Published reports on Milo’s Tea Co., Inc. state it is the largest seller of refrigerated tea in the United States, serving more than 13,000 retail outlets in 45 states. These figures point to a rapid expansion from 13 states in 2014. Sales topped $125 million in grocery and multi-outlet locations in 2018, according to Chicago-based market research firm IRI.
The company’s recent announcement that in 2020 it will open a new manufacturing hub in Tulsa, Oklahoma indicates both a substantial increase in capacity over its headquarters facility in Bessemer, Alabama but also, in the view of a number of commentators, is part of Milo’s focus on innovation in distribution to leverage its product growth and market expansion.
That growth has been built and maintained on its family tradition, beginning in 1946, for making an outstanding sweet iced tea that followed the founders’ recipe of filtered water, fresh-brewed tea and sugar, with no added preservatives, coloring or flavorings. One commentary describes it as “the nectar of the south.” It adds that “the name has become synonymous with sweet tea itself in some parts. In Alabama, at least, the tea has an almost cult-like devotion.”
Until 2013, that reputation and operations were largely centered in the South. Milo’s facility in Bessemer occupied 30,000 square feet on 3.5 acres in 2002 and was expanded to 150,000 square feet on 15 acres by 2018. The Tulsa Distribution and Production Center, scheduled to open in September 2020, adds 108,000 square feet. The Governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, pointed to the value of Tulsa’s location in its Western expansion. The company’s CEO, Patricia Wallwork, stated in the same article that this second production facility is “critical” in this regard and “fundamental” for extending its geographic footprint.
Up to 2014, Milo’s sales came almost entirely from its range of four iced teas. Its CEO was quoted in 2014 as stating Milo had launched just five new products in the previous nine years. Since then, it has added many. It entered the organics market in 2014, with USDA-certified “café style” teas, lemonade, Splenda- instead of sugar-sweetened varieties, peach tea and an energy boosted tea, M59, targeted to students. The focus on all-natural remains core. Milo’s won or has placed in the North American Tea Championship (now renamed the Global Tea Championship) for seven consecutive years from 2001-2017.
Milo’s has not released details of its plans. Observers have noted developments relevant to extended distribution. Its Bessemer delivery fleet prior to 2009 operated as a direct-to-store private licensed and bonded operator within a 100-mile radius of its Bessemer production base, using 12 refrigerator trucks. The company outsourced delivery to wholesale dairy distributors for longer distances and to meet the just-in-time demands of major retailers.
Moving to what is termed 3PL (third-party logistics) in a dedicated contract carriage arrangement with Ryder Supply Chain Solutions, Milo’s is reported to have reduced costs by 20% and mileage by 25%. The Milo’s-Ryder collaboration won an award in 2011 for 3PL logistics excellence. Descriptions of the system reference onboard IoT (internet of things) cab-to-hub connectivity, demand-surge management and optimization engines. Ryder lists advantages for Milo’s that shift lean supply chain from asset-intensive 3PL to resource-allocative 4PL. In early 2019, Milo’s posted a public job application for a manager of lean operations.
The Tulsa facility is located in the Cherokee Extension Industrial Park.
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