Full of beans: Heinz in the UK

Heinz is best known in Britain for tinned soup, baked beans and condiments. The company succeeded with a dedication to quality, concentrating on relatively few product lines, and a strong commitment to marketing.

Henry John Heinz (1844 – 1919) began to sell bottled horseradish sauce in Pittsburgh from 1869. He aimed to emulate the high standard of the greatest producer of packaged foods in the world: Crosse & Blackwell. To demonstrate that he had nothing to hide, he packaged his product in clear glass bottles.

Fortnum & Mason of London was the food retailer with the best reputation in the world. Heinz cold-called on the head of its grocery department in 1886, and managed to persuade him to stock all of the seven product lines he brought with him.

H J Heinz used the “57 varieties” slogan from 1892. He actually had more product lines than this, but decided the tagline had a pleasing resonance.

A British subsidiary was established to manage Heinz imports from America in 1886. Heinz appointed Charles Hellen (1866 – 1944), a perfectionist and “the best man I’ve got” as general manager for Britain from 1905. Hellen spearheaded the acquisition of Batty & Co, makers of the popular Nabob Pickle, in order to quickly gain a manufacturing site for Heinz products. The Batty brand was phased out in 1910.

Salad Cream was the first product that Heinz created specifically for the UK market. Introduced in 1914, it was supposedly formulated by Charles Hellen himself. The recipe likely owed a debt to Batty’s own “Dr Kitchener’s Salad Cream” product.

Heinz was established as a private company in Britain in 1917. H J Heinz died in 1919, leaving £1.1 million in his will (about £115 million in 2015).

Between 1919 and 1927, Heinz UK sales quadrupled. A 22 acre factory site was opened in Harlesden, London in 1925. It increased the total number of employees at Heinz UK from 500 to 1,000. The larger factory allowed Heinz to mass produce, and pass on the economies of scale to the consumer.

By 1935 the site covered 40 acres and was one of the largest and up-to-date factories in England.

Baked beans began to manufactured in the UK from 1928. Soups and spaghetti production began in 1930. Previously these items had been imported from America and Canada. The Harlesden site was producing 100 million cans a year by 1936.

In 1939, Howard Heinz, the company president, donated £20,000 (£1.2 million) to buy aircraft for the British war effort. He also invited his staff to send their children to America for the duration of the war at the company’s expense.

Heinz Ltd was converted into a public company in 1948, with the parent company owning 91 percent of the shares. That year a former munitions factory in Standish, Lancashire was acquired to produce Heinz baby food.

Between 1945 and 1956 the company grew sixfold. Heinz Ltd had a capital of £7.5 million by 1954. The Harlesden site covered 53 acres and the company employed around 5,100 people.

It was claimed that Heinz was the best known brand name in Britain in 1957. By this time the British ate more baked beans per capita than the Americans. Heinz products in Britain were now formulated differently from the American versions, apart from Tomato Ketchup, which remained the same in every market.

With high demand for their products, Heinz opened a new factory in Wigan in 1959. The site covered 130 acres. It was the largest food factory in the British Commonwealth. It cost £6.5 million (£135 million) to build and employed 2,500 people. Two thirds of production was dedicated to soup, and one third to baked beans.

Meanwhile the Standish site was closed and administrative offices were moved to Hayes, London.

By 1960 Heinz produced over one million cans of baked beans and over one million cans of soup every day in Britain, and the company was by far the largest producer of canned foods. Heinz enjoyed far greater market share for its products (other than tomato ketchup) in Britain than it did in its home country.

Heinz dominated the baked bean market with an 80 percent share in 1967. This was the year that the popular “Beanz Meanz Heinz” slogan was introduced. In 1967 Heinz held 83 percent of the baby food market by volume. By 1968 Heinz had 60 percent of the canned soup market (and 40 percent of the overall soup market) and 31 percent of the sauce market (behind HP). By 1969 they had 80 percent of the tinned spaghetti market. In 1970 they held the majority of the canned baked beans market.

Tinned ravioli was launched in 1965, and spaghetti hoops were launched in 1969.

Heinz acquired Manor Vinegar Brewery of Burntwood, Staffordshire in 1969. A supplier to Heinz since 1917, it was the single largest vinegar producing facility in Britain. Vinegar bottling was transferred from Harlesden to Burntwood.

Annual sales of Heinz Ltd surpassed £100 million (£1.2 billion in 2015) for the first time in 1972. Heinz of America acquired the eight percent of its British subsidiary that it did not already own for £7.7 million in 1977.

The company began to suffer from the late 1970s into the 1980s as supermarket own-label products began to take significant market share in traditional Heinz categories such as tinned soup. Own-label accounted for 37 percent of the baked bean market by 1982. Between 1975 and 1985 Heinz cut its workforce from 8,600 to 4,800.

In 1985 Heinz employed 2,750 people at Wigan when it was announced that 1,220 jobs would be lost there over the course of five years as a result of a £60 million modernisation plan which would introduce high-speed automation at the two UK factories.

To counteract the threat from own-label, Heinz marketing began to emphasise product quality. In 1993 the company began to manufacture own-label baked beans for supermarkets such as Tesco. Heinz maintained that they only produced value beans for supermarkets, to a different recipe from their branded product, which enabled them to capture a greater share of the market without damaging their brand equity.

Heinz acquired Farley of Plymouth, the largest manufacturer of infant formula in Britain, from Boots in 1994 for £94 million.

The Harlesden factory was closed in 2000, with 450 jobs lost. Production was relocated to Wigan.

Heinz acquired HP, whose brands include Lea & Perrins and Daddies Sauce, for £470 million in 2005.

Heinz currently employ around 2,500 people across Britain and Ireland. The Wigan site produces over one billion cans each year and is the largest food factory in Europe. In Britain Heinz has the largest market share in tomato ketchup (80 percent), baked beans (70 percent), canned soup (70 percent), brown sauce (70 percent) and baby food.

Liked it? Take a second to support Thomas Farrell on Patreon!

3 thoughts on “Full of beans: Heinz in the UK”

  1. I would have thought Heinz ravioli was launched before 1965 – I remember loving it as a small child (I was born in 53). Can’t have been a different make, surely?

    1. Hi Karen,

      I have a strong source for Heinz tinned ravioli being launched in 1965, but sources can be wrong sometimes! It could well have been a different brand of tinned ravioli you remembered, memory can be deceitful!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *