Epps was the leading brand of cocoa in Victorian Britain.
Dr John Epps invents an instant cocoa
Dr John Epps (1805 – 1869) was the son of a wealthy Calvinist provision merchant in London.
Dr Epps became one of the pioneers of homeopathy in Britain. He established premises at Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury. He was joined by his brother, James Epps (1821 – 1907), from 1837.
The almost prohibitive duty on cocoa was greatly reduced in 1832, allowing the market to grow exponentially. Easily prepared cocoa had been difficult to procure, and the fat in the raw material was unpalatable for many. Dr John Epps discovered a way to make it more appetising, mixing the cocoa with 20 percent West Indies arrowroot and 13 percent sugar.
Epps’ cocoa was first sold in 1839 for the use of patients for whom tea and coffee were restricted. It was an instant cocoa powder, made by mixing with hot water or milk.
Dr John Epps was not the first person to invent soluble cocoa powder, but James Epps was largely responsible for introducing the product to the mass market. He heavily advertised Epps’ Cocoa, and had introduced a distinctive slogan, “grateful and comforting” by 1855.
Epps’ Cocoa was initially produced under contract by Daniel Dunn of Pentonville Road, who had invented instant cocoa powder in 1819.
James Epps begins to manufacture cocoa independently
James Epps had established his own factory at 398 Euston Road, London by 1863. He installed his nephew, Hahnemann Epps (1843 – 1916), as manager.
Epps & Co had grown to become the largest cocoa powder producer in Britain by 1878, with an output of nearly five million pounds (2.3 million kg) a year. To accommodate increasing production, a new steam-powered works was established at Holland Street, Blackfriars from 1878. At its peak Epps & Co processed half of all cocoa imports into Britain.
A short and slight man, James Epps kept a low public profile, unlike his gregarious brother John. He was known only for his work in business, and had few outside interests. He allowed his portrait to be taken only once, and he never granted an interview or issued a public statement. He was a hard worker, keen on a bargain, and somewhat controlling. Despite his massive wealth he lived in an unfashionable area of London.
Epps & Co sales peaked in the early 1880s. Nearly 15 million packets were sold in 1882. Sales began to decline as rivals introduced superior products. Cadbury and Rowntree invested in Van Houten presses, which allowed the manufacturer to remove the unpalatable cocoa butter from the product. Epps neglected to respond to this change.
Epps & Co is converted into a private company; sale to Rowntree
The business was converted into a private joint stock limited company known as James Epps & Co in 1893. The directors were James Epps, Hahnemann Epps and James Epps Jr (1856 – 1905), and the company had a capital of £200,000. No shares were offered to the public, and the company remained under family control.
Epps’ Cocoa had been overtaken in sales by Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa and Rowntree by 1898.
James Epps Jr (also known as Willie James Epps), the only son of James Epps, died of a heart attack in Jamaica in 1905. His gross estate was valued at £162,422.
James Epps died in 1907 and his gross estate was valued at £735,387. This was a larger estate than contemporaries in the food industry such as the mustard magnate Jeremiah James Colman (1830 – 1898), instant custard producer Alfred Bird (1849 – 1922) or James Horlick (1844 – 1921).
The estate was inherited by his nieces and nephews, principally James Washington Epps (1874 -1955), who became managing director of James Epps & Co. Hahnemann Epps became chairman.
Taylor Brothers Ltd, a London cocoa manufacturer, was acquired in 1907. Taylor’s cocoa was an economy offering, made with up to 20 percent cocoa shell, whereas Epps was a premium product, and contained no shell.
Epps’ Cocoa powder had been reformulated to include 44 percent sugar, 40 percent cocoa and 16 percent West Indies arrowroot by 1924.
Rowntree of York acquired James Epps & Co for £70,000 in 1926.
The Epps factory was closed in 1930, and the manufacture of Epps products was transferred to Whitefields Ltd of Plaistow.