A branch of Tesco built inside the Hoover Building in Perivale, London (now a listed building)
Jack Cohen, the son of Jewish emigrants from Poland, founded Tesco in 1919 when he began to sell surplus groceries from a stall at Well Street Market, Hackney, in the East End of London. The Tesco brand first appeared in 1924. The name came about after Jack Cohen bought a shipment of tea from Thomas Edward Stockwell. He made new labels using the first three letters of the supplier's name (TES), and the first two letters of his surname (CO), forming the word TESCO. The first Tesco store was opened in 1929 in Burnt Oak, Edgware, Middlesex. Tesco was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1947 as Tesco Stores (Holdings) Limited. The first self-service store opened in St Albans in 1956 (which remained operational until 2010 before relocating to a larger premises on the same street, with a period as a Tesco Metro), and the first supermarket in Maldon in 1956.
During the 1950s and the 1960s Tesco grew organically, and also through acquisitions, until it owned more than 800 stores. The company purchased 70 Williamson's stores (1957), 200 Harrow Stores outlets (1959), 212 Irwins stores (1960, beating Express Dairies' Premier Supermarkets to the deal), 97 Charles Phillips stores (1964) and the Victor Value chain (1968) (sold to Bejam in 1986).
Originally specialising in food and drink, it has diversified into areas such as clothing, electronics, financial services, telecoms, retailing and renting DVDs, CDs, music downloads, Internet services and software.
Jack Cohen's business motto was "pile it high and sell it cheap", to which he added an internal motto of "YCDBSOYA" (You Can't Do Business Sitting On Your Arse) which he used to motivate his sales force.
In May 1987, Tesco completed its hostile takeover of the Hillards chain of 40 supermarkets in the North of England for £220 million.
In 1994, the company took over the supermarket chain William Low, successfully fighting off Sainsbury's for control of the Dundee-based firm, which operated 57 stores. This paved the way for Tesco to expand its presence in Scotland, which was weaker than in England. In 2006, Inverness was branded as "Tescotown", because well over 50p in every £1 spent on food is believed to be spent in its three Tesco stores.
Tesco introduced a loyalty card, branded 'Clubcard', in 1995 and later an Internet shopping service. As of November 2006, Tesco was the only food retailer to make online shopping profitable. In 1996 the typeface of the logo was changed to the current version with stripe reflections underneath, whilst the corporate font used for store signage was changed from the familiar "typewriter" font that had been used since the 1970s. Terry Leahy assumed the role of Chief Executive on 21 February 1997, the appointment having been announced on 21 November 1995.
On 21 March 1997 Tesco announced the purchase of the retail arm of Associated British Foods, which consisted of the Quinnsworth, Stewarts and Crazy Prices chains in the Ireland and Northern Ireland, plus associated businesses, for £640 million. The deal was approved by the European Commission on 6 May 1997. This acquisition gave it both a major presence in (and marked a return to) the Republic of Ireland and a larger presence in Northern Ireland than Sainsbury's, which had begun its move into Northern Ireland in 1995.
In 1997, Tesco and Esso (part of Exxonmobil) formed a business alliance that included several petrol filling stations on lease from Esso, with Tesco operating the attached stores under their Express format. In turn, Esso operates the forecourts and sells their fuel via the Tesco store. 200 Tesco/Esso sites now exist across the UK.
2000 to 2010
The company was the subject of a letter bomb campaign lasting five months from August 2000 to February