Our house is probably no different to others – particularly in the UK – where breakfast table condiments – aside from pepper and salt – could possibly cause such division. I am talking about the Clash of the Titans of iconic breakfast sauces.
If you wonder down London’s Fulham Road upon ordering a takeaway sausage or bacon sandwich at “The Cherry on the Top” cafe – or “greasy spoon” – you’ll be asked simply “Red or Brown sauce?”. “The Red” referred to is, usually, Heinz Tomato Ketchup – my son’s favourite and “The Brown” is almost always HP Sauce – my favourite.
The original recipe for HP Sauce was invented and developed in 1899 by Frederick Gibson Garton, a grocer from Nottingham. It is understood that he used “HP” – standing for Houses of Parliament – a building which appears on the HP bottle’s logo to this day. It’s rumoured that the sauce was used at the turn of the 20th century in a restaurant at the Houses of Parliament.
HP Sauce’s uniquely distinctive taste come from the combination of malt vinegar base, blended with tomato, dates, tamarind extract and spices. Garton sold the recipe to Edwin Samson Moore for £150 to settle a debt. Moore, was the founder of the Midlands Vinegar Company (the forerunner of HP Foods) and subsequently launched HP Sauce in 1903.
Until 2007 production took place at the HP factory in Aston, Birmingham. One of the giant logos from the top of the tower – a local landmark – is now in the collection of Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery.
Quintessentially a British product – at heart if not now of manufacture – its place in the national psyche is fixed – and its annual sales of 28 million bottles attest to this icons popularity. Even John Betjeman wrote of the product in his poem “Lake District” “I pledge her in non-alcoholic wine / And give the HP Sauce another shake.”
The HP brand was passed from the Midlands Vinegar Company to Smedley HP Foods Limited, it was then sold to the French Groupe Danone SA in 1988 for £199m. In June 2005, Heinz purchased HP Foods from Danone and in October 2005 the UK Office of Fair Trading referred the takeover to the Competition Commission which approved the £440m acquisition in April 2006. In May 2006, Heinz (now KraftHeinz) announced – to great controversy – its plans to switch production of HP Sauce from Aston to its European sauces facility in Elst, Netherlands. The factory at Aston ceased production on 16 March 2007.
Although its available in many different varieties the glass HP bottle is still readily available – and iconic. Above all it’s well worth the wait, however frustrating, for the viscous blown sauce to descend from the neck of the upturned open bottle.
And in the Red corner…
Introduced in 1876, Heinz Tomato Ketchup is produced by H.J. Heinz Company and is one of the world’s best selling ketchup brands and heinz has for many years used the slogan “America’s Favorite Ketchup”.
In 1907, Heinz started producing 12 million bottles of ketchup per year, exporting all over the world.
Now I get this condiment’s tomato/vinegar/spice combination works well on many foods its particularly good with chips, and hot dogs – but Brown sauce it’s not. That said it clearly is very popular. As of 2012, there are more than 650 million bottles of Heinz Tomato Ketchup being sold every year throughout the world.
Heinz introduced its iconic octagonal glass bottle in 1889 and the bottle was patented in 1890. The octagonal glass bottle is still in use today. Like HP Sauce, the ketchup has high viscosity so dispensing from glass bottles can be difficult. Tapping the glass bottle seems to aid pouring. On its website, Heinz suggests that the best place to tap the bottle is on the “57” mark.
Many other varieties of packaging of Heinz Tomato ketchup are available including the “upside-down”squeezable bottle. Like HP Sauce Heinz has tested an sold many different variation of the basic ketchup including organic and lower salt versions.
In March 2015 KraftHeinz cause a slight ripple of frenzy on social media was asked to vote in the Red vs. Brown after the votes were counted it was reported that first place had been taken by Heinz Tomato Ketchup securing 51% of the vote.
So Red sells more and won by 1%. Still not good enough to change my alliegiance!
I guess the only real winner in this contest is KraftHeinz as they own both brands along with many other family favourite sauces.
Photo from KraftHeinz