Marcus Stead

Journalist Marcus Stead

Archive for November 2018

Brooke Bond D – The rise and fall of a British institution

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By MARCUS STEAD

IT HELPED ease the financial hardships of the working classes in the pre and post-war years, evolved into the beverage of choice for an iconic motor racing champion in the 1970s, and morphed into a cool, hip, even middle class brand in the 1980s, but Brooke Bond Dividend, latterly known as Brooke Bond D, died a quiet death at the age of 83 earlier this year, almost entirely unnoticed.

Brooke Bond D Box 1Brooke Bond Dividend Tea launched in 1935 as the company’s value product to compliment the mid-market PG Tips, which it began producing five years earlier from its factory at Trafford Park near Manchester. Each packet contained a picture card and a cut-out stamp, with 60 needed to fill a book that could be redeemed for cash or gifts. For many years, a full book of 60 stamps could be exchanged for 5/- cash or groceries from retailers.

An early billboard campaign featured a drawing of a young married couple with the slogan ‘Spend Wisely, Save Wisely’. The blend of the nation’s favourite beverage and an incentive to save money proved a hit with the working classes.

By 1939, the brand was firmly established, and a series of newspaper adverts appeared with advice from a fictional, caricatured ‘Dr Jollywell’, who espoused the tea’s qualities for helping the digestive system. In one advert, the good doctor told readers: “Take care of your digestion. Drink the digestive tea that gives you FLAVOUR. Brooke Bond Dividend Digestive Tea has a flavour all can enjoy – and it pays a dividend. Brooke Bond Dividend Digestive Tea is blended with expert skill. It gives you your full moneysworth, in favour and digestibility – and the dividend saves you 4d on every 1lb you buy.”

The same year, ‘The Brooke Bond Programmes’ aired on Radio Luxemburg (1293m) and Radio Normandy (274m) six mornings per week.

But storm clouds were gathering for dividend stamp collectors with the outbreak of World War II in September that year, and when rationing was introduced in 1940, the book-filling process was slowed down for millions as tea was restricted to 2oz per adult, per week.

Tea rations gradually increased in the years after the war ended and had reached the pre-war consumption level of 3oz per head some time before restrictions were lifted on 3 October 1952. The same year, Gerald Brooke, son of company founder Arthur, retired as chairman, under whose tenure the company’s tea packet trade had multiplied 20 times, helped in large part by Brooke Bond Dividend’s reputation for striking a balance between affordability while maintaining quality with a blend of 30 teas.

Gerald was succeeded by high-powered, resilient son John, and company turnover exceeded £68 million in 1954, with the majority of sales coming from quarter pound packets of tea, of which one thousand million were sold globally throughout the year, and three years later, the company was probably the largest in the world, with a one third share in both the British and Indian tea markets.

These were the boom times for Brooke Bond. In 1958, the company’s head office moved to Cannon Street, London, and by 1963, the company owned 30,000 acres of tea plantations in India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Africa, employing 50,000 people.

The humble tea bag was created by accident in 1908, when New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan began shipping Indian and Chinese tea to his customers in small silk sample packages. Assuming they were supposed to submerge the entire bag into boiling water, his customers unintentionally revolutionised tea drinking for at least the next 100 years, and in the 1920s the fabric was changed to gauze, though it took until 1953 before Tetley, one of Brooke Bond’s biggest rivals, brought the concept to Britain.

To begin with, tea bags were regarded as a gimmick by most in the industry and Brooke Bond resisted the temptation to follow their rivals until well into the 1960s, when it became clear that the concept was here to stay as consumers became used to the convenience. The company went from strength to strength, and in 1968 it merged with Liebig, owners of food brands including Oxo and Fray Bentos.

When Britain ‘went decimal’ in February 1971, a completed card of 60 dividend stamps could be exchanged for 25p in cash or groceries at stores that sold Brooke Bond D. Twelve months later, Brooke Bond’s share of the British tea market had grown to 40%. The midmarket PG Tips was brand leader with 20%, while Dividend held a respectable 12%.

