Category Archives: Spreads & sauces

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.

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.

Sauce material: an overview of brown sauce

HP is the highest-selling brown sauce in Britain and Canada. A1 has higher sales in the United States and Japan. Yorkshire Relish retains popularity in Ireland. OK sauce remains popular in China. In Japan they have their own brown sauce inspired by the English version called tonkatsu sauce.

Arguably the ur-type brown sauce was Lea & Perrins’ Worcestershire sauce. We don’t think of it as a brown sauce today, but its ingredients; molasses, vinegar, citrus fruits, tamarind, and its taste; sweet, bitter, savoury, tangy, spicy; almost certainly informed the earliest brown sauces.

The great celebrity chef of the early Victorian period, Alexis Soyer (1810 – 1858), formulated an early brown sauce, which was manufactured by Crosse & Blackwell from the late 1840s. His Sauce Succulente was described as, “thick, pulpy and of a reddish-brown colour. It contains vinegar, a considerable quantity of tomato, wheat flour, shallots, garlic, redcurrant jelly and several herbs”.

By the early 1850s the brown sauce market had been established. The products tended to include tomatoes, garlic, shallots, mushroom and walnut ketchup, raisins, tamarind, soybean, herbs, spices, and salt. Treacle and caramel were used for colour, and flour was used as a thickening agent. Some contained anchovies.

Brown sauce became popular as a byproduct of industrialisation. Meat that was imported from the country to the towns and cities was up to three days old, and brown sauce improved its flavour.

Henderson Brand introduced A1 sauce in 1862. The sauce contained tomatoes, raisins and orange marmalade.

Brand’s nephew George Mason introduced an imitation of A1 called OK in 1880. OK was thicker, and included more fruit, including mangoes and apples.

HP sauce was introduced in 1889. It is similar to A1 but thicker, and contains tamarind. Other ingredients in the original recipe include garlic, shallots, ground mace, tomato purée, cayenne pepper, ground ginger, raisins, flour, salt and malt vinegar.

HP, A1 and OK were all acquired by large conglomerates in the 1960s. HP was already the highest-selling brown sauce in Britain by this time. However its acquisition by Imperial Tobacco, one of the largest companies in the world, saw investment in new machinery at its factories and a huge increase in marketing spend. Large competitors, including Rank Hovis McDougall and Colman’s, could not compete with Imperial’s massive firepower, and one by one HP’s competitors faded away.

Brown sauce was highly regionalised in Britain as late as the 1970s, with HP the only national player. Daddies was strong in the South West, Fletcher’s was strong in the West and East Ridings of Yorkshire, while Heinz Ideal Sauce and Hammonds Chop Sauce were strong in the North Riding. OK sauce had a large share of the London market.

From the 1970s the supermarkets streamlined their product offerings, usually focussing on the market leader and an own-label brown sauce.

Yorkshire Relish: Goodall, Backhouse & Co

Yorkshire Relish was the highest-selling bottled sauce in the Victorian era. It was advertised as “the most delicious sauce in the world”.

Goodall, Backhouse & Co is established
Robert Goodall (1831-1870) was born in Market Weighton, Yorkshire. After serving an apprenticeship to a chemist, he established a small chemist’s shop on Wade Lane, Leeds from 1853.

Goodall entered into partnership with two chemists, William Powell (1836-1900), his brother-in-law and former apprentice, and Henry Backhouse (1829 – 1876), to acquire the business of Bell & Brooke, Leeds wholesale chemists, from Thomas Bell (1801 – 1878), who was retiring, in 1858.

The firm, now known as Goodall, Backhouse & Co, moved to Bell & Brooke’s larger premises at 46 Boar Lane. Goodall held 50 percent of the equity in the firm, and Backhouse and Powell each held a 25 percent stake.

Many chemists of the era branched out into consumer goods products, and Goodall began to manufacture “Yorkshire Relish” using a family recipe from 1865. It was a thin sauce, comparable to Worcestershire, but it was fruitier and did not contain anchovies.

The base of Yorkshire Relish consisted of shallots, soy sauce, garlic and malt vinegar. It was flavoured with 27 “Eastern spices” including black pepper. The sauce was matured in wooden vats for at least 14 months and up to three years.


