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A potted history of Twining & Co

Twinings is the leading premium tea brand in the world, and the highest-selling tea brand in Britain.

The first two hundred years
The Twining family originated from Gloucestershire, where they frequently found employment in the weaving industry. Recession in the trade led Daniel Twining to migrate to London with his family in 1684. His son, Thomas Twining (1675 – 1741), acquired Tom’s Coffee House on Deveraux Court, at the back of 216 Strand, in 1706. The shop was well-sited to serve the aristocracy.

As well as coffee, Twining began to sell the rare but fashionable tea. Twining was supplying tea by royal appointment to Queen Anne by 1711. Twining acquired the Golden Lyon at 216 Strand in 1717: the company still trades from the same premises today.

The Twining tea shop on the Strand, central London.
The Twining tea shop on the Strand, central London.

Coffee had been phased out in order to focus on tea by 1734.

Thomas’s son, Daniel Twining, took over the business, and by 1749 was exporting tea to America. The business was run by Daniel’s widow, Mary Twining, between 1762 and 1782.

Richard Twining (1749 – 1824) took over management of the business from 1782. He advised the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, to dramatically reduce the tax on tea in order to reduce smuggling in 1784. Tea sales subsequently quadrupled.

Twinings introduced its current logo, reputedly the oldest commercial logo to be in continuous use since its inception, from 1787.

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Jane Austen revealed herself to be a Twinings tea customer in an 1814 letter.

Twinings also developed a substantial banking subsidiary. It was spun-off as an independent business from 1824.

Twinings received a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1838. It has held a Royal Warrant from each successive British monarch ever since.

Twinings sourced their tea from China. Tea from India and Assam began to be used from 1839. Ceylon tea began to be used from 1879.

From the eighteenth century until the late nineteenth century, staff in the shop wore swallow tail coats and white ties.

The Twinings bank struggled to compete as rivals grew larger, and it was acquired by Lloyds Bank in 1892.

Twinings in the twentieth century
Twining & Co survived by keeping up with modern developments. Also, Twinings was fortunate in that all of the family members who had had controlled the business had been competent managers. Also, unlike many other tea companies, Twinings never owned tea plantations, which meant that it wasn’t tied to its own producers, and was free to select the best tea crops each year.

The tea interests of Harrisons Crosfield of Bankside were acquired in 1916. The merged business was registered as a private company called Twining Crosfield, with a share capital of £50,000. It was likely the second largest tea blending concern after Brooke Bond.

Part of the Twinings shop and the entire back premises were destroyed during the Blitz in 1941. Business continued throughout the war, although the damage necessitated that administration was relocated to Vincent Square in Westminster, followed by the Minories in the City of London, until the premises were rebuilt in 1953.

Twinings became a public company with a share capital of £400,000 in 1952. The company employed a staff of 450, and had net assets of almost £525,000. Manufacturing premises were at Wellclose Square, with floorspace of over 42,000 sq ft. There were also smaller factories at Belfast and Staffordshire. As well as the Strand location, the company operated shops at Wigmore Street and William Street, Knightsbridge.

Twinings undertook advertising for the first time in 1956. This move was prompted by the rise in sales of branded teas such as PG Tips.

Twinings is acquired by Associated British Foods
Twinings was subject to a friendly takeover by Associated British Foods in 1964. ABF, controlled by W G Weston (1898 – 1978), beat a hostile takeover from Beech-Nut Life Savers of New York, who bid almost £2 million. Beech-Nut had planned to merge Twinings with its own Tetley Tea operation. ABF vowed to allow Twinings to continue to operate independently.

The main factory in southeast London was struggling to cope with demand. Production was relocated to a new £3 million plant in Andover, Hampshire from 1966. The seven acre site contained one of the most modern automated factories in the world, and employed 700 workers.

An additional factory was opened at North Shields in the North East of England from 1970.

A dedicated marketing manager, Brynley Evans (born 1940), was brought in from the Rank Organisation. Evans was appointed as managing director from 1973.

Twinings tea had strong sales overseas by the 1970s. Japan and France were the leading export markets, whilst American sales continued to grow strongly, with a 55 percent rise between January and October 1971. Meanwhile the company gained distribution in British supermarkets with its speciality teas such as Earl Grey.

Twinings was the second largest supplier of black tea in Japan by 1974, with 32 percent of the market.

Company turnover was over £18 million in 1976. Export sales more than quadrupled to £8 million between 1969 and 1976, and Twinings tea was exported to over 80 countries. The company blended and packed 23 different types of tea. Twinings was the biggest British buyer of tea from China. Twinings supplied 26 percent of all the tea consumed in France.

Twinings opened a $6 million tea manufacturing facility at Greensboro, North Carolina from 1980.

Annual export sales had reached £17 million by 1983. Twinings was a brand leader in Japan by this time.

Twinings was the largest British exporter of tea to America by 1984. Earl Grey was the company’s bestseller worldwide.

The Greensboro plant was closed with the loss of 90 jobs in 2005.

Twinings closed the North Shields factory in 2011 and halved the workforce at the Andover plant. All export production was relocated to Swarzedz in Poland, with the loss of nearly 400 jobs in Britain. Twinings also applied to the European Union for €12 million in investment grants to assist with the relocation, but this was denied.

Twinings overtook PG Tips to become the highest-selling tea in the UK in 2019.

Twinings is sold in 115 countries across the world as of 2020.