Dividend tea remained popular throughout the 1970s, but Brooke Bond showed signs of evolving the concept, as by the middle of the decade a giant ‘D’ covered most of the packaging, with the word ‘dividend’ reduced to smaller lettering near the top. The brand’s prominence was maintained by regular newspaper and TV adverts, including one featuring Formula One world champion Jackie Stewart and his wife Helen based around the Herbert and Sullivan song ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’.

As the 1970s gave way to the more aggressively capitalist world of the 1980s, the dividend stamp scheme came to an end and the tea was rebranded ‘Brooke Bond D’, though it remained instantly recognisable as the ‘D’ had been prominent on the packaging for some years.

Throughout the 1980s, attempts were made to move the brand’s image away from its downmarket, ‘scrimp and save’ image and give it a cooler edge. Brand loyalty was maintained with incentives such as the ‘Brooke Bond D – Reviving Stuff’ series of cassette tapes featuring classic chart hits, which could be redeemed for coupons on the back of packets, and in the first half of the decade, blocky computer graphics were used in its TV advertising campaign with the strapline ‘The Tea With the 3D Taste’.

Brooke Bond Liebig was subject to a hostile takeover by multinational giants Unilever in 1984, and two years later, Brooke Bond D’s longest-running and best-remembered advertising campaign began with soul singer Madeline Bell providing the vocals to ‘I Could Do with a D’, which had varying lyrics to fit the accompanying pictures, penned by the late Ronnie Bond. A non-PC advert from 1986 featured ‘Only Fools and Horses’ actor John Challis (well, it looks like him – what do you think?) playing the boss of a glamorous young yuppy who uses a typewriter to inflict an injury on him when he touches her knee. An early 1990s version saw actress Jane Cunliffe as an ever-busy ‘mumsy’ figure to a family with young children, with new lyrics to accompany the by-then familiar tune. There was also a ‘How Many Ds in Match of the Day?’ advert that aired around this period.

But the 1990s heralded the beginning of the end for Brooke Bond D. It lived on for another two decades, but its very gradual demise and fade from the public view was underway. The TV adverts came to a permanent end in the middle of the decade, and its presence on supermarket shelves reduced with every year that passed.

The brand was no longer one of Unilever’s priorities, so the licence to produce Brooke Bond D and the upmarket Brooke Bond Choicest Blend was sold to Gold Crown Foods Ltd, who produced rival brand Typhoo in neighbouring rival Merseyside.

Brooke Bond D Box 2

The back of a box of D Tea in 2018, complete with early 1990s pictures

The company (now trading as Typhoo Tea Ltd) removed the words ‘Brooke Bond’ from the packaging, which otherwise remained identical, with a green box and a bright yellow ‘D’ on the front, and a picture of an early 1990s family sat around a kitchen table, complete with tea pot and teenage boy with a ‘mop top’ haircut. The Brooke Bond brand quietly disappeared from the UK, but it lives on in other countries, including Pakistan, where ‘Brooke Bond Supreme’ is the market leader.

During the 2000s and into the 2010s, D Tea, while consistent in taste and familiar in appearance, was increasingly regarded as a ‘budget’ tea, sold mainly in local convenience stores and in pound shops, usually in a ‘50% extra free’ box with 120 bags for the price of 80. Perhaps this was, in a sense, a return to its ‘dividend’ roots and a ‘tea of the people’.

Typhoo ceased production in 2011, but this wasn’t the end of the story, as discount retailers buy huge quantities of staple products years in advance, meaning D Tea remained a regular presence on the shelves, as well as being sold on Typhoo’s own website, and by a number of independent retailers on Amazon.

The death knell finally sounded in August this year with the demise of Poundworld, which was the last major retailer with reserve supplies of D Tea.

We are now a country that drinks twice as much coffee as tea. The humble tea bag won’t be disappearing from the shelves any time soon, but it is forced to compete for space alongside herbal, green and an ever-expanding range of flavoured counterparts.

D Tea was unable to define its purpose on the shelves of 21st century Britain where a no frills cup of tea is no longer the nation’s default drink, and where dividend stamps and collector’s coupons have given way to loyalty cards and online discount codes.

Written by Marcus Stead

November 10, 2018 at 1:01 am