Robert Goodall died in 1870, and his stake in the business was inherited by William Powell. The firm relocated from Boar Lane to White Horse Street in 1873, and retail activities were discontinued. The firm developed as pharmaceutical wholesalers and sauce manufacturers. William Powell became sole proprietor of the business from 1876, following the death of Henry Backhouse.

Goodall Backhouse operated the largest sauce factory in the world by 1874. The steam-powered factory was largely mechanised, and occupied a six-floor building.

Every bottle of Yorkshire Relish was embossed with a willow tree logo to confer authenticity by 1870. Over 670,000 bottles of Yorkshire Relish were sold in August 1872. Yorkshire Relish holds trademark no. 3,101; it was among the first names to be registered when trademarks were introduced in 1876.

William Powell Bowman (1862 – 1955), the nephew of William Powell, entered the business from 1877.

Eight million bottles of Yorkshire Relish were sold in 1885. Yorkshire Relish even received a recommendation from Charles Perrins (1864 – 1958) of Lea & Perrins, manufacturers of the original Worcestershire sauce.

The White Horse Street factory was doubled in size in 1886. The business employed a workforce of 400, including 100 people directly involved in Yorkshire Relish production and bottling.

When asked to account for the popularity of Yorkshire Relish, W P Bowman responded; “it is good and cheap, never varies in its quality, and its uniform excellence is now thoroughly established”.

Goodall Backhouse advertised heavily, and had an annual marketing spend of £40,000 to £50,000 per annum by 1888.

Goodall Backhouse was involved in a landmark House of Lords legal case against the Birmingham Vinegar Brewery, who had begun to manufacture an imitation product which they branded as “Yorkshire Relish”, in the 1890s. The case ruled that only Goodall Backhouse could use the name. Powell spent £25,000 in legal fees to defend his trademark rights against other businesses between 1892 and 1900.

Under the astute leadership of William Powell the business became one of the largest sauce manufacturers in the world. There were around 500 employees at the firm by 1900.

William Powell Bowman takes control of the business
William Powell died a lifelong bachelor in 1900, and left the firm to two nephews. William Powell Bowman gained a two thirds stake, and Frank Boyce received one third.

The factories occupied some ten acres of floor space by 1907, and the wage bill ran to over £80,000 (£8.5 million in 2015). Thirteen million bottles of Yorkshire Relish were sold each year. It remained the highest selling sauce in the world as late as 1911.

Bowman bought the remaining third of the company from Boyce for £36,000 (around £2.7 million in 2015) in 1916. Bowman was joined by his eldest son, George Edward Bowman (1901 – 1979), from 1921.

Following the introduction of import tariffs in Ireland in 1933, Charles Ernest Hogg established Goodall’s of Ireland, which produced the sauce for that market under licence.

Goodall Backhouse became a limited company with a capital of £125,000 (£8 million in 2015) from 1934.

A thick version of Yorkshire Relish was introduced from 1935, under the initiative of George Edward Bowman. It was made from apples, tomatoes, dates, tamarinds and spices. It allegedly had a more subtle, and fruitier taste than rivals such as HP and Daddies.

Goodall Backhouse was awarded a royal warrant from George V.

The company’s drugs business and properties on White Horse Street in Leeds were spun off as a separate company called “Goodalls (Leeds), Ltd” in 1937. George Edward Bowman remained as a director of the drugs business. The remnant foods business, mostly employed in the manufacture of Yorkshire Relish, had a staff of over 300 people and a works located on Sovereign Street.

George Edward Bowman had taken over as managing director of Goodall Backhouse by 1947, with William Powell Bowman serving as governing chairman.

Death of W P Bowman and sale of the business
William Powell Bowman died in 1955. A reserved man, he was said to have never suffered a day of illness in his life.

Goodall Backhouse struggled in the wake of the death of W P Bowman. His successor, George Edward Bowman, was an excellent salesman, but not a natural business manager.

Goodall Backhouse was sold to Hammonds Sauce Co of Shipley, Yorkshire in 1959. Hammonds (then, as now) was a largely regional brand, whereas Yorkshire Relish had a national presence and a large export market.

Hammonds was acquired by Pillsbury in 1982. Pillsbury closed the Leeds factory in 1985 and relocated all Hammonds production to a new £1 million factory in Bradford.

