James Ikin, Purchasing Manager

James Ikin (37) is one of the world’s most experienced tea purchasing managers when it comes to organic and fair trade tea. He was one of the first employees at Clipper, the British tea company founded in 1984 and based in Beaminster in Dorset. Clipper Tea was started by husband and wife team Lorraine and Mike Brehme, who were master tasters. The company was the first in the UK to bear the fair trade mark. James Ikin had joined the company shortly after, and as a ‘rookie’ in the business world he learned a lot from his former boss, who helped write global standards of fair trade tea production.

‘Our relations with our sustainable partners in South India go back more than two decades. And nowadays I still make two big trade trips each year. I want to know who is producing our tea, how our suppliers run their company, and taste every day. This makes it possible to learn and develop a more or less unique memory of tea tasting and tea quality.’

Total control is paramount
‘All our tea is produced at origin and then shipped to Beaminster. There are no other processes in between. We blend the teas in our specialised facilities before packing them for our consumers. Total control is paramount. We offer one hundred percent transparency, right back to our suppliers. Tea is a natural product; we offer full taste quality and product consistency with only one aim: a superb tasting experience. It’s whats on the inside that counts. This is also the feedback we get when we benchmark our teas and in tasting sessions with consumers. This makes me feel very proud!’

Helping local communities
‘We are a sustainable company. It is in our roots. We demand top quality while offering a fair price at the same time. We develop unique partnerships and create win-win situations. This really helps local communities in improving their living standards and welfare. When I return to the plantations after one year, our local partners have built health centres, set up sanitation and water projects, and created other essential amenities and facilities. These are all exciting projects to be part of. This year we started a partnership with a tea plantation in Rwanda which has converted to organic production standards. They produce great tea and we were the first European visitors – true pioneers.’

Working on synergies
‘Clipper was purchased by Wessanen in 2012. This acquisition has been a real boon to our company. Wessanen is investing heavily in our premises and processes, bringing our quality to an even higher level. With extra marketing and sales efforts out of Europe we now sell our products in over 50 countries. Right now we are also working on production synergies within the company. For instance, in Beaminster we are making Alter Eco tea, blends for Zonnatura, and prepare insourcing for Piramide. We produce over 1 billion tea bags. I believe in this company and its suppliers!’