Category Archives: Canned food

Full of beans: Heinz in the UK

Heinz is best known in Britain for baked beans, tinned soup and condiments. The business became successful due to a dedication to quality, concentration on relatively few product lines, and a strong commitment to marketing.

Henry John Heinz (1844 – 1919) was born in Pennsylvania, the son of a Bavarian immigrant. He sold bottled horseradish sauce in Sharpsburg from 1869. He aimed to emulate the standard set by Crosse & Blackwell, then considered one of the greatest food businesses in the world. He packaged his product in clear glass bottles in order to demonstrate its quality. Heinz relocated to Pittsburgh from 1872.

Henry John Heinz (1844 – 1919) in 1917

Fortnum & Mason of London held the highest reputation of all food retailers. H J 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 that the tagline had a pleasing resonance.

Establishment of a British subsidiary
A British subsidiary was established to manage Heinz imports from North America in 1886.

Heinz products were distributed in the North of England from 1899.

Due to the success of their North American business, Heinz was the largest pickle manufacturer in the world by the turn of the twentieth century.

H J 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 gain a manufacturing site for Heinz products. The Batty brand was phased out in 1910.

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

Heinz UK was established as a private company in 1917.

H J Heinz died in 1919, leaving an estate valued at £1.1 million (about £115 million in 2015).

Heinz becomes a mass producer in the UK
Heinz UK sales quadrupled between 1919 and 1927.

A 22-acre factory site was established at Harlesden, London, from 1925. The larger factory, with a staff of 500, allowed Heinz to mass produce, and pass on the economies of scale to the consumer.

A view of the Harlesden site by Russell Trebor in 1992

Baked beans were manufactured in the UK from 1928. Soups and spaghetti production began in 1930. All products sold in Britain were manufactured domestically by 1933, except for four tomato-based products which were imported from Canada.

A new soup factory was established at Harlesden from 1934. The three-storey building produced millions of tins of soup a year, across eighteen different varieties. The extension saw the Harlesden site increased from 22 to 40 acres. The site produced 100 million cans a year by 1936.

Howard Heinz (1877 – 1941), the company president, donated £20,000 (£1.2 million) to buy aircraft for the British war effort in 1940. He also invited staff to send their children to America for the duration of the war at the company’s expense.

Heinz UK was converted into a public company, Heinz Ltd, valued at over £9 million, in 1948. The American parent company owned 91 percent of the shares.

A former munitions factory in Standish, Lancashire, was acquired to produce Heinz baby food in 1948.

Heinz Ltd grew sixfold between 1945 and 1956. The company employed around 5,100 people.

Heinz was granted a Royal Warrant to supply Queen Elizabeth II in 1955.

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. By this stage Heinz products in Britain were formulated differently from the American versions, apart from Tomato Ketchup, which remained consistent across every market.

A second large factory is established in Wigan
Demand remained high for Heinz products, and a new factory was established outside Wigan in 1959. Situated on a 130-acre site, it was the largest food factory in the British Commonwealth. It cost £6.5 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 relocated to Hayes, London.

A 1925 advertisement for Heinz Tomato Ketchup

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

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

Heinz dominated the baked beans market with an 80 percent share by 1967. That year saw the popular “Beanz Meanz Heinz” slogan introduced. Heinz held 83 percent of the baby food market by volume in 1967. 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 1968. The company had 80 percent of the tinned spaghetti market by 1969.

Heinz acquired a 40 percent stake in Manor Vinegar Brewery of Burntwood, Staffordshire in 1969. A supplier to Heinz since 1917, it was the single largest vinegar producing facility in Britain, and produced about five million gallons a year. 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 Harlesden factory employed over 2,000 people in 1980.

Heinz sold its Manor Vinegar Brewery stake to Hazelwood Foods for £1 million in 1981.

The rise of supermarket own-label products
Heinz 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. Heinz reduced its workforce from 8,600 to 4,800 between 1975 and 1985.

High-speed automation was introduced to the Wigan and Harlesden factories in the mid to late 1980s.

A view of the Heinz factory outside Wigan (2009). Credit: David Ashcroft

Heinz marketing began to emphasise product quality in order to counteract the threat from own-label. The company began to manufacture own-label baked beans for supermarket chains such as Tesco from 1993. 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 from Boots for £94 million in 1994. Farley was the largest manufacturer of infant formula in Britain.

The Harlesden factory was closed with the loss of 450 jobs in 2000. Production was relocated to Wigan.

