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Introduction to Brooke Bond

I (Lee Towersey) run this site on behalf of my Mum (Judith Towersey) who has been a Brooke Bond collector & dealer for a number of years. Coincidentally one of my Dads (Mike Towersey) first jobs was delivering Brooke Bond Tea!

Dad at work!

In 1869 Arthur Brooke opened his first shop with his £400 savings. Called 'Brooke Bond & Company' there was no 'Mr Bond': the name 'seemed to him to sound well'. His shop opened at 29 Market Street, Manchester, England, selling tea, coffee and sugar only - for cash over the counter. His first cash book still exists, and shows that he made a profit in his first week by putting his own share back into the business.

The story goes on, and we continue with how cards were introduced and how advertising and promoting of Brooke Bond built the company to where they are today.

With the ending of tea control in 1952, Brooke Bond in Britain entered a period of real challenge. In the preceding years, profits had been carefully husbanded so that at this moment the company was well balanced to take advantage of the situation. It was a question of who was awake and ready and who was still asleep on the day tea rationing ceased. The Brooke Bond sales team led by Vernon Blackwell and supported by all the firm's reserves and manpower had in fact been ready and raring to go with all campaigns worked out for some considerable time.

The moment coincided with the election of a new chairman - John Brooke. With his deputy chairman, Thomas D Rutter, and the salesroom in the hands of two tried and experienced tea men, Leslie Gray and Cyril W Dudley; the company finances managed by Laurence Green and Conrad Warner; and the sales side under the direction of Vernon Blackwell assisted by Wilfred Payne and A D Dorrington, John Brooke had a staff that mingled tradition and imagination, innovation and reliability.

In the next decade, the most striking developments were in the competitive fields of advertising and promotion. First a series of colour advertisements in magazines depicted tea cultivation and production and told 'The Story of Tea'. For the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 it had been planned - as at previous coronations - to produce appropriately decorated canisters of tea. At almost the last moment, metal shortages made this impossible. With customary Brooke Bond ingenuity, Vernon Blackwell inaugurated 'coronation tea parties'. In exchange for thirty packet wrappers, the organisers of street tea parties throughout the country were given a contribution towards the cost of the festivities. (In 1969 there was no such shortage to prevent production of decorated canisters to commemorate the investiture of the Prince of Wales at Caernarvon.)

Berkshire Printing produced a million Union jack paper hats, bearing the company name. It seemed that all the children in Britain were celebrating the new era. In 1954 another successful promotion was launched. Before the war, cigarette cards had been collected in their millions - small rectangles of coloured pasteboard inserted in cigarette packets. The tobacco manufacturers had not reintroduced the cards after the war. Now Brooke Bond inaugurated 'picture cards'.

Enquiries among leading printers produced no response. It seemed that British printers had lost the capacity or the wish to print such cards. So the job went to the Berkshire Printing Company who, starting from scratch, made a fine job of printing many millions of cards to the highest standards of colour work. Neville Brooke and Phillips Engineering devised a mechanical method of inserting the cards in tea packets. The first series of picture cards, their subjects drawn from natural history, were produced with the assistance of the eminent naturalist and author Miss Frances Pitt and illustrated British birds.

Further series followed, on such subjects as wild flowers, astronomy, fish, butterflies and African and Asian wild life. Later, transport, the motor car, and British costume were added. The Brooke Bond picture cards established themselves rapidly as collectors' favourites and as educational aids, and by 1968 the annual distribution of the cards had topped 720 millions.

Another major promotion was introduced in 1955. Following the success over many years of local schools competitions organized by Brooke Bond, a National Schools Competition of art and essay-writing was launched, with a judging panel of headmasters, and a first prize of a journey to the tea estates of East Africa, India or Ceylon.

A most attractive series of advertisements illustrated in finely drawn pictures, the 'little red vans' round and about in the towns and cities of Britain, and also became collectors items.

The pressure of space in the old Goulston Street headquarters had now become unendurable and in December 1956 the head, office and salesroom moved into a new block Watling House, Cannon Street. Thus Brooke Bond returned to the City of London. That year also, the company made a new agreement with Bushells Pty Ltd., the largest tea and coffee distributors in Australia and New Zealand, to supply bulk tea. Brooke Bond also provided substantial new capital for the Australian Company and obtained a twenty per cent interest in it.

