R.I.P.: HP Sauce (made in Birmingham, anyway)


This morning at 6:00 a.m. local time (GMT), the last shift finished work at the H. J. Heinz Co.’s plant in Birmingham, England, closing production in England of its famous HP Sauce. Production will be shifted to a plant in the Netherlands.

HP sauce, photo from BBCAbout 125 Britons will lose jobs.

HP is a vinegar-based sauce, used primarily on breakfast dishes if I understand it correctly. It is not available in the U.S. under that name, or at least, not available widely. I have been unable to get a description of what it tastes like.

HP was registered as a trademark before 1900, in what appears to be a reference to “Houses of Parliament,” where, the creator of the sauce said, it was quite popular. For a time it was called “Wilson’s sauce” after British Prime Minister Harold Wilson. According to a BBC story:

The closure has been opposed by unions and civic leaders but US owners Heinz decided the factory was not viable.

Businesses near to the factory launched a Save Our Sauce campaign and protests were held in Birmingham and outside the American Embassy in London in a bid to get the company to change its plans.

Birmingham City Council leaders met with Heinz managers to try to draw up fresh plans and MPs tried to get HP banned from tables inside the Houses of Parliament as it was no longer “a symbol of Britishness”, but all to no avail.

Production team leader Danny Lloyd, who has worked at the factory for 18 years, said it was “like the bottom had fallen out” of the workers’ worlds.

Heinz markets Heinz 57 sauce in the U.S, primarily intended for beef dishes, and competing with A.1. Sauce, a product now owned by Kraft Food, another monster, conglomerate food marketing organization. Heinz also owns the Lea & Perrins brand, which is famous in the U.S. for British-invented Worcerstershire sauce.

A high school class could make quite a meal of branded foods and sauces once made by small, local companies, now owned by large, global conglomerates.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Groves Media. Photo from BBC.

Update, March 16, 2007: How big is this thing? Courtesy of Paul Groves, check out this link: www.brownsauce.org

13 Responses to R.I.P.: HP Sauce (made in Birmingham, anyway)

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Thanks for the update, Mr. Britton.

    I suppose it’s too much to hope the family might restore the original formula and put it up for sale. Probably too much legal entanglement.

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  2. The Midland Vinegar Company was established by Edward Eastwood and his nephew Edwin Samson Moore in 1875. They produced vinegar,chutneys,sauces and pickles and by 1890 were the largest producers of vinegar in the world. They bought the rights to “Gartons HP Sauce” from a Nottingham Grocer, Mr Frederick Gibson Garton under dubious circumstances in 1899. The Midland Vinegar Company made HP Sauce the British Institution we know and love today. In 1924 The company was sold to the British Shareholders Trust and was floated as HP Sauce Limited. The Midland Vinegar Company was dissolved several years later. The author, Nigel Britton is the Great,Great Grandson of both Mr Eastwood & Mr Moore. In 2012 Nigel re-registered The Midland Vinegar Company Limited which returned the company name to the family who in 1875 established their vinegar factory at Aston Cross Birmingham. The Americans may now own HP Sauce but the original company name The Midland Vinegar Company Limited and the kudos of HP Sauce that was earnt by the thousands of hard working residents of Aston Cross, means something of the past now remains with an ancestor of the originators. Nigel Britton.

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  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Hey, Facebook fans: Leave a comment! What is the discussion that brought you here to read about HP sauce?

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  4. TL Poe says:

    HP Sauce is available at the Ballard Fred Meyer. 915 NW 45th, Seattle. 206 297 4300.

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  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Thanks, Paul.

    I found a bottle of HP sauce in Dallas at Central Market (a division of H. E. Butts food stores). It tastes a lot like A-1 Sauce, another product from the Heinz stable.

    Of course, the HP sauce we get here is manufactured in New Jersey, probably in the same factory as A-1. They’ve added orange to the sauce, which I don’t think was included in the original HP.

    I’m sorry to hear the factory is being dismantled. Someone could have bought the place and started manufacturing a different sauce on the old HP recipe — Astor Sauce, or something — and I’m sure it would be a hit, just from Brits who don’t like Heinz & Co. mucking things up.

    Secret’s in the water, eh? Just like Olympia Beer, before it was purchased by a larger company and mucked up. Or like Coors, before they started brewing it all over the place.

    Eat local? How?

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  6. Paul Jordan says:

    Hi my name is Paul Jordan.
    My company is at present stripping down the inside of the HP factory. It is due fro demolition in 4 weeks. Since we started this job we have found out some very interesting facts about the sauce. Such as Hp was built on this site for one reason and one reason only. Just a few hundred yards from the factory is a 200ft deep well. In it is a natural spring. The water from it is as pure as you can find. This was used in the production of the sauce and is one of the keys to it’s taste. It was kept a secret for so many years. Now that production is abroad. They are missing the key element and in doing so CAN NOT REPRODUCE THE EXACT TASTE!!! sales have dropped by over 50%. I now believe that production is moving over to spain. This to will be a failure for the same reason. The The answer to this problem was simple. LEAVE THINGS ALONE!…..

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  7. Randy Percival says:

    Hi, Lea and Perrins, owned by Heinz, in New Jersey is producing HP Sauce now.

    The bottle, largely identical, has a banner stating “new improved recipe.” I guess this is part of the exciting plans Heinz has for their brands in the UK!