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

Kraft Heinz
Heinz merged with Kraft in 2015. Over £110 million has been invested at the Wigan plant since the merger.

Heinz employed around 2,100 people across the UK and Ireland in 2019. The 53-acre Wigan site produces over one billion cans of food each year, and is the largest food factory in Europe, and the largest canning plant in the world. 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.

A tinned history of Crosse & Blackwell (1927 – present)

This is Part III of my history of Crosse & Blackwell. (Links to Part I  and Part II.)

Crosse & Blackwell grew to become one of the largest food manufacturers in the world. It remains best known for tinned soup in Britain, English-style condiments in America and mayonnaise in South Africa.

Crosse & Blackwell continues to expand
Rising import tariffs saw Crosse & Blackwell establish factories in Toronto, Canada and Baltimore, United States, in 1927.

The Toronto factory cost £200,000 and employed 1,500 people.

The Baltimore plant cost US$1.5 million, covered five acres, and also employed around 1,500 people. Baltimore was chosen for its strong transport links, low wages and competitive taxes. Its principal lines were jam, marmalade, pickles, soup, mayonnaise and canned meats.

Sarsons and Champion & Slee were acquired by Crosse & Blackwell in 1928. The acquisition combined the three largest vinegar producers in the South of England. Crosse & Blackwell closed its own and the Sarson’s vinegar brewery and concentrated production at the Champion & Slee site.

Williams & Woods, the largest jam manufacturer in Ireland, was acquired in 1928.

The Lazenby’s Chef line of moderately-priced condiments and tinned goods was introduced from 1928.

Crosse & Blackwell was the largest food manufacturer in the world by 1928, with over 40 factories across the world. Company assets were valued at over £6 million in 1930.

Plaistowe, a Bermondsey jam manufacturer, was acquired in 1930.

The Great Depression and a transition from condiments to foodstuffs
The onset of the Great Depression took its toll on Crosse & Blackwell, as much of its trade was to hard-hit overseas markets. Export sales consequently declined by 50 percent. As a result, Crosse & Blackwell increased sales by lowering home market prices. The Great Depression was the catalyst that saw Crosse & Blackwell transition its main focus from that of a condiment manufacturer to a mass producer of foodstuffs.

The Morrison’s Quay production site in Cork, Ireland, was divested in 1930.

The Canadian business became loss-making, and control was sold to local investors for CA$800,000 in 1932. The factory had been poorly located, as its rivals had their sites in smaller towns where taxes and minimum wages were lower, resulting in estimated annual additional costs of CA$75,000. The National Post commented, “given good management, the company would have made money, instead of losing it”. Competition was also intense from Heinz, Canadian Canners and Campbell’s Soup.

Branston Pickle was the highest selling pickle in the world by 1934.

The Plaistowe factory was closed in 1935.

The company manufactured 50 million cans of food in 1936. The canning factory in Peterhead employed over 300 people.

The Silvertown factory was destroyed by German bombing during the Blitz of 1940, and was subsequently rebuilt.

Crosse & Blackwell employed 3,000 people in Scotland by 1949 across sites at Peterhead, Dundee and Paisley.

A factory was established in South Africa in 1951.

Crosse & Blackwell introduced the “10 o’clock tested” slogan in the 1950s. This referred to the time at C&B factories when products would be taste-tested for quality.

Production of Crosse & Blackwell jam had been outsourced to William Moorhouse of Leeds by the 1950s.

A vinegar brewery in Stourport was acquired from Holbrooks of Birmingham for £100,000 in 1954.

United States sales amounted to $14 million in 1958, with 150 Crosse & Blackwell products, and 35 Keiller lines. Crosse & Blackwell was one of the four largest producers of tinned soup in the United States, and concentrated on the premium market.

Only one Blackwell remained on the board of directors by 1959, and a Crosse was among the company executives.

Crosse & Blackwell employed 450 people in America in 1960.

By 1960 Crosse & Blackwell had six factories in Britain and five overseas including the United States, Australia and South Africa. It was the largest fish canner in Britain and held one third of the pickle market, 30 percent of the tinned soup market and a ten percent share in baked beans.

Crosse & Blackwell is acquired by Nestle
Nestle of Switzerland acquired Crosse & Blackwell for £11.3 million (£227 million in 2013) in 1960. Nestle was the largest food company in Europe, and was motivated by a desire to increase its presence in the British tinned soup and vegetables market and the tinned fruit juice market in the United States. The two companies’ portfolios were largely complementary, with Nestle strong in milk products, instant coffee and confectionery, although it did have a presence in dried soups through the Maggi brand.