With the inauguration of independent television in Britain in September 1955, Brooke Bond became one of the early companies successfully to exploit the advertising possibilities of the new medium. The company had already achieved a high reputation for the quality of its advertising films, mainly documentaries based on the growing of tea. It was Bill Barter of Spottiswoods the advertising agents - whose chairman was R G Morris - who suggested that chimpanzees might be employed to make an amusing and unusual television commercial. The first advertisements appeared in 1956 at Christmastime. Chimps were associated with tea: over many years the 'chimps' tea party at London Zoo had been an unfailing attraction for children. The first two television commercials for Brooke Bond - 'Stately Homes' and the 'Chimps Tea Party' - were made by the Marquis troop of chimps trained for cabaret by Gene Detroy. A further series followed using chimps recruited from Billy Smart's circus. These commercials became tremendously popular, with voices provided by Peter Sellers, Bruce Forsyth and Bob Monkhouse.

Soon the Brooke Bond chimps were in demand for public appearances. George Cansdale of the London Zoo enabled the company to discover the chimps owned and trained by Miss Molly Badham, and these began to make merchandising tours round the country, drawing huge crowds as they 'helped' to open supermarkets and new stores.

On a more domestic occasion - a Brooke Bond staff party to mark Miss Lilian Bristow's retirement as advertising manager - Johny, Judy, Sam and Rosie proved most charming guests. Rosie, in particular, was found to have a feminine weakness for gin and orange, and almond icing.

The Brooke Bond chimps certainly sold more tea. Their television commercials were carefully linked with point-of sale promotions in shops and stores. By 1957 the advertising budget was £680000 but this was more than offset by increased sales: the company could claim that one in every four families in Britain was drinking Brooke Bond tea. The chimps appeared live at Saturday morning film shows staged by the company's own projection units, which, during weekdays and evenings, showed documentaries to schools and women's and other institutes all over Britain.

As the number of supermarkets increased, so did 'point-of sale' advertising methods - dump bins, in-store promotions, tea avenues and 'mobiles' often featuring coloured cut-outs of the birds and animals then illustrated in the picture card series. The notable success of these advertising and merchandising methods is a tribute to Vernon Blackwell, whose ten years as sales director were marked by a triumphant increase in sales in the most competitive period of the company's history. The secret was in the efficient linking of vigorous advertising with skilled sales distribution geared to cope with increases in demand and factory production.

By 1958 the capital value of Brooke Bond had reached £30 million and the company held almost thirty per cent of the packet tea market in Britain. At that time the Monopolies Commission investigated the whole tea trade without finding anything wrong with it. Learning then that 33.1/3 per cent of the packet tea trade would make Brooke Bond a monopoly, John Brooke made this the immediate sales target for the home business.

New sales depots were required. Many of the smaller depots were combined to form larger units and the company embarked on a substantial programme of depot rebuilding, introducing a number of mechanical aids. New factories were opened at Bristol and at Redbourn, Hertfordshire (also responsible for Crown Cup instant coffee, launched in 1963. Later an extension was completed at the Trafford Park factory and the last bomb-damaged premises in Aldgate were rebuilt.

The heavy vehicle fleets, used to transport tea from factories to depots, were gradually replaced. The new vehicles, carrying at least 19200 lb. of tea, were equipped with hydraulic tail lifts. This, combined with pallet loading, led to faster off-loading at depots and a more efficient turn-round of the vehicles themselves.

More mechanical aids were introduced into the factories, many of them produced by Phillips Engineering Ltd., a Brooke Bond subsidiary then in Birmingham and now in Weston-super-Mare. Among these aids was a jar cleaning machine and an automatic tea-chest-opening machine. Phillips has now expanded to be much more than just a service company for Brooke Bond: it produces reel-fed printing machinery, and also precision engineering work for the motor and aircraft industries.

Many major developments took place in the 1960s. Until this decade, it had not been company policy to enter the tea-bag market. But now Brooke Bond began to produce teabags, and within a few years reached second place in the British market.

At this time vending machines came into greater use, particularly in factories and offices. Brooke Bond catering service, which was until then an offshoot of the retail sales force, now came under separate management. A comprehensive catering and vending service was introduced providing tea, coffee, chocolate and cups; later the production range was enlarged to embrace control packs for caterers (coffee, instant coffee, tea-bags), vending sugar, soups, beef extracts, milk and cold drinks.

Until the 1960s Brooke Bond had been principally a commodity company. But now, in association with Tenco, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, the company launched its own research laboratories at Blount's Court, near Reading. There is another research laboratory at Kericho, Kenya. A new factory costing £2 millions was built at Bedwas, near Newport, Monmouthshire, to manufacture freeze-dried instant tea and other instant foods.