Pillsbury was acquired by Grand Metropolitan in 1988 who sold Pillsbury UK to Dalgety in 1991. Dalgety sold Hammonds to Albert Fisher for £12 million later that year.

Yorkshire Relish was available in thin, thick, spicy and fruity varieties by 1994. Only the thick version was available by 1996.

Hammonds was acquired by Unigate in 1999. The thick version of Yorkshire Relish had been discontinued due to low sales by 2001.

The Bradford factory was closed in 2002 and production of Hammonds sauces was relocated to a former vinegar brewery in Lancashire.

Hammonds is currently owned by McCormick, the American spice company. McCormick also own the rights to the Yorkshire Relish trademark.

Thin Yorkshire Relish is still produced by Robert Roberts in Ireland. The product has a base of vinegar, sugar and soy sauce. The thick version is also produced, under the name “YR Sauce”.

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.)

The Crosse & Blackwell brand rights are owned by various companies across the world. The brand is most closely associated with tinned soup in Britain. In America it is a specialist purveyor of English-style condiments. In South Africa it is the highest-selling brand of mayonnaise.

Crosse & Blackwell continues to expand
Exports to North America were sufficient for Crosse & Blackwell to 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.

Crosse & Blackwell claimed the largest number of product lines of any food manufacturer in the world in 1928.

Sarsons and Champion & Slee were acquired by Crosse & Blackwell in 1928. The acquisition brought together the three largest vinegar producers in the South of England.

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

Crosse & Blackwell operated factories in Baltimore, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Toronto, Paris and Hamburg. Company assets were valued at over £6 million in 1930.

The onset of the Great Depression took its toll on Crosse & Blackwell, as so much of its trade was to hard-hit overseas markets. Export sales consequently declined by 50 percent. Crosse & Blackwell lowered prices in the home market to increase sales.

Crosse & Blackwell (Canada) was divested for $800,000 in 1932.

Branston Pickle was the highest selling pickle in the world by 1934. However Crosse & Blackwell redirected its focus from condiments to foodstuffs in the 1930s. The company manufactured 50 million cans of food a year by 1936.

A canning factory was established in Peterhead, Scotland, and employed over 300 people by 1937.

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

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.

Crosse & Blackwell had concentrated its focus onto soups, but the company had been decisively defeated by its American rival Heinz on its home turf by 1959. Heinz held 60 percent of the British soup market, double the share of Crosse & Blackwell.

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 was the largest canner of fish in Britain, and had six factories in Britain and five overseas. The company held one third of the British pickle 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.

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.

The condensed soup market was abandoned by 1966. 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.

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.

In 1969 the main Crosse & Blackwell products in Britain were soups, baked beans, spaghetti rings, snack meals, pickles, salad cream and tomato sauce, as well as Keiller jams, marmalade and boiled sweets.

The Baltimore plant had become outdated and unprofitable, and it was closed by Nestle with the loss of around 350 jobs in 1972.

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. A company-wide meeting was called to discuss the alarming fall in sales in 1982. Crosse & Blackwell accounted for less than ten percent of soup sales by 1985, and had been de-listed 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. A 1976 study in the Harvard Business Review commented, “[Nestle] is by no means flawless in its market moves – for instance, the company probably regrets its acquisition years ago of Crosse & Blackwell.” In the same article, the chairman of Nestle described Crosse & Blackwell soups as a commodity business, in an admission that the brand could no longer command a premium price among consumers.

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. Pickle manufacture, including Branston Pickle, was 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.

More than OK: George Mason & Co

OK was the highest-selling brown sauce in London as late as the 1970s. It was withdrawn from the British market in the 1990s, but Unilever continued to produce it for export to Asia.

George Mason & Co is established
Henderson Brand (1805 – 1893) A1 sauce, a popular brown sauce, from 1862. He employed two nephews, George and John Mason.

The Mason brothers entered into business for themselves, as competitors to Brand, from 1879. They established a small factory at 417-419 King’s Road, Chelsea. Their first products, OK Sauce and beef and chicken extracts, were direct imitations of Brand & Co products. They also supplied “invalid foods” for local hospitals.

OK Sauce contained raisins, cane sugar, mangoes, ginger, bell peppers, mace, nutmeg, cloves, British herbs, cinnamon, shallots, malt vinegar, garlic, lemons, oranges and tomato purée. No cereal-based thickening agent, artificial colouring or added chemical preservatives were used. Salt and vinegar acted as natural preservatives.

