How did Typhoo become one of the highest-selling tea brands in Britain?
Early history and introduction of Typhoo
William Sumner (born c. 1796) acquired Pratchett & Noble, a chemist and grocery business at 97 High Street Birmingham, in 1820. The sale of tea soon became a major component of the business. Control of the business passed to his son, John Sumner Snr (born 1824), from 1852.
John Sumner Jr (1856 – 1934) joined the family business after leaving school. He began to package and market a blend of Ceylon tea leaf tips from 1903. Leaf was generally sold loose from shops, and pre-packaged tea was still a relatively unknown product.
Sumner successfully marketed the tea as a cure for nervousness and an aid to digestion, under the brand name Typhoo Tipps. He derived the Typhoo name from a Chinese word meaning doctor.
John Sumner Jr divested the grocery business in 1905 and founded a private company to produce and market his packaged tea. A factory was established at Castle Street in Digbeth, Birmingham. Rapid expansion occurred, accompanied by aggressive marketing.
Sumner established a blending operation in Ceylon in 1909. This allowed him to buy directly from growers, thus saving costs by cutting out the middleman.
Sumner retired in 1926 and dedicated much of the rest of his life to philanthropy. The business was taken over by his son, John Richard Hugh Sumner (1887 – 1971). The factory was relocated to Bordesley Street, also in Digbeth, in 1930.
Typhoo becomes a mass market brand
Typhoo tea was sold in over 40,000 outlets by the early 1930s, making it one of the highest-selling packet teas in Britain.
Operations ended in Ceylon in 1933, after it was discovered that the Ceylon agents had overcharged the business for inferior tea.
John Sumner died in 1934 and left an estate valued at £740,041.
Wartime bombing damaged over two thirds of the Birmingham factory in 1941. With reconstruction materials scarce, limited production was relocated to Brooke Bond and J Lyons for the remainder of the war.
Typhoo was incorporated with a capital of £750,000 in 1949. This figure was increased to £1.1 million in 1954.
Typhoo established a high degree of efficiency by concentrating on a single product, in a single pack, with a single price.
A £22 million takeover bid by Kraft of Chicago was rejected in 1960. Kraft had been attracted by a growing market for tea in the United States.
Typhoo held around 15 percent of the British tea market throughout the 1960s, behind Brooke Bond and the Co-op, and alongside J Lyons.
Sumner retired in 1966 and the managing director, Henry Claude Kelley (1897 – 1974), became chairman.
Typhoo began to manufacture tea bags from 1967. Typhoo had been slow to respond to the innovation, and had allowed rivals such as Tetley and Brooke Bond to steal a significant lead.
Typhoo is acquired by Schweppes
Typhoo was acquired by Schweppes, the soft drinks concern, for £45 million in 1968. Schweppes intended to utilise its strong marketing skills and global distribution network to increase Typhoo sales. It was almost a merger of equals, with Typhoo shareholders holding around 40 percent of the combined entity. H C Kelley joined the Schweppes board of directors.
Schweppes merged with Cadbury in 1969.
The Kenco coffee company was acquired for around £2 million in 1969 and merged with the Typhoo business.
The 160,000 sq ft factory in Digbeth, Birmingham employed 550 workers when it was closed in 1978. All the workers were offered alternative employment by Cadbury, who had significant operations in the area. The closure occurred as the Birmingham site was unsuitable for conversion to high-speed production.
Production was relocated to Moreton, Merseyside, which had been acquired by Cadbury in 1953 as a biscuit production plant. Moreton is conveniently located just a short distance away from the Port of Liverpool, where tea arrives by boat.
Typhoo held around 14 percent of the British tea market by 1984, behind only Brooke Bond and Lyons Tetley.
Sale by Schweppes and subsequent ownership
Typhoo was acquired by its management in 1986, and the company became known as Premier Brands. That year Melrose, the Scottish tea business, was acquired.
Typhoo was acquired by Premier Foods in 1990. In a marketing-led industry, the brand lacked an advertising campaign with the memorability of the PG Tips chimpanzees or the Tetley tea folk. Its share of the tea market had dwindled to just three percent by 1993.
Premier Foods sold Typhoo to Apeejay Surrendra Group of India for £80 million in 2005.
Typhoo placed fifth in the British tea market in 2015, with a market share of around ten percent. Typhoo was the eighth highest-selling tea in Britain in 2019.
The Moreton site became the largest packer of own-label tea in the UK, producing around 25 percent of all tea consumed in Britain.
Typhoo was sold to Zetland Capital in 2021.
The Moreton factory was closed in 2023, with the loss of 85 jobs. Production of Typhoo tea was subcontracted to third party suppliers.