Category Archives: Meta

Lessons on brand custodianship

This post looks to explore why some well-established brands fail.

Introduction: give me some sugar
Henry Tate (1819 – 1899), the proprietor of Tate & Lyle sugar, once described the nature of his highly lucrative business: “[I] pull on a string and gold sovereigns come tumbling down”. Tate & Lyle sugar is still a highly valuable brand today, and it remains a truism that great fortunes remain to be gleaned in the consumer goods sector.

Once a brand is well-established it seems relatively straightforward, as Mr Tate implied, to sit back and watch the money amass. But that negates to reflect the intrinsic difficulties of brand management. What I find to be more inherently illustrative is when a well-established brand declines and ultimately fails. What causes the brand to fail, and what lessons can it demonstrate?

Family troubles
Quarrelling families are a subject as old as time. However they can cause havoc for a family-run enterprise. Nathan Baraf Walters (1867 – 1957) developed Palm Toffee and became one of the largest toffee manufacturers in Britain. However he refused to pass on the business to his four sons. The sons contested their father’s will in the Probate Court, and the QC reflected, “unhappily this family was riven with difficulties and troubles for years. I dare say the deceased bore his share of responsibility for them”. The business was subsequently subjected to a takeover by Holland’s toffee, a larger rival. The Walters factory was immediately closed, and the Palm Toffee brand disappeared.

Gin fails to blossom
The Distillers Co acquired much of the English gin industry in the early twentieth century. Marketing strength was consolidated behind Gordon’s, their leading brand, and long-established brands such as Booth’s (est.1770s), Boord’s (1774) and Vickers (1820) withered from neglect.

Fading sparkle
Showerings was a small brewery business in rural Somerset. They introduced Babycham sparkling perry in post-war Britain to immediate success. Showerings operated the largest bottling plant in the world by the late 1950s. At its height, 90 percent of licensed premises stocked Babycham. But annual sales plummeted precariously from 144 million bottles in 1977 to just one million in 1993. The conventional explanation suggests that Babycham ceased to be fashionable. Was this a failure of marketing or was a decline in the public perception of the brand intrinsically inevitable?

You butter believe it
James Epps introduced instant cocoa to the mass market. At its peak Epps & Co processed half of all cocoa imports into Britain. But the business failed to respond to rivals such as Cadbury and Rowntree, who introduced the Van Houten press to remove some of the unpalatable cocoa butter from the product. The business declined over time, and was eventually acquired by Rowntree, and the Epps brand disappeared.

Whilst far from exhaustive, this post sketches some reasons why brands can fail: management and family disputes, consolidation, poor marketing and a failure to respond to consumer demand.

Meta post #3: historical context

When the media reported on the failure of the Thomas Cook travel company in 2019, I saw a spike in page views for my history of the business.

The quality of business news in British broadsheets is generally very good. However what journalists often overlook is the historical context of huge events such as when a business enters into administration.

Just look at when Stead & Simpson, one of the largest shoe retailers in Britain, entered into administration in 2008. Nobody reported that the 174 year old business had once been the largest footwear manufacturer in the world. This was information that a busy journalist, working to a deadline, simply does not have the time to find out. So the story was reported as a high street misfortune, rather than as the culmination of a slow and steady decline for a once huge and influential business.

Stead & Simpson was not just another high street brand; it had historically employed thousands of people, and the Gee family, who controlled the company in the early twentieth century, played an influential role in the establishment of the University of Leicester.

Stead & Simpson represented a rare survivor of the once-vast East Midlands shoe-making industry, and had managed to avoid being swallowed up by the J Sears & Co business that came to control much of British shoe retailing in the mid to late twentieth century.

I would argue that a greater awareness of historical context helps us to better understand the future and the present, as well as the past.

Sauces Reconsidered by Gary Allen

I am absolutely delighted to have received a reference citation from Gary Allen in his new book, Sauces Reconsidered.

Allen cites my history of Crosse & Blackwell. I am glad that he found it helpful.

Sauces Reconsidered is very good, and if you have found my posts on sauces and foods interesting then I can highly recommend his book for further reading.

Allen has previously contributed to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. He is highly knowledgeable about food. You can explore his blog here.

Meta post #2: the most popular pages on this site

The top ten posts.

  1. Smith’s crisps, also with reference to Walkers and Golden Wonder.
  2. Callard & Bowser was a victim of the success of its own Altoids mints
  3. Goodall, Backhouse & Co, the Yorkshire Relish producers.
  4. Keiller marmalade. People are often most curious about brands that have disappeared in the recent past.
  5. It’s a question often asked, which came first, Lifesavers or the Polo mint?
  6. Sharp’s toffee, a brand I’d never heard of before I began researching confectionery history
  7. Brand & Co, developers of A1 sauce
  8. The popularity of my post on the Fatty Arbuckle’s restaurant chain really took me by surprise
  9. Cantrell & Cochrane never really disappeared, but it did reinvent itself
  10. The Saxone shoe company rounds off the list