COLUMBUS GROVE — In a world where small-town mom and pop shops are rapidly replaced by large chain stores, Pappy’s Sassafras Tea has found a way to maintain success.
Pappy’s, produced by H&K Products Inc., has brewed tea in the same small plant for more than 50 years. Located in Columbus Grove, three generations of H&K employees have been making sassafras tea in virtually the same way since the company was founded by Hermie Kerner in 1962.
Today, Kerner’s son-in-law, Don Nordhaus, and grandson, Jeff Nordhaus, run the company, using essentially the same recipe that’s been passed down through generations.
“We saw how successful Grandpa was, and when you see someone who has had success like that, why would you want to change that? asked Jeff Nordhaus.
Though Pappy’s hasn’t changed much in the last few decades, the marketplace certainly has. Walk into any large grocery chain, and you’ll find walls of products, many mass produced by large distributors and sold at a lower price. It’s made life a little tougher for a small-town producer like Pappy’s, but the Nordhaus family said they’ve been able to adapt without compromising quality and customer service.
“The Walmarts of the world have changed the model, so it’s tough on the little guy nowadays,” Nordhaus said. “Those big stores have put out a lot of little grocery stores that used to carry our products, so we had to get innovative.”
One strategy they’ve developed is selling all their products online at sassafrastea.com, so they don’t have to rely as much on stores carrying their teas, which include sassafras, green, raspberry and peach. They’ve also recently created a variety pack that contains all four of their teas.
Another way they’ve offset the effect of large companies on their business is by consolidating their production process. Though Nordhaus said they’ve never fired an employee, as people retire, they’ve been replaced by machines that can perform the task in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. Nordhaus said the hand-labeling process his grandfather started out with has been replaced by a labeling machine, and the same is true with a capping machine they bought more than 10 years ago.
“It used to take us three to three-and-a-half hours on a production run. Now we can do it in an hour and fifteen minutes,” he said. “It gives us more time to spend on marketing our products and those kinds of things.”
The emphasis on efficiency is important for the Nordhaus family, especially when considering a batch of sassafras tea takes about eight hours to brew. Nordhaus estimated they can now make 2,200 bottles of tea in a day.
Still brewed the old-fashioned way with sassafras root bark, Pappy’s tea is also healthy. A bottle of sassafras tea contains no sugar, caffeine and carbohydrates and has less than one calorie per serving. It is also packed with antioxidants.
Sassafras tea, like all their teas, is a concentrate that must be mixed with water. Nordhaus said this is beneficial to people with diabetes, who cannot drink products with high fructose corn syrup, and anyone else who is trying to be health-conscious.
Though FDA guidelines do not allow the company to advertise any health benefits, Nordhaus said they’ve had countless people tell them it’s helped soothe stomach pain, arthritis and other ailments.
“I can’t make those health claims because there isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove it, but we’ve had plenty of testimonials from people,” he said. “We have a couple of chemo(therapy) doctors that have used our tea with their patients when they can’t hold anything down. They say the sassafras helps soothe their stomach so that can at least hold liquids down.”
One thing is for certain: Pappy’s teas continue to fly off the production line and into the hands of a loyal customer base. Nordhaus said they sell about a million bottles every three years, and some customers will buy entire pallets of the stuff.
“We would not be here today if it weren’t for our loyal customers,” he said. “We take care of them, just like grandpa did because that was important to him, and it’s important to us. We value every customer.”
In a society where quantity supersedes quality and customer service is often undervalued, the Nordhaus family is sticking to its roots.
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima