A1: a history of Brand & Co

Brand & Co was a large British food manufacturer. Brand’s Essence of Chicken remains a major health supplement in Asia, and Brand’s A1 ranks alongside HP as one of the highest-selling English-style brown sauces in the world. How did the business become almost entirely forgotten in its native country?

Henderson William Brand
Henderson William Brand (1805 – 1893) was born in Durham, North East England, the son of Thomas Brand, an innkeeper and brewer.

We can almost certainly surmise that the young Henderson Brand worked in his father’s kitchen, and it seems plausible to suggest that he possessed a precocious culinary talent that soon became evident, because by the age of twelve he was employed in the kitchen of the Prince Regent (1762 – 1830) as “under cook”.

The Prince Regent was a confirmed gastronome who had previously employed Marie-Antoine Careme (1784 – 1833), the founder of modern haute cuisine, and one of the greatest chefs of his era. Brand thus had an excellent opportunity to develop his culinary repertoire in one of the greatest kitchens in Europe.

The Prince Regent became King George IV from 1820. Brand was promoted to “Yeoman of the Mouth”, a position akin to that of sous chef, from 1822.

A bottle of A1 sauce, manufactured in Britain for export to Singapore (2018)

Brand was appointed head chef to Thomas William Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester (1754 – 1842) from 1826. Coke was a charismatic man, and regularly held large dinner parties to discuss his agricultural improvements. His magnificently-equipped kitchen at Holkham Hall in Norfolk boasted a fireplace large enough to roast an ox.

Brand published an updated version of Simpson’s Cookery, a popular cookbook, in 1834.

Brand established a factory/shop on 11 Little Stanhope Street in Mayfair, London from 1835. His first product was Essence of Chicken, using a recipe he had allegedly developed for the convalescent king. It was manufactured by heating chopped meat inside a pot until it separated into fat, fibre and “liquid essence”, a clear amber liquid. It was recommended as a substitute for brandy in relieving exhaustion and nervous ailments.

Shortly afterwards, Brand introduced Essence of Beef at the request of a Dr Druitt.

Brand was a skilled chef, but perhaps a lacklustre businessman, and he was declared bankrupt in 1843. Brand & Co was acquired by a Mr Withall.

H.W. Brand
Henderson Brand re-emerged from 1858, trading as “H.W. Brand”. He was appointed Cook and Co-Manager of the Cuisine at the 1862 International Exhibition in London. It was at the Exhibition that he first introduced “Brand’s International Sauce”. It contained vinegar, Eastern spices, and dried fruits including raisins, sultanas, dates, oranges and tomatoes. At the Exhibition it was ranked “A1”, and thus became known by this name.

A1 sauce was distributed by the great food wholesalers of the period, including Crosse & Blackwell, J T Morton, E Lazenby & Son, and Batty & Co.

A1 sauce was in use by the Royal household by 1868, and available at the dining rooms of the House of Lords and House of Commons by 1876.

Dence & Mason take over Brand & Co
Thomas Dence (1840 – 1918) acquired Brand & Co from Mr Withall for £5,000 in 1873. Dence was born in London to a Kentish grocer.

Thomas Dence (1840 – 1918) in 1904

Dance was joined in partnership by John James Mason (1833 – 1896), who managed the business. Mason was to prove instrumental in improving the range of foods for convalescents at Brand & Co.

Brand & Co had acquired H.W. Brand, including the rights to A1 sauce, by 1886.

Increasing sales saw a new site established at Vauxhall from 1887. There were two facilities; a meat processing plant and a sauce factory. The meat plant was described as the largest kitchen in Britain. Production was also expanded into soups and meat pastes.

Meanwhile, Henderson William Brand died in 1893 as a sadly forgotten figure who received no newspaper obituaries.

Sales of A1 sauce were such that Brand & Co struggled to meet demand, and so the business never actively sought out export markets. Gilbert Heublein (1849 – 1937), a German-born spirits distributor resident in Connecticut, was impressed by A1 sauce following a visit to England. After much effort he acquired the exclusive United States distribution rights to A1 sauce from 1894.

A Heublein advertisement in 1895 claimed that A1 held over 50 percent of the British bottled sauce market. It was described as a milder version of Worcestershire sauce.

John James Mason died with an estate valued at £151,811 in 1896.

Brand & Co products received royal warrants from Edward VII, the Tsarina of Russia and the Empress of Germany.

Brand & Co employed 200 people by 1906. The business processed about six tons of meat every day. Staff were provided with a canteen, smoking room and club room.

Brand & Co is registered as a company
Brand & Co was registered as a private limited company in 1907. The company continued to be managed by the children, and later grandchildren, of Mason and Dence.

