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History of Tesco Supermarket Chain

Updated on January 9, 2018

On his first day as an entrepreneur, Jack Cohen made a profit of £1. It was the year 1919 and the founder of the biggest supermarket in the United Kingdom launched his business with a stall at London’s East End selling golden syrup and fish paste. The Tesco brand was born in 1924. The name was derived from the initials of the person from whom Cohen brought a shipment of tea—Mr. T.E.Stockwell, combined with the first two letters of Jack Cohen’s surname. Today, Tesco is the biggest private employer in the UK. There are 3, 146 stores in operation in 12 countries worldwide.

Early years

At the end of World War I, 21-year old Jack Cohen left the Royal Flying Corps and decided to sell surplus groceries he bought from the Army. Tea was the first own-brand product that Tesco sold. The flagship store opened its doors to the public in 1929 in Burnt Oak, North London. Tesco expanded its holdings through the 1930s and the 1940s and established itself as a household name. It became known as the store that sells more products than any other stores. The first supermarket opened in 1958.


According to historians, Jack Cohen had a remarkable understanding of the mass market. Under his leadership, the store adapted to consumer trends. Later on, when the supermarket was at its peak, it was also quite aggressive, and worked towards getting the best deals.

In 1961, the Guinness Book of Records named Tesco Leicester “The largest store in Europe.” The first Tesco superstore came into being in Crawley, West Sussex in the year 1968. By the 1970s, Tesco started establishing itself as a national network of stores throughout Britain. The company delved into retail sales of petrol in 1974, eventually becoming the largest independent retailer in the country.

In the late 1980s, Tesco took over rival company “Hillards” at the cost of £220m. By the late 1990’s total annual sales of Tesco overcome Sainsbury’s figures. In 1995, Tesco launched Clubcard nationwide and one year later, the store expanded overseas. Millions of people now have a Clubcard, including 27 million consumers who reside outside the United Kingdom. They enjoy the benefits of personalized rewards and regular discounts. The introduction of this card, which is essentially a loyalty scheme, determined the company’s success over it competitors. A year after it was introduced in 1995, Tesco became the top supermarket in the United Kingdom.

Recent development

In 2009, Tesco Bank was launched. Tesco Bank now offers loans, insurance coverage, and credit cards. In 2010, Ramsey, Cambridgeshire became the location of the first zero carbon supermarket in the world. Tesco is also known for its progressive approach, offering fitness classes and programmes to its employees.

In 2013, the supermarket giant experienced its first drop in annual profits in 19 years. The first profit warning came in January 2012 and more came afterwards, prompting the chief executive Philip Clarke, who replaced Sir Terry Leahy in 2011 to step down. Tesco recently unveiled a revival plan worth £1 billion in the effort to deal with changing consumer needs and demands.

Here you can find out all branches of Tesco in UK, with addresses, phone number and opening times.


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