The British love affair with coffee shops, and Kenco coffee itself, is not a recent phenomenon – high street venues serving premium, freshly ground, coffees have thrived in British cities since the 1700s.
The early days – 1920s – 1945
In the 1920s a group of retired coffee planters set up a highly fashionable chain of coffee shops under the banner of The Kenya Coffee Company.
In 1921, LC Gibbs and CS Baines began selling coffee from a shop in Vere Street, Mayfair. The shop sold roast and ground coffee locally but most of its sales were by mail order – selling coffee to country houses using advertisements in publications like Tatler, Country Life and The Times.
As demand increased, the company moved to number 30 Sloane Street, an equally fashionable address and bought premises in Long Lane, Bermondsey.
Subsequently, premises at London’s Earlsfield were acquired to cope with increased roasting and packing.
The Bermondsey premises were next door to a food merchants called John Gardiner (later Gardiner Merchant). Gardiner ran a food wholesaling business, restaurants – including the uber-chic Scott’s seafood restaurant – and provided outdoor catering at events such as Wimbledon. They purchased their coffee from The Kenya Coffee Company.
After the war
After the Second World War, a Gardiner employee, Tom Kelly, persuaded the company to buy The Kenya Coffee Company. On completion of the deal, Tom Kelly was put in charge of the new business and he expanded the retail chain.
As well as selling coffee by mail order and from the Sloane Street premises, Kelly diversified into catering and opened coffee shops in the King’s Road in Chelsea, Kingston, Wimbledon, Golders Green, Old Compton Street, Knightsbridge, Ealing and outside London in Cambridge, Glasgow, Leicester and Norwich.
The Kenya Coffee Company shops may well have been the first branded high street coffee shop chain in the UK!
Expansion in the swinging sixties
By the 1960s, The Kenya Coffee Company cafes were thriving – selling not only coffee but also cakes. The cakes were made in London and then shipped by road and rail to the various branches each night.
Tom Kelly also spotted the wider opportunity for espresso coffee – after acquiring the rights to sell Gaggia machines, the company began to supply these to other coffee bars.
During the 60s, the amount of beans that The Kenya Coffee Company bought from Kenya began to decrease substantially and the company name was changed to The Kenco Coffee Company to reflect this. In 1962, Kenco branded coffee was first served! The success of the company was noticed by larger corporations and it was taken over by the hotel group, Truste House, while roasting continued at the Earlsfield site.
Kenco coffee continued to be served through all the coffee shops and whole beans and ground coffees were sold in 2oz jars alongside jam and other speciality goods. To meet increasing demand Kenco set up a national sales force to sell Kenco coffee to other coffee shop businesses.
In 1972, Truste House (now Truste House Forte) sold the Kenco brand to Cadbury.
Under Cadbury ownership,The Kenco Coffee Company sales team was supported by a nimble fleet of delivery vans and continued to grow significantly – so much so that in the mid 1970s the desirable Kenco brand was acquired by Premier Foods.
The eighties and nineties
In 1987 General Foods purchased The Kenco Coffee Company and it was in these decades that the foundations of today’s Kenco Coffee Company were laid – although as you can see, the brand looks a little bit different today!
The Kenco Coffee Company history is rich and varied. We like to think that we’ve always been a company that has anticipated trends and adapted accordingly sometimes with radical results. As British consumers become increasingly sophisticated about their coffee choices when they’re away from home, we continue to strive for innovation and to anticipate consumer requirements – whether that’s a dark roasted Italian espresso or an ethically sourced coffee.