Companies That Started as Tea Sellers

When you see the words “Tea Company” in a company’s name, you naturally assume that they primarily sell tea. Right? Well, it turns out that they may have started that way but quickly expanded to other foods, beverages, etc. In fact, a couple of them grew into nationwide chains. Let this little teapot introduce you. TOOOT!

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, Inc. (A&P)

Founded in 1859 under the name The Great American Tea Company, the company established a small chain of retail tea and coffee stores in New York City  and a national mail order business that dealt in tea and spices. The firm was able to offer low prices by acting as both the wholesaler and retailer. The tea was marketed as “Our Own” tea and was young hyson and souchong.

Ten years later they changed the company name to The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, Inc. (often shortened to A&P) to promote the then-new concept of pre-packaged tea under the “Thea-Nectar”  brand. The tea company continued to use the Great American name for mail-order purposes.

Former headquarters (now closed) in Montvale, New Jersey

In 1880 due to increased tariffs imposed on tea by the U.S. Congress (rather ironic in light of the Boston Tea Party, a protestation of tariffs on tea), the company was not able to make a profit on tea and had to add other products such as sugar to make up for that. More food products were added to the line-up, including their own brand of baking powder (one of many private label products to come), and fruit and seafood that were transported to market on a new-fangled invention (refrigerated railroad cars).

By 1881, the company had grown to a chain of over a hundred grocery stores but maintained delivery routes numbering around 5,000.

1888 Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co Advert for Norfolk. Well, at least tea was the first item named. (Photo source: Wikipedia)

This was the day and age when stores routinely delivered grocery orders to customers’ homes. Coffee was added to their private label collection, being preferred over the tea they carried. In the 1890s, the company adopted a customer-loyalty program, offering premiums and savings coupons (like the frequent flyer miles airlines now offer).

Newspaper ad in 1922.

By 1941, their coffee brand (Eight O’Clock Coffee) was the best-selling coffee worldwide, meaning that they were technically no longer really a tea company. Let’s face it, when compared with tea companies today, they were rather limp. Later, they no longer had that coffee brand, having sold it off as part of a company restructuring.

So much for being a tea company. And as of November 2015, the company ceased operations altogether.

More about “Thea-Nectar”

This was a private brand, introduced in 1870, of The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, which at that time operated a chain of tea stores and also sold teas by mail.

Ad (1927) showing pound of Thea-Nectar at 17cents.

The company sold young hyson and Souchong teas loose by the pound, but they were identical to the teas sold by others and so did not stand out in the tea marketplace.

Thea-Nectar, however, was sold pre-packaged in half-pound or pound boxes with a picture on the front. It was supposed to be a unique mixture of teas that were dried on porcelain, and thus had no coloring or impurities. Thea-Nectar was a hit, helping the Great Atlantic & Pacific distinguish itself from dozens of competing tea companies and raising the bar for the tea world in general in terms of marketing.


Thea-Nectar Trade Card images from American Antiquarian:

The Jewel Tea Company

A man, a horse, a wagon, and $700 began a new tea company in 1889. The existing tea companies, of which there were many, sold door-to-door, giving premium coupons with purchases of tea and other groceries. When enough coupons had been saved, the customer had a choice of premium items offered.

This store at 643 E. 43rd Street was Jewel’s first permanent location in Chicago, circa 1901The teas I could find online were Jewel Tea Extra Fancy Darjeeling Blend, Jewel Tea Orange Spice Tea, Jewel Tea English Breakfast Tea, and the Jewel Tea Treasure Chest 150 Tea Bag Container. The tea bags were “Famous for delightful flavor.”

The premium items have become true collectibles. Mostly, they are the Autumn Leaf pattern made by the Hall China Company. That pattern was made exclusive to Jewel Tea in 1933. A whole line of dinnerware was made, including items suitable for a proper tea time: 2-tiered tidbit tray, teapots, teacups and saucers, cream and sugar, and snack plates.

Jewel Tea Company tin contained 150 teabags that were “Famous for delightful flavor.” (Photo source: screen capture from site)

Their evolution into a grocery store chain instead of a tea company began with the acquisition in 1932 of Loblaw Groceries which they renamed to Jewel Food Stores. Two years later Jewel Tea and Jewel Foods merged, keeping the Jewel Tea Company name. In 1957 they bought Eisner Food Stores in Illinois but didn’t change the name until 1981. A further stage of the evolution was the acquisition of Osco Drug in 1961, accompanied by a name change to Jewel-Osco. Further purchases of grocery and convenience stores sealed the deal, leaving those tea company roots far behind.

My humans remember the Jewel Tea Man coming by.

See their lovely Hall Autumn Leaf pattern dishwares featured in this article.

Shop for Jewel Tea collectibles here and for their Hall Autumn Leaf collectibles here.

This site also carries Hall Autumn Leaf items.

Visit the Jewel Tea Historical Foundation here.

Bottom Line

Tea helped start out a couple of potentially great companies. However, they didn’t stay with tea and seek to improve the quality of those they offered to their customers. One of these companies is now out of business. Who knows, they might still be around if they were still selling tea. Just a thought. TOOOT!

© 2018-2022 World Is a Tea Party photos and text

Hi, humans, this site is under my editorial excellence. I, your lovable and sassy Little Yellow Teapot, authors articles on tea, etc., and edit the occasional guest article. All in the interest of helping you humans have a better tea experience. TOOOT!

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