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Ty-Phoo tea - quintessentially English.

Ty-Phoo tea - quintessentially English

Many decades before doctors lent their support to Ty-Phoo tea as being a cure for gastric disorders, weak digestion, nervous dyspepsia, and even flatulence, a Birmingham entrepreneur called John Sumner had a rather good idea.

John was the son of John senior who was born in Birmingham in 1824, and who, together with his brother William, expanded the drug and tea business of their father William who first drew breath in 1796.

Now, John junior had a sister Mary Augusta who suffered from indigestion. She had long endured the complaint when someone sent her a very special packet of tea with a promise of a cure. The tea was in tiny particles which was viewed with some suspicion since until then tea had been sold only as whole leaves. To Mary's delight she found the infusion gave her great relief.

Since she wished to be sure this was not a fluke several of her friends partook in the experiment. Apparently all benefitted. John realized the commercial potential and decided to market this product against the advice of many friends and advisers.

But first he needed a new and distinctive name. Eventually he decided upon "TY-PHOO TIPPS" a suitably Oriental sounding name (with a built-in spelling mistake which added to the mysticism and was therefore retained). According to Patrick Davis, one of the present directors of Premier Brands, the word is ancient Chinese for `doctor.'

The tea sold well in Birmingham despite fierce competition from such names as Lipton's and Ridgways. It was said at the time that the business was on a `leaf edge.' Far from portending ill, this was the unique selling point John Summer used to promote his tea since by excluding the fibrous stalks from the product he used only the edge part of the leaf. Moreover he was able to claim the resulting brew was "tannin-less," - how much less was a technical parameter over-looked by Edwardian tea drinkers.

Survival of the Ty-Phoo brand came under threat during World War I when tea fell under the control of the government "Tea Controller" who imposed distribution and rationing at one price. This did not suit John Sumner and his much hallowed (and more expensive) `leaf-edge' tea and a circular was sent out to all customers asking them to raise a petition in defense of Ty-Phoo's special position. Doctors too joined the fray and 4,000 sent an appeal to the government. The Tea Controller's office was deluged with letters and in the end he bowed to pressure and allowed Ty-Phoo special dispensation.

After this Ty-Phoo went from strength to strength and on the occasion of the company's 21st Anniversary John Sumner had published "The Story of Ty-Phoo" on the cover of which was the kind of one-liner of which Saatchi & Saatchi would be proud: "ONCE AN IDEA - NOW A GREAT BUSINESS!"

Unfortunate Events

Storm clouds began to gather in 1930 when two unfortunate events happened. First the quality of the leaf edge tea (fannings) from Ceylon began to cause concern. Allegations were made of huge quantities of the genuine fannings being sold to America and Australia in order to introduce a quality tea into these markets at a price subsidized by Ty-Phoo. At the same time inferior teas were introduced into the real McCoy. The unfortunate affair came to a head when two directors of the company and tea expert announced they were sailing to Colombo. On their arrival at the port they were told that the managing director of the Ceylon agents had killed himself.

The second problem was a challenge to the "tannin-less" claim by Birmingham's Officer of Health. After a series of analyses by the university it was established that although tannin was present, the amount was well below the level of other teas on the market.

After these hiccups Ty-Phoo experienced rapid growth and John Sumner became Sir John Sumner in recognition of his philanthropic works. Clearly the spread of the Ty-Phoo habit meant Britain became a healthier-and less noisy nation - as flatulence, indigestion, and dyspepsia were vinally vanquished.

Alas, during an air raid on Birmingham in 1941, the entire production area was destroyed. All seemed lost until, with a gesture of magnanimity just about unthinkable in today's competitive climate, Brooke Bond and Lyons agreed to pack a brand for Ty-Phoo which had printed on the packet "This is not Ty-Phoo but an emergency brand."

After the war ended normal competition resumed until in 1949 a listing on the London Stock Exchange was granted. By 1960 Ty-Phoo had become brand leader with a profit of 2.7 [pounds] Million. This attracted the first of several takeover bids by General Foods and in 1987 Ty-Phoo merged with Schweppes which benefitted both parties - Schweppes being able to broaden their home base in the U.K. and Ty-Phoo gaining access to the lucrative American market. Cadbury's, of chocolate fame, and Schweppes joined forces in 1969, the former having ironically begun life as a tea dealer in Birmingham in 1924. In 1986 another flurry of activity when a mangement buyouts resulted in the formation of a new company - Premier Brands. Alongside Ty-Phoo the company acquired such names as Melroses, Ridgways, Glengettie, and through London Tea & Spice, brand leadership in herbal teas.

Part of Hillsdown Holding

Premier Brands, of which Ty-Phoo is an integral part, is now part of Hillsdown Holdings Plc. With an eye on the integration of Europe in 1992 and armed with such an array of prestigious names on board, international expansion is very much part of the plan.

In keeping with the high profile that Ty-Phoo has always maintained, Premier Brands recently sponsored a maritime feat that possessed all the eccentricity and derring-do for which the British are much renowned.

A 37 foot Ty-Phoo bottle with a lone sailor aboard and the message on it rather than in it floated across the Atlantic to Falmouth. The event raised a great deal of money for a British charity.

John Sumner would have been justly proud.

PHOTO : Ty-Phoo Tea has a colorful history dating back to 1824. Originally advertised as a cure for gastric disorders, today the tea continues its high profile.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Cockle, Peter
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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