Nestle management baulked at the luxury of the Soho Square premises, and relocated the head office to Nestle headquarters at St George’s House, Croydon from 1965.

A factory was opened at Staverton in Wiltshire to cater for the rising demand for baked beans and tinned pasta in 1967.

Crosse & Blackwell had fallen to a distant third in the British soup market, with a 14 percent share, by 1968.

Nestle closed the Bermondsey factory in 1969 with the loss of 1,300 jobs. Production was transferred to Silvertown and Peterhead.

Nestle invested in the Peterhead plant to make it the largest Crosse & Blackwell canning factory. The site covered nearly ten acres and employed a staff of around 1,000 in 1969.

The 9 acre Baltimore plant had become outdated and unprofitable, and it was closed by Nestle with the loss of around 350 jobs in 1972. Some product lines were discontinued and others were transferred to other Nestle factories.

Crosse & Blackwell loses market share to supermarket own-label products
Nestle had managed to build the Crosse & Blackwell share in the British soup market to 27 percent by 1973. This was followed by disaster, as supermarkets began to rationalise their product lines and introduce own-label offerings. Crosse & Blackwell’s share of the soup market fell by almost two thirds between 1979 and 1986. Crosse & Blackwell accounted for less than ten percent of soup sales by 1985, and had been delisted by some supermarket chains.

Nestle was identified as a company with well-regarded management, but its acquisition of Crosse & Blackwell was identified as a singular misstep.

The Keiller preserve and confectionery works in Dundee became loss-making, and were sold to a local company in 1981.

The factory at Silvertown, London, also became loss-making, and was closed with the loss of 500 jobs in 1985. Production of Branston pickle and other condiment lines were transferred to Peterhead.

Crosse & Blackwell focused mainly on soup, Branston pickle and sauces, and Waistline salad cream by 1982.

Crosse & Blackwell baked beans held just seven percent of the market by 1994, versus 55 percent for the Heinz version.

Unable to compete with Heinz, and squeezed at the lower end of the market by supermarket own-label products, in 1994 Nestle announced that it would close two canning operations at its Peterhead and Staverton sites, while a cold sauce factory in Milnthorpe would be closed, resulting in the loss of 515 jobs. All three operations had been unprofitable for some time. The tomato ketchup and standard salad cream lines were withdrawn.

The CEO of Nestle conceded defeat to Heinz in the British soup market in 1996. An analyst commented, “why pay more for a product which isn’t the brand leader and is of no better quality than the own-label [products]?”

In 1998 Nestle closed the remaining operations at the Peterhead plant, with the loss of 170 jobs, and transferred operations to Hadfield in Manchester, citing lower transport costs.

Nestle divests its Crosse & Blackwell businesses
Nestle sold the remaining British operations (principally Branston Pickle and Sarsons vinegar) to Premier Foods in 2002. The American operations were sold to J M Smucker in 2004.

Crosse & Blackwell, along with Fray Bentos, was sold to Princes Foods of Liverpool in 2011 for £182 million.

The Branston Pickle and Sarsons vinegar operations were sold separately to Mizkan Foods of Japan in 2012. Branston Pickle and its factory in Bury St Edmunds were valued at £92.5 million, and Sarsons was valued at £41 million. Due to the change in ownership, Branston Pickle no longer carries the Crosse & Blackwell name.

Nestle sold the South African operations of Crosse & Blackwell to Tiger Brands in 2012.

Nestle continues to own the Crosse & Blackwell brand in Mexico, where it markets a popular brand of Worcestershire sauce.

A tinned history of Crosse & Blackwell (1706 – 1907)

Crosse & Blackwell grew to become one of the largest food manufacturers in the world. It remains best known for tinned soup in Britain, English-style condiments in America and mayonnaise in South Africa.

Origins of the business
West & Wyatt was established in London in 1706. The firm had a sizeable trade in salted fish and held Royal Warrants to supply George III, George IV and William IV.

Edmund Crosse (1804 – 1862) and Thomas Blackwell (1804 – 1879) joined West & Wyatt as apprentices in 1819. The two men enjoyed a strong friendship. Richard West had died in 1824, and upon the retirement of William Wyatt in 1830, Crosse and Blackwell acquired the business with £600 of borrowed capital. Supposedly, Crosse sourced the ingredients and Blackwell created the recipes. Early products included fish sauce and Soho sauce, an accompaniment to game.

