Familiar brands

Familiar Brands
(Manufacturers and Retailers)

There was a time when a Swiss multinational food and beverage company called Nestles headquartered in Vevey, Switzerland. They made a white chocolate product called Milky Bar and it was heavily advertised throughout the 70s and 80s. In fact I never quite understood why a blond haired boy was dressed in a cowboy outfit (known as the milky bar kid), however the ads were memorabnle and ended with the byline ‘Nestles Milky bar’. Nestles was pronounced (Nessels). One day I realised Nestles had gone and Nestle had arrived, pronounced (Ness-lay).

There is nothing wrong with companies changing their image and products re-branding; it hqappens all the time. It’s just stranger when you see it happening with larger companies. I still call it ‘nessels’ but the point is, it’s the product that counts and not the m,anufacturer, they simply make it and sell it. Since the 70s, the Nestlé Group has become the largest food company in the world measured by revenues, and today employs 339.000 people across 197 countries manufacturing and selling 2,000 brands, which generates over 91 billion dollars in sales with a profit markin of 15%.

Nestlé is the most successful modern food conglomerate that’s ever been. It states as its objectives, to be the leader in nutrition, health and wellness. Hard to dispute, read more about Nestlé below and other well known names.

look in your kitchen cupboards or larder and you will see how many brands you have. One company does not hold a monopoly on most of the stuff we consume. You may see oxo cubes, Sarsons vinegar, Coleman’s mustard, Lea ~& Perrins Worcestershire sauce, Kellogs cornflakes, and many many more. But would you be surprised at just how many retro brands there are, for instance probably most of the brands in your eatery store were first introduce din the UK durting the war years or earlier, many from the late Victorian age.

Sarsons malt vinegar was first sold in 1794; your Cadbury’s Vournville hot chocolate was first sold in 1824; Bird’s custard in 1837; Heinz tyomato sauce in 1876; Batchelor soups and HP sauce both in 1895; even the Anchor butter in your fridge was introduced in 1886.

An individual has created a retro food wordpress site where is listed their top ten retro brands, it’s worth a visit here.









On the high street, no closure hurt more than seeing Woolworths disappear. Known affectionately as Woollys, Woolworth or Woolworths, this brand at the height of its fame became the largest in the world.

Basically, Woolworths sold manufactured household goods at rock bottom prices, there was always a bargain to be had. It also sold sweets and recorded media, it was the place where many people purchased their favourite music after watching Top of The Pops. But not during the 60s, all Woolworths sold then were cover versions not original artist chart music.

During the war Woolworths was an essential part of the war effort, helping to distribute food and providing children with a little well needed nourishment at times. During the 50s and 60s the company had truly established itself as a family member of the community. UK Woolworths made £28M in 1960.

In 1954 Woolworths US obtained permission to stock fresh fruit and vegetables from the Board of Trade. Its emphasis throughout the sixties was to promote groceries but using major floorspace for the little profit margin returns of groceries meant that into the 70s the idea was scrapped with biscuits eventually being stopped in 1985.

Most people will remember how their Woolys was there one minute and gone the next. What a shock to the system it was. Not only had it been ingrained in my life but I remember my grandmother talking of Woolworths like it was a church. For her she would have remembered its role throughout the war, for me I recal many times having a spare few pounds in my pocket and popping in to Woolworths to scout a bargain, or just browse for a new gizmo for the kitchen.

So in 2008, I walked past my local store and saw the fatal sign in the window that it was closing down. The brand was revived in 2009 trading in online shopping, but there is no ‘about us’ link to proudly boast of who they are, unfortunately. The brand is owned by the Shop Direct Group, the same UK online company that owns Littlewoods and Ladybird.

The Woolworths online museum

Online Store

Like most large chains in the US, Safeway moved from small neighbourhood stores to larger supermarkets by the start of the 1950s. Safeway expanded worldwide in the 1960s, with divisions established in the UK in 1962, Australia (1963), and Germany (1964). Safeway was acquired by Morrisons, a UK company, in March 2004, with the final Safeway stores being rebranded by November 2005. For the UK, Safeway was one of a wave of American supermarkets that were introduced in the 1960s.

Michael Smedley, followed his career as Managing Director of Smedleys as a consultant in food manufacturing and international marketing working in the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and for 10 years, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, in Kazakhstan and other Asian republics. He has written three books about the Smedley Dynasty; A Canner’s Life, A Second Life and What Happened to Smedley’s?

Smedley’s were, in 1937, the first British packers to market a wide range of quick frozen fruits and vegetables with frozen meats and fish added after the War. A Tesco store now occupies the site in Worcester Road, Evesham, where Smedley’s once tinned their produce. From the 1920s to the 1970s Smedley’s established itself as a leading brand in Great Britain and abroad.

Samuel Wallace Smedley founded the company and sent his son to America to understand how food was packaged there which gave them the knowledge of canning on a commercial scale. Until then they had established the business on fresh produce but on return from America they purchased canning machinery and an old Crosse & Blackwell jam making factory and set up a firm in 1924 to produce canned ingredients.

