George Payne & Co became the largest tea merchant firm in the world. The business is best-known today for Poppets, a chocolate-coated toffee confectionery.
Largest tea merchants in the world
George Daniel Payne (1845 – 1927) was a tea buyer and blender for Brooke Bond. He was recognised as a forthright figure.
Payne established George Payne & Co, tea and coffee blenders, from 1896. The factory was at Queen Elizabeth Street, Tower Bridge, Bermondsey. James Finlay & Co, a Scottish tea merchant, held a 30 percent stake in the venture.
George Payne & Co blended and packed own-label tea for J Sainsbury, a grocery chain, under the Red Label name, from 1903. George Payne & Co was the largest tea merchant business in the world by 1910.
George Payne & Co expanded into cocoa production from 1905, and this led to their entrance into the confectionery market from 1910. The Tower Bridge factory was extended to five storeys to accommodate increasing production.
Payne’s enters into mass production of confectionery
A new confectionery factory was opened at Croydon Road, Beddington in 1919. Built across one storey on a 55-acre site, it produced cocoa, chocolate and confectionery. It prospered by concentrating on a limited number of product lines.
George Daniel Payne died in 1927 and left a gross estate valued at £81,491. Management of the business was taken over by Robert Henry Payne (1892 – 1946).
The Tower Bridge factory was rebuilt following a destructive fire in 1929.
One of the most popular product lines was the dragée, a bite-sized sweet with a chocolate coating, based on a confection popular in Vienna. The name was eventually anglicised to Payne’s Poppets, and the trademark was registered in 1936.
Poppets quickly became a leading product for the business. They were popular with cinema and theatre-goers as their cardboard-box packaging made them less noisy and more convenient to handle. Also, the “polished” chocolate coating did not readily melt, which reduced mess.
George Payne & Co employed 500 people by the late 1930s.
Robert Henry Payne died with an estate valued at £163,567 in 1946. Management of the business was taken over by his brother, Ronald George Payne (born 1910).
By the mid-1950s Poppets were available in a variety of flavours: Milk and Plain assortment, Brazils, Hazelnut, Almonds and All Nut assortment and Vanilla and Peppermint Creams.
Despite the success of Poppets, George Payne & Co continued as one of the largest tea blenders in Britain.
James Finlay & Co increased its stake in George Payne & Co to take overall control of the business in the 1950s.
The Tower Bridge site was closed in 1990 and tea processing was relocated to a new site at Elmsall, near Pontefract in Yorkshire.
Just Brazils was a top ten boxed chocolate by 1996, and Poppets was the eighth highest selling children’s confectionery.
James Finlay & Co decided to focus on their tea and coffee interests. The George Payne & Co confectionery business was sold to Northern Foods for £10 million in 1998.
George Payne & Co was the 48th largest confectionery manufacturer in the world in 2000. It had an annual turnover of $120 million, and employed 500 people.
The Beddington factory had become outdated, and offered limited potential for expansion. It was closed with the loss of 157 jobs in 2002, and production was relocated to Leicester.
Northern Foods sold its confectionery arm, including Fox’s glacier mints as well as Payne’s, to Big Bear for £9.4 million in 2003.
The Leicester factory was closed in 2019, and production of Poppets was relocated to York.