Dualit: the made-in-Britain brand keeping toast and tea in fashion

British manufacturer Dualit has thrived throughout the crisis and grown profits 30% as it has successfully kept toast and tea in fashion.

Dualit, a hand-made British brand

Dualit is a British manufacturer known for its iconic toasters and kettles which started life producing heavy-duty retro designs for commercial kitchens before finding a way into fashionable British homes. Founded by German-born entrepreneur Max Gort-Barten in 1946, and named after his first invention the Dual-Light electric fire, this small British company now boasts a broad catering product range and revenues of £15 million.

Staying in the family, today, the company is headed by the father and son team of Leslie Gort-Barten, 64, who took over in the 1980s, and Alex Gort-Barten, 36, a trained product designer. The duo is dedicated to the company’s heritage, but father and son are also pushing this traditional British brand into new markets.

Coffee wars, into battle with Nespresso

Indeed, whilst the Dualit toasters are still made in pretty much the same way as they were in the 1950s, with each lo-tech manual toaster hand-assembled from beginning to end, the company has expanded into the $10 billion coffee capsule market.

In 2012 the company launched a range of capsules, fitting both Nespresso and Dualit-own machines, that cost about 12% less than Nespresso’s own brand. And following a landmark case in 2013 when the UK’s High Court of Justice ruled that the Dualit coffee capsules do not infringe patents on Nespresso machines, the company is now directly competing with consumer goods giant Nestlé.

Alex comments: “We’ve never seen a product grow as fast as the coffee capsules business. Sales were up 550% in the year to June”.

Dualit’s capsules now account for 6% of turnover (up from 1% in 2012). And the time in the legal limelight has also raised Dualit’s international profile, and the company reveals it is now regularly featured in the press alongside huge multinational companies.

Tea pods, reinventing tea for a nation of tea drinkers

But taking on Nespresso – a luxury brand in the consumer goods market with stores boasting a higher sales density than Louis Vuitton – wasn’t enough for the traditional British company, which has now taken on giants in the world of tea with a range of tea capsules.

In partnership with The Cornish Tea Company, Dualit has produced a range of tea pods which allow a nation of tea drinkers to make a cuppa’ – using a Nespresso machine or a Dualit own-brand version – in 30 seconds. Dualit has invested £1million in a new factory in Sussex to meet the expected demand. And benefitting from a shelf life of two-and-a-half years, Dualit’s tea pods are receiving significant interest from hotel and restaurant chains.

Leslie comments: “We’re the new tea pioneers. 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.” Indeed, teabags now claim 97% of the market which sees more than three-quarters of Britons drink a cup every day, with a total of 165 million cups of tea drunk each day.

Toast and tea never go out of fashion

Constantly updating the product range and improving its offering, the traditional brand has also released a “quiet ball” element which ensures that the kettles no longer scream when water is boiled, and has re-launched the classic kettle with an extendable life, making it the first repairable kettle on the market.

But a long-life kettle – which follows the Dualit armoured toaster which is almost unbreakable –, and keeping all production in the UK, is an intriguing business plan. Leslie comments: “If we were a public company, we would struggle to get the City to understand our logic. But we don’t have to justify ourselves to anyone. We’re a family business…. We might seem bonkers but bottom lines come and go while a reputation, once lost, is gone forever.”

Instead, the company relies on launching new products for business growth – such as the new range of tea pods. “Every time we launch a product, it pulls all our other products up with it,” says Leslie. The company has also focused on export – shipping to 54 countries around the world – and it now accounts for 40% of sales. It also runs a partnership with upmarket department store John Lewis, which will see the two companies soon launch customisable Dualit products.

This surprising business strategy is working so far: the company has thrived during the crisis without having to lower the high prices (a Dualit toaster costs between £60 and £270) whilst turnover has grown 30% since 2009. And not many companies manufacturing on home-British soil could say the same: but perhaps toast and tea never go out of fashion.

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