Products proudly displaying the Smedley’s name were shipped around the world rapidly promoting the company as a familiar brand. In 1932 they moved to larger premises in Worcester Road and by 1937 there were Smedley’s factories all over the country, positioning themselves favourably for the great war that would come. 1937 also saw Smedley’s introduce the first packet of frozen peas in the UK, however their pioneering manufacturing was interrupted by World War Two as the government stopped frozen foods because it needed the refrigeration capacity for imported rationed foods like butter and meat.

After the War, Smedley’s introduced new and varied frozen and canned products; e.g. fish fingers, rice pudding, spaghetti, ravioli, meat pies. Competition from Birds Eye was tough and the company was finally sold to Imperial Tobacco who already owned HP Foods and therefore both companys combined to rebrand as SmedleyHP (Smedley HP Foods Limited).

The Smedley name eventually faded away on products with the drive placed firmly on product identity. Product lines owned by the company stood on their own such as Symington’s Soups, Lea & Perrin Worcester Sauce, Golden Wonder Crisps and of course HP Sauce.

Having also lost the word Smedley from the company name the company became simply HP Foods Limited. It was sold in 1988 to the French multinational, the Danone Group, manufacturers of dairy produce, biscuits, cereals and bottled water (such as Evian and Volvic). And sold on in 2005 to Heinz for £470 million.

In 2010 on the trade website FoodManufacture.co.uk the brand appears out of nowhere as an asset of Premier Foods, a UK manufacturer based in St Albans. A statement says they are selling their canning sites to Princes for £182M, the brands include Fray Bentos, Crosse & Blackwell and Smedley’s.

Princes (itself owned by the Mitsubishi Corporation,) acquired two Premier Foods canning operations that produced foods under the brand names of Crosse & Blackwell, Farrow’s and Smedley’s in 2011. Fray Bentos being sold on to Baxters due to an issue with the Office of Fair Trading. One can only assume that the Smedley brand having been absorbed by Heinz, was re- invented to make a future sell off look more attractive and what better buyer than Mitsubishi, an absolutely huge company that swallowed the propaganda. Either way it’s nice to see the Smedley name back on the tins.

Photo found on flickr estimated 1937. Comment below found on flickr.

In 1926 Smedley’s canned peas which lost their colour due to the cooking/sterilising process which left them looking straw coloured and unappetising. The following year Smedley’s introduced Creme de Menthe as the colour and this sold well and became the industry norm for over 50 years. In the 80’s M&S decided to reduce the green colour, as is the norm in mainland Europe and others have followed suit. Other variants of peas were Aylesford Peas where Smedley’s added mint, colour and flavour. How do I know this? It was my Great Grandfather Wallace (Samuel) Smedley that started the company and the story was told to me by my father who worked for and ran Smedley’s factories for over 35 years. I too am interested in the advertising and regularly look at the 1000’s of original labels and advertisements.

Ian Smedley

Original cloverleaf design 1968

On 2 March 2009, the Co-operative Group bought Somerfield Stores for £1.56 billion, Somerfield became The Co-operative Food.

The number of stores owned by Co-operative Group rose to 3,000 after the purchase and led to the group’s share of the UK supermarket sector rising from 4.5% to 8%.

1944 – 1975

The close of World War II marked the beginning of the most dynamic phase of Nestlé’s history. Throughout this period, Nestlé’s growth was based on its policy of diversifying within the food sector to meet the needs of consumers. Dozens of new products were added as growth within the Company accelerated and outside companies were acquired.

In 1947, Nestlé merged with Alimentana S.A., the manufacturer of Maggi seasonings and soups, becoming Nestlé Alimentana Company. The acquisition of Crosse & Blackwell, the British manufacturer of preserves and canned foods, followed in 1950, as did the purchase of Findus frozen foods (1963), Libby’s fruit juices (1971) and Stouffer’s frozen foods (1973).

Meanwhile, Nescafé continued its astonishing rise. From 1950 to 1959, sales of instant coffee nearly tripled, and from 1960 to 1974, they quadrupled. The Company’s total sales doubled twice in the 15 years after World War II. The development of freeze-drying led to the introduction, of Taster’s Choice instant coffee, in 1966.

Nestle’s are an important company in UK food history. It has a diverse range of brands most of them every day food and popular household brands.

Many brands are long established, these examples here were around in war time and are still doing well today.

Kraft have a massive history since their beginings as an American Dairy company. National Dairy became Kraftco in 1969 then Kraft Foods Inc in 2005. They invented pasteurised processed cheese and during World War 2 sent Britain four million pounds of processed cheese each week.

In turn they owned the Jell-O brand and during the sixties they produced many varied products from jellied fruits and preserves to the Kraft singles (cheese slices) that we still see in the shops today.

In 2009, Kraft began a prolonged takeover offer for the long-established British confectionery group Cadbury which ensured Kraft commanded 14.8% of the global candy and gum market. Mars follows with around 15% and Nestle in third place with an estimated 8% of global share.