Relocation to Soho Square; mass production begins
Crosse & Blackwell received a Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1837. The following year there were 21 employees.

The expanding business relocated from 11 King Street (now Shaftesbury Avenue) to 21 Soho Square in 1839.

Crosse & Blackwell became the first business in the world to mass produce jam from 1841.

Crosse & Blackwell had a capital of £26,000 in 1844. The business had a particularly successful export trade, and produced 75 different sauces and pickles and 25 varieties of soup, as well as potted meats, jams and honey. Preserved foods were luxury items, aimed at the wealthy.

Crosse & Blackwell opened the first large-scale salmon cannery in the world in Cork, Ireland, in 1849.

The firm grew due to a rise in luxury food sales, and a steadfast dedication to quality. Standards of freshness and cleanliness were paramount.

Crosse & Blackwell employed 126 people in 1851.

A second Soho Square building was acquired in 1857.

Mushroom ketchup ranked as the firm’s most popular sauce in 1857, with 17,000 gallons sold that year. 120,000 tins of sardines were sold in 1859, and 300 tons of sugar were used in jam-making.

Crosse & Blackwell was the leading preserved goods producer in the world by 1860. Nearly one million jars of pickles were produced every year. 249 people were regularly employed, with hundreds more employed as seasonal workers. Over 100,000 gallons of vinegar were used every year. A contractor in East Ham employed 400 women to pick and prepare 12,000 bushels of onions every year.

Edmund Crosse died suddenly in 1862. His estate was valued at £140,000.

Edmund Meredith Crosse (1846 – 1918) and Thomas Francis Blackwell (1838 – 1907) followed their fathers into the business.

Crosse & Blackwell operated 38,000 square feet of factory and warehouse space in the Soho Square area by 1865. Nearly 400 people were employed.

British trading links with India saw the introduction of products with an Eastern influence such as Major Grey’s Chutney, Colonel Skinner’s Mango Relish and Captain White’s Oriental Pickle.

By 1867 the business used one ton of sugar daily, and annually 240,000 gallons of vinegar. 450 tons of fruit were preserved. 200,000 gallons of pickles were produced.

Continued expansion resulted in premises at Soho Square, Sutton Place, George Yard, Denmark Street, Stacey Street, Dean Street and Earl Street by 1868.

The business was awarded warrants from Emperor Napoleon III of France and the King of Belgium in 1868.

In 1869 the firm sold two million bottles of pickles and 800,000 tins of sardines.

Between 600 and 1,000 people were employed at Crosse & Blackwell by 1870, depending on the season. The firm had a reputation as a good employer.

The firm imported nearly half a million tins of lobster into England in 1871.

Thomas Francis Blackwell becomes senior partner
Thomas Blackwell Sr died in 1879 with an estate valued at under £160,000. T F Blackwell succeeded his father as senior partner.

Thomas F Blackwell (1838 – 1907), date unknown

In 1880 around 1,200 people were regularly employed, around 400 to 500 of which were women. That year, 20,000 bushels of onions were pickled. The firm’s brewery produced 500,000 gallons of vinegar each year. 60,000 bottles of pickles were produced every week. Over one million tins of soup were sold annually; turtle, mock turtle and oxtail were among the most popular variants.

Crosse & Blackwell was the largest jam manufacturer in England, using around 3,000 tons of sugar a year by the late 1880s. The firm commenced exports of jam to the United States, despite a 30 percent import tariff.

Crosse & Blackwell was described as “probably the largest employer of labour in London” in 1887.

Crosse & Blackwell became a limited liability company with a capital of £570,000 in 1892. T F Blackwell was appointed company chairman. About one million gallons of vinegar were produced every year.

Crosse & Blackwell was one of the largest food manufacturers in the world by 1898. The company employed around 2,000 people, mostly unskilled labourers. There were factories at Soho Square; Charing Cross Road; Soho Wharf in Lambeth, Victoria Wharf at Millwall, a vinegar brewery on the Caledonian Road, a lemon squeezing factory at Vauxhall and a branch factory in Cork, Ireland.

T F Blackwell died in 1907, leaving an estate of £979,659 (£103 million in 2013). He was regarded as one of the merchant princes of British business; a strong man of high integrity. He continued to work at the company until a few days before his death.

By this time Crosse & Blackwell had established a number of employee benefits, including a savings bank with superior interest rates as well as athletic and recreational clubs.

Read Part II of this history here.