John Moir was a pioneer in the early tinned fish and meat trade. It survives as 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. Moir became the first person in Britain to mass produce tinned fish, initially salmon, from around 1812. Soon, tinned meats, game, soup and vegetables were also sold.
Benjamin Moir (1807 – 1872) joined the firm, which became known as John Moir & Son. He was regarded as an excellent businessman.
John Moir & Son 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 (c. 1.1 million kg).
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 Alfonso XII (1857 – 1885) of Spain granted John Moir & Son an exclusive licence to pulp oranges for export in Seville from 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.
John Moir & Son became a limited company from 1881 with a capital of £150,000. The company had over 10,000 wholesale customers.
An American canning factory was established at Wilmington, Delaware from 1881. The one acre site was chosen due to its strong distribution network of waterways and train lines. The building and machinery cost $40,000, and it was one of the best equipped canning facilities in the United States. A staff of 200 to 300 was employed during periods of peak demand. The factory had a capacity to produce five million lbs (c.2.3 million kg) of goods a year. Produce was predominately destined for the London headquarters. Alphonse Biardot, a French chef of repute, was appointed as manager of the factory.
Company capital was reduced to £50,000 in 1888 due to profit losses sustained in America and elsewhere, and the Delaware factory was divested.
The head office was relocated to 9-10 Great Tower Street, London in 1898.
The company had a valuable contract to supply rations to the British Army during the Boer War.
King Edward VII awarded John Moir & Son a Royal Warrant for preserved provisions in 1901.
Robert Falcon Scott took Moir tinned meat with him on his fatal expedition to the Antarctic.
The company benefited from extensive military contracts during the First World War.
A small factory was acquired in Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa in 1920.
The wartime economic boom was soon followed by a slump, which hit the preserved foods industry hard. The British business made successive profit losses due to low sales between 1920 and 1925. The South Africa subsidiary remained profitable.
John Moir & Son rejected numerous takeover offers in 1925, and instead entered into steady decline. The Virginia Street premises in Aberdeen were sold off in 1927. Company capital was reduced from £150,000 to £45,000 in 1933.
The South African subsidiary was divested in 1948.
The company entered voluntary liquidation in 1950 and the London premises were sold off.
The South African branch prospered, and as of 2015, Moir’s is the leading brand for jellies, custard powder and instant desserts in that market.