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More Than Just Coffee

The history, so far, of French Market Coffee

An ad for French Market Coffee with the original logo on it. Various packaging has been used over the decades. A moisture-proof “patriotic package” during World War I freed up cans for the war effort. New technologies also changed how coffee was packaged. In 1934, French Market Coffee became the first vacuum-packed coffee in New Orleans. The logo, however, stayed the same for 120 years. In 2010, a redesign kept the imagery much the same but freshened it up a little for modern times.

Image appears courtesy of the Louisiana Division of the New Orleans Public Library

First roasted in 1890, French Market Coffee has been a New Orleans favorite for well over a century. The Bartlett and Dodge families began selling their cans of locally roasted and blended coffee in the French Market as the New Orleans Coffee Company.

As their coffee became more available, they published two small pamphlets. “The Story of the Old French Market” was published in 1915 and came with a 12-cup sample of coffee. It was followed in 1927 by a booklet about the history, uses and benefits of chicory to a mystified clientele outside of New Orleans.

In 1927, French Market Coffee began enclosing coupons in coffee containers. For a specified number of coupons and a little cash, buyers could purchase various household items (Turkish bath towels, Pyrex kitchenware, fancy toiletries and “authentic reproductions of priceless Oriental rugs”), toys (tea sets, dolls and games), and more (streetcar and bus tokens were a big hit in ’41).

The offerings became so numerous that they published a catalog and created a “premium department” at their Magazine Street headquarters with items on display and an attendant to show you how various items worked.

In the 1940s, items started appearing inside their 3-pound containers: “Royal Ruby” red tea glasses, Jade-ite coffee mugs, Sierra tableware and other household items. Children’s plastic toys made appearances too: trucks and airplanes for the boys, and vacuum cleaners, bathtubs and other household furniture items for the future housewife.

While the coupons and included items died out in the early 1960s, the popularity of the coffee stayed strong. Both chicory and non-chicory coffees were always available, but the chicory accounted for about 85 percent of sales in New Orleans.

French Market Coffee was purchased by Reily Foods in 2008 and left the headquarters at 800 Magazine St., where it had been located for nine decades. But the move didn’t affect the availability or quality of French Market Coffee. It is still available on the shelves at any many grocers and in a number of New Orleans’ oldest and finest restaurants.



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