John Moir & Son: can I have some Moir?

John Moir was a pioneer in the early tinned fish and meat trade. Defunct in Britain since the 1920s, it remains a leading dessert brand in South Africa.

John Moir (1766 – 1833) was a provisions merchant from Musselburgh, Scotland. He established premises at 56 Virginia Street, Aberdeen. Around 1812 he became the first person in Britain to mass produce tinned fish, initially salmon. Soon, tinned meats, game, soup and vegetables were also sold.

Benjamin Moir (1807 – 1872) joined the firm which began trading as John Moir & Son. He was regarded as an excellent businessman.

The firm won extensive contracts to provided preserved meats to British and French troops during the Crimean War in the mid 1850s.

John Moir & Son was the largest preserved food manufacturer in Scotland by 1868, and held a Royal Warrant from the Duke of Edinburgh. Annual preserved meat production averaged around 2.5 million lbs.

Benjamin Moir died unmarried in 1872, and the business was transferred to his nephew, John Moir Clark (1836 – 1896). The firm was to greatly expand under his leadership.

King Alphonso XII of Spain granted the company the exclusive concession to pulp oranges for export in Seville in 1877. Close to the source of the fruit, it avoided wastage losses which occurred during transit, and allowed the company to use the freshest oranges.

There were factories at Glasshouse Fields, Brook Street, London; Aberdeen and Seville by 1878. The head office was at 148 Leadenhall Street, London.

The firm became a limited company in 1881 with a capital of £150,000. The firm had over 10,000 wholesale customers.

In 1882 an American factory was opened at Wilmington, Delaware.

In 1888 company capital was reduced to £50,000 due to profit losses sustained in America and elsewhere. The Delaware factory was divested.

In 1898 the head office was relocated to 9-10 Great Tower Street, London.

The company had a valuable contract to supply rations to the British Army during the Boer War.

In 1901 King Edward VII awarded John Moir & Son a Royal Warrant for preserved provisions.

Robert Falcon Scott took Moir tinned meet with him on his fatal expedition to the Antarctic.

The company benefited from extensive military contracts during the First World War.

In 1920 a small factory was acquired in Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa.

The wartime economic boom was soon followed by a slump, which hit the preserved foods industry hard. Between 1920 and 1925 the British business made successive profit losses due to low sales. The South Africa subsidiary remained profitable.

The company rejected numerous takeover offers in 1925, and instead entered steady decline. In 1927 the Virginia Street premises in Aberdeen was sold off. In 1933 company capital was reduced from £150,000 to £45,000.

In 1948 the South African subsidiary was divested.

The company entered voluntary liquidation in 1950 and the London premises were sold off.

However the South African branch prospered, and as of 2015, Moir’s is the leading brand in that market for jellies, custard powder and instant desserts.

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