By 1965 the size and scope of all these operations called for a new company structure on modern lines, and the home sales side was turned into a separate company, Brooke Bond Tea limited, with a greater degree of autonomy. Shortly afterwards the parent company branched into yet another field of the tea trade. While its reputation had been built on the marketing of good quality teas at a reasonable price, Brooke Bond was often regarded as particularly associated with the mass market. In 1967 four named quality teas were put on the market by mail order at £1 a lb. Later six superb coffees packed in half-pound vacuum-sealed tins were also introduced.

The expertise of another Brooke Bond subsidiary was particularly useful in these new launchings. This was the Priory Tea and Coffee Company Limited, which for years had blended and packed tea and coffee under proprietary brand names. Today Priory handles more than 30% of the roasted and ground coffee market in Britain, and has also successfully launched in the United Kingdom Blue Ribbon spices (at first manufactured by Brooke Bond Canada Ltd.) and packed by Priory themselves in London.

Through the 1960s Brooke Bond continued to take a larger share of the British tea market, and also to support the Tea Council's promotion, 'Join the Tea Set', which aimed to increase the market as a whole.

Overseas, Brooke Bond Exports began to have a marked success, particularly in the West Indies. Indeed, the company could claim to be in the tea business round the world. In Japan, there was an agreement with the Japan Black Tea Company, an associate of the mighty Mitsubishi, and travellers on the most modern train in the world, the Tokaido line, drink Brooke Bond tea. Passengers on the Metroliner supertrain between Washington and New York drink coffee supplied by Ehlers, a division of Brooke Bond Foods Inc, which also has a valuable spice trade in New York.

Brooke Bond had long since passed the CWS weekly sales total of packet tea in Britain and in 1966 were double brand leaders with PG Tips and Dividend tea' 'Triple Divi' was introduced in 1967 to join the Dividend range, and PG Tips 'the tea you can really taste' - had moved forward to become the market leader. In 1968 a special promotion in connection with PG Tips offered the ten winners a reunion with any friend or relative anywhere in the world. There were five hundred prizes of telephone calls to friends or relatives anywhere' in the world for the runners up. The competition attracted 1500000 entries from 900000 people, and added 30 per cent to the sales of PG Tips. The 'Happy Reunion' contest won for Brooke Bond the M S Surveys 'Promotion of the Year' award. Another successful promotion was at EXPO '67, the World's Fair at Montreal, where two London buses provided by Brooke Bond proved an attraction for visitors from all over the world.

In 1968, by its merger with Liebig, Brooke Bond became joint owners of 2684428 acres of cattle ranches in Argentina, Paraguay and Rhodesia - a pleasant instance of history repeating itself, though this time appropriately on a much larger scale.

Liebig's Extract of Meat Company Limited was incorporated in London in 1865 - four years before Arthur Brooke opened his shop in Manchester. It had been founded to manufacture meat extract, the invention of Baron Justus Von Liebig, the pioneer organic and agricultural chemist. The place chosen was near a town called Fray Bentos on the River Uruguay, where cattle at that time were slaughtered solely for their hides, the carcasses being left to rot on the plains. According to local tradition, the town was named Fray Bentos by visiting sailors, after a pious old hermit who lived there - Friar Bentos.

The company has greatly expanded in a hundred years, both in ranching and in selling manufactured products, most of them based on beef. Today, Liebig owns meat-canning and freezing factories in the Argentine, Paraguay and Rhodesia; a similar factory is operated jointly with the Government of Tanzania, and there is a minority shareholding in a meatcanning factory in Northern Nigeria. Liebig has agreements with government agencies in Kenya, Botswana and Uganda for supervising the manufacture and marketing of canned meats.

There are Liebig companies in the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa, France, Belgium and Italy, producing meat and chicken cubes, stock tablets, beef drinks and liquid bouillons, together with canned convenience foods. There are also distribution companies in Holland and Spain. Liebig products are all marketed under various brand names, of which the best known being Oxo, Fray Bentos, Lemco, Liebig and Viandox.

On its centenary, Brooke Bond by merging its operations with those of Liebig gained additional assets in Africa and a considerable stake in the expanding markets of South America, as well as new outlets in Europe. The merger produced a company, Brooke Bond Liebig, that is one of the largest food manufacturing and distributing companies in the United Kingdom, with interests spanning the whole world.

After asking their customers what they thought of tea cards with this card:

Survey Card

Brooke Bond were seen to take note and enclosed this card in their tea for a short while:

Thank You Card

Surprisingly a decision was made and with much publicity including TV, Radio & National Press it was decided to stop including cards in their tea and issued (for a very short time) 3 different 'Farewell' cards:

Farewell Card 1
Farewell Card 2
Farewell Card 3

And that brings us to the end of Brooke Bond Tea Cards.............Or was it another successful publicity stunt?

All text on this page in non-italics taken from 'Brooke Bond 100 Years'.