John Mason left the venture shortly afterwards, to leave George Mason as sole proprietor. George Mason took on investors to form a private limited company called George Mason & Co in 1884.

The business began to struggle, and George Mason was forced to resign his directorship in 1891.

Percy Cooper and the growth of OK Sauce
Percy Cooper (1863 – 1931) was an engaging man, who worked as an amatuer actor and magician during his spare time. He became a salesman for George Mason & Co from 1891. He was appointed general manager the following year.

Cooper was promoted to Manager and Secretary from 1895. He saw great potential in the sauce market, and decided to focus production and marketing efforts on OK Sauce. He relocated production to larger premises at St George’s Hall in Walham Green, Fulham, from 1896. Cooper named the new site ‘the Chelsea Works”.

OK Sauce won the only gold medal for sauce at the Festival of Empire exhibition in 1911. George Mason & Co were purveyors by appointment to the House of Lords, and also supplied the House of Commons.

An additional factory was opened at Southfields, Wandsworth, in order to cope with increasing demand for OK Sauce, from 1920.

Ownership of George Mason & Co was divided fairly evenly between the Cooper and Ripley families from 1920.

Rex Cooper expands OK Sauce nationwide
Rex Cooper, son of Percy Cooper, was appointed as general manager from 1925.

Both factories were closed in 1928 and production was centralised at a single larger site at Southfields, which was also named the Chelsea Works. 43,200 bottles of OK Sauce were produced daily. Rationalised production at an efficient site allowed the company to lower prices for the consumer.

The former factory in Southfields, Wandsworth (2012)

Percy Cooper died suddenly in 1931, and Rex Cooper assumed his position as managing director.

Distribution of OK Sauce was mainly limited to Southern England and South Wales. A dedicated northern sales team was established to boost sales nationwide from 1936.

Wartime restrictions meant that by 1945 only OK Sauce, mustard, Worcester sauce and fruit chutney were produced.

OK Sauce sales surpassed £1 million for the first time (about £21 million in 2015) in 1960.

Acquisition by Reckitt & Colman
Reckitt & Colman, manufacturers of Colman’s mustard, were keen to enter the brown sauce market, and acquired George Mason for £826,575 (equivalent to £14.5 million in 2013) in cash in 1964. Rex Cooper joined the Colman’s board of directors.

Rex’s son Brian Cooper was appointed managing director in 1965. Rex Cooper died the following year, leaving £77,514 (£1.3 million in 2013).

The Southfields factory was closed with the loss of 150 jobs in 1969. Colman’s explained that Mason’s had “long since outgrown” the London factory, and production was relocated to Norwich.

By 1969 caramel and concentrates were added to OK sauce for colouring, and gum tragacanth and manucol ester were added for appearance.

The brown sauce market in Britain was highly regional as late as 1970, and OK claimed the largest share of the London market.

The British grocery sector was increasingly in the hands of large supermarket chains by the mid-1970s. Supermarkets focused on a limited product range, and also introduced own-label products in categories such as brown sauce. This placed pressure on OK Sauce, which was a less-prominent brand than HP Sauce, its major rival.

OK Sauce is withdrawn from the UK, but continues to be produced for Asian markets
Colman’s was acquired by Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant, in 1995.

OK Sauce appears to have disappeared from British shelves in the mid to late 1990s. Many of its customers switched to HP Fruity as the closest available alternative.

OK Sauce continues to be manufactured by Unilever for export to Asia.

OK Sauce
OK is a dark brown sauce. It is fruity, peppery, tangy, sweet and sour. Its fruit content is listed as 39%. It has quite an Oriental profile, and perhaps contains star anise. It perhaps shares similarities with a puréed fruit chutney.

The recipe appears to have changed over time. Mangoes are no longer contained in the sauce, and dates are now present. The label now claims that there are no artificial colours, flavourings or sweeteners added. Modified maize starch is added as a thickener.

The sauce can be used in much the same way as HP, and I can highly recommend it as an accompaniment to bacon or sausage. Chinese restaurants use it with shredded beef, shredded chicken and spare ribs.

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

The Crosse & Blackwell brand rights are owned by various companies across the world. The brand is most closely associated with tinned soup in Britain. In America it is a specialist purveyor of English-style condiments. In South Africa it is the highest-selling brand of mayonnaise.

