are shaking up the consumer
electronics industry.

Dualit is relaunching its classic kettle next month, and it will be the first
repairable kettle on the market, with a removable element that Dualit can
easily swap for new.

By extending the lifespan of its kettles forever, Dualit is likely to take a
hit on sales. However, long term, the gamble will pay off, says Leslie.

“We might seem bonkers but bottom lines come and go while a reputation, once
lost, is gone forever.”

Leslie can afford to be sanguine about the effects of the replacable element.
The toaster business survived the introduction of his “armour-plated”
ProHeat element, which made the toasters almost unbreakable. “Sales of
replacement elements collapsed overnight,” says Alex. Leslie admits: “If we
were a public company, we would struggle to get the City to understand our

“But we don’t have to justify ourselves to anyone. We’re a family business and
if we don’t make a lot of money one year, but we’re recognised as the best
maker of kettles and toasters in the world, that secures new business next

New product launches are essential to the growth of the business. “Every time
we launch a product like the coffee capsules, it pulls all our other
products up with it,” says Leslie.

“That’s why we make everything to a commercial standard. In a motorway cafe,
our toasters can be used all day every day. They need to be able to cope
with that kind of use.”

To ensure that the business is not exposed to unnecessary risk, Leslie and
Alex have grown the export side, which now accounts for 40pc of sales. “We
export to 54 countries,” says Leslie.

Despite the international footprint, the Gort-Bartens have no intention of
moving manufacturing offshore.

“It may not be cost-effective to make things here, but British quality is the
best,” says Leslie. “I don’t want to be a box dealer. We can tell you
exactly who made each one of our toasters stretching back 20 years.”

Its British manufacturing base means that Dualit can enter into interesting
new partnerships with its customers. A tie-up with John Lewis, which will
allow the store’s customers to bring in fabric swatches and have Dualit
products made in their exact colours, to order, is currently in the pipeline.

“We couldn’t do that if we were making our products in China,” says Leslie.

He is working on several other ideas to help customers get the most out of
Dualit. Luckily, most of the margin-squeezing ideas have yet to come off. “I
was trying to work out a way for customers to reuse the capsules,” Leslie
admits. “But it is quite nice selling a consumable that we never see again.”

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