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10th Jun 2024

People are only just discovering what Tesco actually stands for

Ryan Price

Tesco is increasing the price of its meal deal but there is a way around it

Every day is a school day.

It’s one of the biggest supermarket chains in the UK, but few know the meaning behind the name.

We’re all so used to seeing the big logo in our villages, towns and cities, with those big red letters and blue underline, that few of us have considered where the title actually came from.

There are certain stores whose name is relatively self-explanatory. Take Sainsbury’s or Marks & Spencer for example.

You’d be right to assume both are named after their founders.

John James and Mary Ann Sainsbury opened their first store at 173 Drury Lane in Covent Garden, London in 1869, and that store went on to grow into the second-largest supermarket chain in the country.

Likewise, Marks & Spencer was founded by a partnership between Michael Marks, a Polish Jew who had migrated to Leeds, England in the early 1880s, and Thomas Spencer, a cashier from the English market town of Skipton in North Yorkshire.

M&S currently has 959 stores across the UK and in 1998, the company became the first British retailer to make a pre-tax profit of over £1 billion.

It turns out Tesco has a similar origin story that relates to a courageous and entrepreneurial owner.

The supermarket’s title goes back over a century to the son of a Jewish migrant from Poland, who first set the store up.

Jack Cohen began by setting up a stall in Well Street Market in Hackney, East London in 1919. He sold war-surplus groceries initially.

14th November 1978: Chairman of Tescos, Sir Jack Cohen opening a Tesco supermarket in Hackney, close to the site where he first started, selling from a barrow. (Photo by Colin Davey/Evening Standard/Getty Images)

To get his first day’s stock for the stall, he used demobilisation money from the Royal Flying Corp, which he was a part of during World War One.

The name Tesco first came to be as a result of Cohen buying a shipment of tea in 1923 from a man called Thomas Edward Stockwell.

In a nod to his suppliers, the founder combined ‘TES’ with the initial two letters of his surname, culminating in the name that we all recognise today – Tesco.

After experimenting with his first permanent indoor market stall at Tooting in November 1930, Jack Cohen opened the first Tesco shop in September 1931 at 54 Watling Avenue, Burnt Oak, Edgware, Middlesex.

Within a year, Cohen was the proud owner of a hundred stores, thus cementing the Tesco name on the map.

The brand’s evolution from humble corner shop to nationwide supermarket chain is summarised by the Tesco website: “The new format store included a counter service selling cheese, butter and meats weighed by sales assistants.”

Tesco now boasts has shops in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. It is the market leader of groceries in the UK (where it has a market share of around 28.4%).

Cohen stood down as chairman of Tesco in 1969, and passed away on 24 March 1979 at the age of 80 in Westminster.

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