Brand & Co struggled to meet increasing consumer demand, and Heublein established a factory to produce A1 sauce in Connecticut from 1916.

Thomas Dence died as a highly wealthy man in 1918, with an estate valued at over £917,672.

A1 sauce had been established as one of the leading condiments in the United States by the 1930s.

Brand’s Essence of Chicken (2015)

The Vauxhall works were hit by a German bomb during the London Blitz in 1940. Four staff members were killed.

Brand & Co became a public company from 1949. The business employed 650 people, and Vauxhall site occupied 2.5 acres. Brand’s Essence and A1 sauce remained the principal products, and exports accounted for 26 percent of production.

Brand & Co received a Royal Warrant to supply A1 sauce to George VI.

A1 sauce sold in Canada in 1956 listed its ingredients as tomato puree, orange marmalade, raisins, onions, garlic, malt vinegar, sugar, salt, tragacanth (an emulsifier and thickening agent), spices and flavourings.

Brand & Co is acquired by Cerebos
Brand & Co was acquired by Cerebos for £4.1 million in 1959. Cerebos produced a range of well-known packaged food brands including Bisto, Saxa salt, Paxo and Scott’s Porage Oats.

Sales of Brand’s Essence of Chicken had been successfully established in Asia by 1961. The product was highly-popular as a health supplement amongst the ethnic Chinese of Malaysia and Singapore.

A1 sauce was manufactured in Canada and South Africa, as well as Britain and the United States, by 1963.

The Vauxhall factory was closed in 1967, and the valuable site was sold for £900,000. Keybridge House now stands in its place.

Brand & Co production was relocated to the Cerebos plant in Greatham, County Durham. Sales of Brand’s tinned soups were growing, and the Greatham site offered ample space for expansion.

Cerebos was acquired by Rank Hovis McDougall (RHM) for £61 million in 1968. That same year, Brand & Co won a Queen’s Award for Industry for export achievement.

An American bottle of A1 sauce (2016)

Southeast Asia was the largest market for Brand & Co by the early 1970s, led by sales of Chicken Essence. Factories were established in Singapore and Malaysia at this time. Significant amounts of A1 sauce were exported to Okinawa in Japan.

After suffering considerable profit losses, production of soups and Brand’s meat pastes were discontinued in 1977. A1 sauce also ceased to be distributed in Britain from around this time.

Production of Brand’s Essence ended in Greatham in 1978-9. The factory machinery was transferred to Indonesia, where the product enjoyed a large market.

Present day
Brand’s Essence of Chicken remains popular in Asia, with reported sales of around £330 million in 2018. A1 sauce is widely sold across North America, where it is manufactured by Kraft. Premier Foods, the successor to RHM, still export A1 sauce from England to Asian and European markets.

A1 sauce recipe divergence
As previously mentioned, the original A1 sauce contained vinegar, Eastern spices, and dried fruits including raisins, sultanas, dates, oranges and tomatoes. The English and American A1 sauces have diverged over the years, and neither remains true to the original recipe. The English version no longer contains oranges, raisins or sultanas, whilst the North American versions have removed the dates.

A1 sauce from Britain contains tomatoes, malt vinegar, spirit vinegar, sugar, dates, salt, carob gum (a thickening agent), ginger, caramel colouring, onion powder, nutmeg, black pepper and cayenne pepper.

A1 sauce in the United States contains tomato puree, spirit vinegar, corn syrup, salt, raisin paste, crushed orange puree, mixed spices, garlic powder, caramel colouring, onion powder, potassium sorbate (a preservative), xanthan gum (a thickening agent) and celery seeds.

A1 sauce for the Canadian market is made from malt vinegar, spirit vinegar, tomato puree, sugar, modified cornstarch (a thickening agent), salt, orange juice concentrate, raisin juice concentrate, black treacle, spices, caramel colouring, citric acid and beet powder.

5 thoughts on “A1: a history of Brand & Co”

  1. I’ve found one of the old brown sauce bottles in a yard we’re I work in Yorkshire it’s a tall thin bottle with the name of the company embossed in the bottle and it also says The A 1 sauce as well plus it has a anchor on the bottom. Can you tell me if the bottle is rarer

      1. Hi Michael, I just found a 2″ tall clear bottle that has ‘Essence of Beef’ at the top and on the bottom it says ‘Brand & Co. Ltd. London Eng.’ Can you tell me anything about it? Thank you.

  2. Thank you for this article – I love it. I was searching for more because of an image of various ‘Brand’s’ items (including ‘real’ Turtle soup) in a scrapbook. I wonder whether I might email you the image and whether you’d be able to tell me which year this might be from – it would help me honing in on the age of the scrapbook – I think it’s 1920s, just not sure whether early or late.

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