    The sauce recipe is quite different from the original; water has replaced malt vinegar as the first ingredient for example. There is also orange juice in the recipe now. A noticeable ingredient in the “improved” sauce is chili peppers. The after burn is noticeable on the palate, likened to that after eating hot salsa. I think Heinz is trying to turn it into a competitor to A1 Steak sauce.

    The “improved recipe” sauce is not offensive, but it is most certainly NOT HP Sauce!

    There is far too much homogenization in the world today for the sake of the shareholders; I hope this maneuver does cause Heinz some pain…

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  8. Tour Marm says:

    It’s difficult on a community when a factory closes down.
    In the United States there have been many such closings and relocations to places like Mexico. The little town of Warsaw, Virginia was devastated when Levi’s left. Imagine when the auto factories close.

    However, the British eat a great many foods that are not from Great Britain and I think that the move to the Netherlands will not affect HP consumption all that much. It’s all part of the European Union.

    The purpose of business is to make a profit. Period. If it was not profitable to make it in England, then the firm’s responsibility to the company’s shareholders is to relocate it.

    The question that should be addressed is, “Why could it not be made profitably in England?”

    However, for the astute entrepreneur, here is a site that might be of interest: Gordon’s Fine Foods in Cranleigh could assist you with that Aston Sauce: http://www.gordonsfinefoods.com/contract_packaging/index.htm
    I love their Cumberland Sauces and chutneys.

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  9. Paul Groves says:

    Ed,

    I might just be a cynical old hack, but I doubt whether there would be enough for support for a “British HP Sauce” to rival Heinz. We’re very good at saying: “That’s wrong”. We’re not so good at following that up by taking decisive action. We’re creature of habits and Heinz has just mounted a big new advertising campaign for HP so we’ll more than likely stick with Heinz because it is simple, familiar and available on our supermarket shelves.
    It would be great if people proved me wrong, but I think we’ve become too apathetic as a nation to make a proper stand.

    Heinz claims it will save £25m ($40m?) over 10 years by switching production from England to Holland. They haven’t provided more of a breakdown on how or why, but it is a usefully large figure for them to justify their actions to shareholders – which is all that really matters at the end of the day.

    You are right in your description of the full English breakfast – not sure if Monty would have used HP, but he strikes me as the type who would (probably in a silver sauce boat rather than straight from the bottle though).

    Food is a complicated business these days – especially in this country.

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  10. Ed Darrell says:

    Belgians eat “French fries” with mayonnaise (though they probably call them “pomme frites”). Is there a market there for an HP-style sauce?

    Think of the national barriers that combination of foods hurdles: An essentially American-style food, with a French idiomatic name, popular in Belgium with a French egg sauce (mayonnaise), and in the U.S. with an Indonesian concoction (ketchup, catsup, or ketsiap, depending on your spelling preference), popular in England with malt vinegar, and even popular in Germany with the French name. Sprinkle on some curry powder, see if it sells in Mumbai. (I have a conflict of interest here, slight, having been born in Burley, Idaho, the spud capital of the world, and home of J. R. Simplot, who at one time supplied all the frozen potatoes for McDonalds worldwide, and still having family and friends in the spud business.)

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  11. Ed Darrell says:

    A “full English breakfast?” You mean, eggs, bacon, toast, juice, sausage, ham – everything? Isn’t that what Lord Montgomery used to eat? And isn’t that why it became known as “the full Monty?”

    Did Montgomery use HP sauce?

    I’m intrigued. The ingredients list I found included much of what is in A.1. sauce here in the U.S. HP is available in Canada, and I wonder whether it can be found in import food shops around Dallas.

    One wonders what would happen if the British Trust were to make a bid for the factory, quickly hire the former, laid-off workers, and start producing “traditional Aston sauce” with an emphasis on pushing it to the U.S., China, Indonesia and Japan, and especially with a bid to putting it on stuff like McDonalds McMuffins, and other fast-food fare, as well as standard cafes and restaurants. If Britons could choose between a British produced, new company’s sauce, and Dutch-produced HP Sauce, which would they choose?

    Globalization may be a good thing in the long run. But we’re all dead in the long run. Tradition is a good thing to get us through the short run, medium run, and long run. I wonder what the numbers actually were for moving the production from England, and whether the Heinz company economists figured in the loss of reputation as a cost. The site you recommended, Paul, at http://www.brownsauce.org, suggests many people are concerned about the move. Are there enough people concerned to stop buying HP and make the point to Heinz?

    I am reminded of another food tradition that has swept England. My understanding is that the leading category of restaurant in England, especially in fast food, is “curry shop.” Curry got to England from Indian and Pakistani groups’ migrating to London. But curry is not an invention of Asia; it came from Portugal, and Portuguese sailors took it around the world. I think latent and patent nationalism would prevent the English from adopting a Portuguese food so broadly. But when the path of adopition is so curcuitous, objections fall away.

    Will Britons stick to their sauce, or to their flag?

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  12. Paul Groves says:

    Thanks for the mention.
    HP works brilliantly with a full English breakfast, or a bacon roll. Personally, I like it on a corned beef sandwich.
    The dilemma now, of course, is whether to still buy it when production has moved to Holland – no offence to the Dutch intended.
    There are imitations, but they don’t come up to scratch.
    I spy a gap in a market for a tasty, ethical brown sauce made in the UK with fair trade ingredients in some sort of eco-friendly way…now I know how I’ll be spending my weekend.

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  13. pndmnm says:

    I buy HP sauce here in Seattle from a UK import store. It tastes like a combination of malt vinegar, ketchup, and molasses. Excellent with fries or meat pie.

    Like

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