Brooke Bond became the largest tea company in the world. PG Tips remains the second highest-selling tea brand in Britain.
Arthur Brooke (1845 – 1918), was the son of a tea dealer from Ashton under Lyne, Lancashire. He trained at Peek Brothers & Winch, wholesale tea dealers, at Liverpool and London.
Brooke opened a shop in Manchester selling tea, coffee and sugar in 1869. He traded as “Brooke, Bond & Co”, because he liked the sound of the name.
At a time when groceries were largely sold on credit, Brooke took cash payments only. Within three years he had opened shops in Liverpool, Leeds and Bradford.
Brooke relocated to London and established a blending warehouse on Whitechapel High Street in 1872. By controlling his own distribution he was able to ensure product freshness.
A tea trade depression in the 1870s convinced Brooke to concentrate on the wholesale trade, and the London and Scottish stores were divested.
Brooke was a model employer who pioneered the eight hour working day, and paid higher wages than his competitors.
Brooke was also an early adopter of profit-sharing. First introduced for his 154 employees in 1882, the scheme accounted for an average of a ten percent staff bonus every year by 1891.
Conversion into a company
Brooke Bond was converted into a limited liability company with a share capital of £150,000 in 1892. A four-storey warehouse was acquired in Leeds with a floor space of 54,000 sq ft.
Brooke Bond had a 1/30th share of the British tea market by 1893. It was claimed that two million Britons drank Brooke Bond every day by 1897. The company employed a staff of 500, and sold through 30,000 outlets by 1902.
Brooke Bond relocated to Goulston Street in Aldgate, London from 1910.
Arthur Brooke retired as company chairman in 1910, and was succeeded by his son, Gerald Brooke (1881 – 1969).
A subsidiary was established in India to pursue sales of tea in that country from 1912.
Arthur Brooke died in 1918, and left a net personalty of £146,003.
A large factory at Trafford Park, Manchester, was established to serve the northern market from 1923.
Brooke Bond established tea plantations across 1,000 acres at Limuru, Kenya from 1924. Together with James Finlay & Co, the two companies pioneered tea production in East Africa.
The mid-market PG Tips brand was introduced from 1930.
Brooke Bond acquired T H Estabrooks of New Brunswick, proprietors of the Red Rose tea brand in Canada, in 1932.
Brooke Bond Dividend Tea was launched in 1935. It was the company’s value product, and each packet offered the chance to win cash prizes.
Brooke Bond was the largest wholesale tea business in the world by 1943.
The Red Rose tea brand was introduced to the United States from 1948.
The Blue Ribbon tea business in Canada was acquired in 1951.
Gerald Brooke retired as chairman in 1952. Under his tenure the company’s tea packet trade had multiplied twenty times. He was succeeded by his son, John Brooke (1912 – 1987), a high-powered, resilient man.
Turnover exceeded £68 million in 1954. The majority of sales came from quarter pound packets of tea, of which one thousand million were sold throughout the year.
Chimpanzees were first used as actors in television advertisements for PG Tips from 1955.
The British tea market remained stagnant, but Brooke Bond grew by winning sales from its competitors. Brooke Bond had overtaken Lyons to take the largest share of the British tea market by 1956. Over 100 million cups of Brooke Bond tea were drunk worldwide every day.
Largest tea company in the world
Brooke Bond was the largest tea company in the world by 1957, with a one third share of both the British and Indian tea markets. The company owned thousands of acres of tea plantations, more than any other tea distributor. There were five blending and packing factories in Britain. Company vans made deliveries to over 150,000 shops in Britain.
The head office was relocated to Cannon Street, London from 1958. By this time the company had interests in Britain, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Canada, the United States, East Africa and South Africa.
Despite its growth in size, Brooke Bond remained highly traditional. Agents regularly attended the tea auctions in Mincing Lane, London, with the time-honoured cries of “I want some” and “am I in it?” But Brooke Bond was also a thoroughly modern company; its annual advertising budget totalled $3 million. Annual sales were $318 million in 1962.