The Cadbury’s takeover was made with promises that it would remain in the UK and its heritage preserved. Days after the successful takeover the manufacturing plant, the Somerdale Factory was closed and manufacturing outsourced to Poland. In 2011 Kraft apologised for their actions and made a public apology to MPs at a parliamentary select committee hearing.

>> A history of Coca Cola produced for 125th year anniversary

<< Original Coca–Cola Hutchinson bottle

Coca-Cola is the most recognised trademark in the world, it arrived in Britain in 1900 when Charles Candler, eldest son of the Coca-Cola company’s co-founder Asa Griggs Candler, brought a sample syrup with him on a visit to England. Twenty years later it was selling in Selfridges.

Asa Griggs Candler had purchased the Coca-Cola formula from its originator in 1888 and went on to form the Coca Cola Company on the basis of a syrup mixed with carbonated water. Carbonation had been around for nearly a hundred years, since Joseph Priestley began selling it and published the method in a paper called ‘Impregnating water with fixed air.’ So flavoured carbonated water was not new, and neither was the cola flavour which appeared as an alcoholic drink called ‘cola wine’, of which several manufacturers were making it.

One such producer was Italian Angelo Mariani who sold a popular cola wine called, no less, ‘Vin Mariani’. It was Vin Mariani, originally developed in 1863, that inspired American pharmacist John Pemberton to make his own brand of cola wine. Due to prohibition of alcohol, Pemberton had to remove the alcohol i.e. the wine, and he replaced it with the cola syrup. Simply turning and alcoholic beverage into a non-alcoholic drink. To the syrup, flavourings were added like vanilla and it contained chemicals like cocaine which occurs naturally in the cocoa leaves.

The drink that Pemberton sold soon became very popular. So, when the American state of Georgia introduced prohibition in 1886, John Pemberton was forced to develop his new drink. This is why the Coca-Cola company claim 1886 as the founding year of their company. In fact that came a little later. For a while Pemberton sold the cola drink from his pharmacy. In those times there were hundreds of medicinal cola drinks sold as health drinks and brain tonics. Pemberton’s novelty was that he carbonated his recipe.

When Asa Griggs Candler started his Coca-Cola Company, he marketed the product as a health tonic, curing headaches and the like. It was the small amount of cocaine that gave the drinker a sense of feeling better. Indeed, the kola nut as well as caffeine also contains kolanin and theobromine, both regarded as similar stimulants to caffeine. In 1903 cocaine was entirely replaced with caffeine and the company dropped any medicinal claims for the product. This was due to pressure from the government over spurious health benefits claimed for the drink. In 1911 again the government tried to ban caffeine for the same reasons but this time failed.

A major brand of today that were making cola just a few years after the Coca-Cola company was Pesi-Cola. They used a digestive enzyme called ‘pepsin’ with kola nut extract, hence pepsi-cola. Pepsin, an acidic substance, was the first enzyme to be discovered, back in 1836 by Theodor Schwann. Today pepsin is known to have negative health effects and is no longer used. The inventor of Pepsi-Cola, Caleb Bradham, was also in the drugstore business promoting health tonics. After the first world war, the company was purchased by Charles Guth who wanted to replace Coca-Cola from his retail outlets because they would not reduce the price of their syrup. Guth eventually lost legal control of the company and Pepsi-Cola was on several ocassions offered to Coca-Cola who in turn refused each sale offer.

One influential person living in Georgia, was Ernest Woodruff, who was leader of a group of investors that bought The Coca-Cola Company from Asa Griggs Candler in 1919. His son, Robert Winship Woodruff, became President of the board of Coca-Cola in 1926, steering the company in a hugely successful and global direction for the next thirty years. It was Robert Woodruff that presented the cola syrup formula as a closely guarded trade secret, known only to a select few.

Cola-Cola’s syrup recipe has changed since the first days, as we have seen, perhaps none more so than in the days of Robert Woodruff. Perhaps it is the reason he decided to keep the recipe secret, indeed, the Coca-Cola syrup does not contain any kola nut extract.

The kola nut is the fruit of the kola tree, naturally containing about 2% caffeine, and was used to flavour colas. It has a bitter taste and this is why it is combined with sugar. Nowadays kola is not used and typical flavourings are caramel, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and citrus fruits combined with corn syrup.

The problem facing cola producers today is the extensive use of high fructose corn syrup which has a host of negative health warnings, and the caffeine content. Add to this, the cola syrup itself which has been deemed quite harmful to health in that recent studies have shown it to increase the risk of diabetes with prolonged consumption.

John Pemberton took the kola nut extract and mixed it with coca, sugar and carbonated water to invent the first cola ‘soft’ drink. It was Pemberton’s accountant that tasted the drink and named it, and his writing that is reflected in the Coca-Cola logo’s famous script writing. The use of prohibited ingredients, namely alcohol and cocaine, meant that after 1904 Coca-Cola’s recipe has significantly changed in that Coca-Cola no longer uses either kola or coca in its original recipe.