This history of Crosse & Blackwell focuses on how the business grew to become one of the largest food manufacturers in the world.

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 – 1880) joined West & Wyatt as apprentices in 1819. The two men soon struck up 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.

Crosse & Blackwell employed 15 people in 1835.

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.

A likeness of a Crosse & Blackwell tin (1889)

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.

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.

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 in 1862 with an estate valued at £140,000.

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

Crosse & Blackwell employed nearly 400 people by 1867.

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

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

In 1869 two million bottles of pickles were sold. 562 tons of English fruit, and over 500 tons of sugar were used to make preserves and jams. 800,000 tins of sardines were sold.

By 1870, depending on the season, between 600 and 1,000 people were employed by Crosse & Blackwell. Standards of freshness and cleanliness were paramount. The firm also had a reputation as a good employer.

The second generation takeover the business
In the 1870s, the partner’s sons joined the business, Edmund Meredith Crosse (1846 – 1918) and Thomas Francis Blackwell (1838 – 1907). In 1880 T F Blackwell became the senior partner upon the death of his father.

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 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 by 1893.

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.


A1: a history of Brand & Co

Brand & Co was a large British food manufacturer. Brand’s A1 sauce became the highest-selling brown sauce in the world. Brand’s Essence of Chicken is a popular health supplement in Asia.

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

Henderson Brand probably worked in his father’s kitchen, and it is likely that he possessed a precocious culinary talent, as by the age of twelve he was employed in the kitchen of the Prince Regent (1762 – 1830) as “under cook”.

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

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.

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. Effectively a concentrated consomme, it was made by heating chopped meat inside a pot, and then separating the fibre and fat to leave a clear amber “liquid essence”. 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 soon introduced to the general public, and was an immediate success. It was distributed by the great food wholesalers of the period, including Crosse & Blackwell, J T Morton, E Lazenby & Son, and Batty & Co. By 1865 it was in use by the Royal household, and available at the dining rooms of the House of Lords and House of Commons.

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

Dence 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. He was succeeded as chairman of Brand & Co by his son, Alexander Henry Dence (1876 – 1949).

Brand’s Essence of Chicken had been introduced to Singapore by the early 1930s.

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

Brand’s Essence of Chicken (2015)

Colin Sturtevant Dence (1907 – 1996) had been appointed managing director of Brand & Co by 1939.

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

Heublein claimed that A1 was the highest-selling thick sauce in the world by 1948.

Brand & Co became a public company from 1949. The business employed 650 people, and the 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. A semi-luxury product, it enjoyed high margins.

Cerebos began to manufacture A1 sauce in Canada from 1962, and in South Africa from 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.

84 percent of RHM’s Asian profits came from Brand’s Essence of Chicken by the mid-1980s. Brand’s Essence of Chicken held a two third share of its category in the Asia Pacific region. Over four million bottles of Brand’s Essence of Chicken were sold in Singapore in 1985.

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 Britain 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.

Why can’t you get A1 sauce in the UK?

The leading brown sauce in Britain is HP. The leading brown sauce in the US is A1.

Broadly speaking, A1 is a cross between HP Sauce and Worcestershire Sauce. HP is sharper and thicker, whereas A1 is a little more fruity. You can find the imported American sauce in larger Tesco supermarkets in the UK. It pairs well with beef, especially in casseroles and meatloaf.

A1 is a British invention, introduced by Henderson William Brand in 1862, when he was co-manager of the cuisine at the International Exhibition in Hyde Park. He submitted the sauce before the Royal Commission for use in the Exhibition’s restaurants. The Chief Commissioner reportedly declared the sauce to be “A.1.”

Gilbert Heublein (1849 – 1937), a German-born spirits distributor resident in Connecticut, visited England and encountered A1 sauce. He was impressed, and after much effort he acquired the exclusive US distribution rights to A1 sauce from 1894. He gained the US production rights from 1916.

A1 was phased out in Britain in the 1970s, forced out of a crowded brown sauce market which included HP, Daddies and supermarket own-label nationally, as well as OK, Heinz Ideal, Hammonds and Fletcher’s Tiger Sauce at a regional level.

The brand is currently owned by Kraft in the US. In Britain, the trademark is currently owned by Premier Foods.