Brooke Bond owned 30,000 acres of tea plantations, located across India, Ceylon and Africa, by 1963. The company sold six brands of tea, marketed across 80 countries. 65 million cups of Brooke Bond tea were consumed in India every day. Its Red Rose brand was the market leader in Canada.
Brooke Bond employed approximately 50,000 people by 1965. Brooke Bond claimed to be the largest growers, manufacturers and distributors of tea in the world in 1966. Brooke Bond held 36 percent of the British tea market by 1968.
Major diversification occurred when Brooke Bond acquired Leibig, the owner of the Oxo stock cube and the Fray Bentos canned meat products, for £36 million in 1968. The merger created the sixth largest food company in Britain, and was to prove a great success.
100 million cups of Brooke Bond tea and coffee were drunk every day in India by 1969. By this time the company employed 12,000 people on its Kenyan tea plantations.
Brooke Bond acquired Haywards Pickles, alongside other smaller brands, from the Melbray Group for £1.5 million in cash in 1970.
Brooke Bond’s share of the British tea market had grown to 40 percent by 1972. PG Tips was the brand leader in tea with a 20 percent share, while Dividend held 12 percent. The Times credited the growth of the PG Tips brand to the chimpanzee advertising campaigns.
Brooke Bond sold its Sri Lanka plantations to the local government in 1975.
Brooke Bond was the largest tea producer in the world by 1980, and held 34 percent of the British tea market. It was the market leader in Britain and Europe. Brooke Bond had a modest share of the United States market, and owned the Bushells brand in Australia.
Acquisition by Unilever
Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant, acquired Brooke Bond for £389 million in cash in a hostile takeover in 1984. Unilever owned the Lipton tea brand and was one of the largest tea businesses in the world, with strong sales in America and the Far and Middle East.
Unilever immediately divested two non-core Brooke Bond subsidiaries; a chain of butchers’ shops and a timber business, and recouped over £110 million of the purchase price.
Haywards Pickles was sold to Hillsdown Holdings in 1989. The Fray Bentos brand was sold to Campbells Soup in 1993.
PG Tips continued to use chimpanzees in its advertising until 2002.
The Brooke Bond name is no longer in use in Britain. Brooke Bond’s Choicest Blend was latterly produced by Typhoo, but it was discontinued in the 2000s. Brooke Bond remains a major brand in India and Pakistan.
The Trafford Park factory in Manchester was the third largest tea factory in the world ub 2015.
PG Tips was overtaken by Twinings as the highest-selling tea in Britain in 2019.
Unilever sold its tea interests, excluding its businesses in India, Nepal and Indonesia, to CVC Capital for £3.8 billion in 2022.
2 thoughts on “Monkey business: Brooke Bond”
Dear Mr Farell,
Enjoyed reading this brief history of Brooke Bond. I am a senior academic working on the marketing of coffee in India. I know that from 1929 Brooke Bond had a factory at Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu where they processed coffee and sold in the local market too. Brooke Bond India merged with Unilever (currently Hindustan Lever) in 1984. Unilever’s online archive catalogue in Port Sunlight suggests that it has the records of Brooke Bond from the early 20th century. A query at the National Archives also directed me to the Unilever’s at Port Sunlight. However, a research trip to Port Sunlight revealed that they do not have any records related to Brooke Bond in the first half of the 20th century. I was wondering if you have any clue as to the archive of Brooke Bond.
Thanking you in anticipation,
As I understand it, Unilever have a very strong reputation as company archivists, so if they don’t have the Brooke Bond records then I have no idea where they might be.
Did the Unilever archives department offer any clues or suggestions as to where to find them?
It’s a long shot, but you could try ringing the Brooke Bond factory at Trafford Park on this number: 0161 872 7531.
If you have any more information about Brooke Bond in India I’d be interested to read it.