The last year has seen some iconic British brands move abroad. But will people love them any less?
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine
So there you are cruising around a picturesque village in the Cotswolds in your Aston Martin Rapide, eating your bacon sandwich covered in lashings of HP sauce and ready to chase it down with a bag of Smarties.
What could be more British than that? A Bond car, a sauce with the Houses of Parliament on the front and a sweet that has been a part of British childhood since 1937.
But change is afoot. Aston Martin is considering building the Rapide abroad, Smarties has moved production from York to Hamburg in Germany and the last bottle of British HP plopped mournfully off the line in Aston in March, giving way to production in Elst, in the Netherlands.
In addition Cadbury is moving Curly Wurly and other chocolates to factories in Poland, and there has been a memorable but ultimately vain battle by the workers of Treorchy in the Rhondda Valley to stop Burberry taking production of its Polo shirts out of the country.
Smarties have the answer... move production to Germany
Critics of the move acidly pointed out the company's boast of being "a luxury brand with a distinctive British sensibility". Never mind luxury, could a British sensibility be manufactured in China, they asked.
When HP Sauce made its decision, retired police officer and John Bull impersonator Ray Egan went as far as occupying the roof of the factory in Aston. There were protesters with Union Jacks at Westminster and an MP brandished a bottle in the Commons.
The protesters asked how a firm that had launched a campaign to "Save the Proper British Café" just weeks before the decision to move production was made, and which had produced special bottles designed by Paul Smith for a Truly British season at Harrods in 2005, could have the gall to move to the Netherlands.
But none could stop the move and Heinz is unrepentant.
"It is more popular now, sales have gone up, people buy the product, they love the product," a spokesman says. "We did evaluate all sorts of options but we couldn't close the considerable financial gap."
The company says it is still fully committed to British manufacturing, with 80% of all the food it sells in the UK made here.
Smarties-owner Nestle is equally bullish about its move to Hamburg. "Smarties aren't going to taste any different," a spokesman says, adding that sales have not taken a hit.
The company says other top brands such as Quality Street will not be moving to Germany. After all, Quality Strasse just doesn't sound right.
Manufacturing has been moving away from these shores for some decades, but if Heinz and Nestle are right, the British consumer does not care about even the most iconically British products shifting abroad. Is there no emotional attachment to British products that derives from where they are made?
What could be more British than HP Sauce?
Rune Gustafson, chief executive of branding consultants Interbrand, thinks not.
"People are actually aware of where products are made, provenance is important, but from a social aspect - people don't want to be supporting slave labour," he says.
"Britain as a manufacturing nation has been declining for well over 50 years. Britishness in the past has meant made by British people in good conditions in good factories, maybe Britishness in future will refer much more to its design."
It is a distinction that was starkly made when Dyson shifted production to Malaysia from Malmesbury in Wiltshire in 2002. Manufacturing jobs were lost, while research and design jobs remained. Perhaps a pattern had been set.
Buy UK vs buy US
To take the example of Paul Smith himself, despite being a quintessentially English designer much of his product range is made abroad. If you buy a shirt from his Paul Smith London range, it is as likely to be made in Italy as the UK. What that label with "London" says is "designed here, not made here".
And there is a case to be made that while much noise might be made by politicians about the quality of British craftsmanship and manufacture and the need to support domestic industry, there are very few people trying to directly persuade the British customer to do that.
Type "buy British" into Google and the first result you get is usually a site selling British food to expats in the US. It's not easy to find any kind of site advocating patriotic purchasing. Type "buy American" into the same search engine and you get a slew of entrepreneurs who are keen to tap into Americans' desire to support domestic manufacturing.
British consumer trends research group Mintel says it has never done a survey into whether people prefer to support British manufacturing.
One of the few groups that is attempting to support British manufacturing is British Made For Quality, founded by four British businessmen in 2002, which does its best to promote domestic industry. But it seems to be an uphill struggle.
"When we launched we had phenomenal coverage, everything from Radio 4 through to the Financial Times," says director Anthony Gilsenan.
"We had 40 potential members. That was some five years ago. The big problem for us has been getting people to buy into it and become members. It only costs £50 a year."
Of the few dozen firms that have joined up, Thomas Crapper traditional toilets and Haddonstone garden ornaments are among the biggest names. The superbrands, even those who do manufacture in Britain, rarely seem to feel that advertising the fact would boost their profits.
HP Sauce workers lobbied hard but lost
The BMFQ requirements are that a product is at least 65% manufactured in the UK. Their efforts seem more aimed at guarding the dwindling manufacturing sector, than effecting any real sea change in the mind of the shopper.
"If we can keep what manufacturing we have alive and kicking, if we can do our small bit. If you go to France, they all drive French cars. We are becoming a service nation," says Mr Gilsenan.
Those brands that trumpet their Britishness are often luxury labels that are not in the business of massive sales. Knitwear firm John Smedley is one.
"Economically it would make some sense to manufacture abroad but our particular brand has been established since 1784 on the same site in Derbyshire and employs 450 people," says brand manager Dawne Stubbs.
"The same families have made the same product for generations and the skills base means it is best to stay put."
Would Bond drive a foreign-built Aston Martin?
But John Smedley produces only half a million garments a year and its main business is selling £100 jumpers in Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. It is never going to have the same effect on customers as that of a giant like Marks and Spencer, which long ago shifted most of its clothes production overseas.
If the owners of iconic British brands can take production abroad and still maintain sales, then that tells us all we need to know about the diluted nature of our relationship with what we buy and where it is made.
And this lukewarm attitude comes at a time when producers of food in the UK are preparing to benefit from the current obsession with food miles and the environment.
But in the case of manufacturing, the proof of the pudding seems to be in the buying.
A selection of your comments appears below.
I was given a Wedgewood box set as a present, which coming from Stoke was meant to remind me of home. As I opened the parcel I was greeted with a very nice box and equally as attractive Wedgewood china sitting in it. It was only when I turned the box over and read the sticker on the bottom - "Wedgewood, Made in China" I have to admit my heart sank and the love and pride I once had for a nice piece of clay vanished in a flash
David McDermid, Stockholm
Sorry, but as soon as production of these brands moves abroad, I stop buying them. The worst example is TVR; I've always wanted one BECAUSE they were both British and the best, but if the new owner starts production in Italy, I'm not interested. They belong in Blackpool just as Smarties belong in York.
Tony Fisher, York
I will never buy Cadbury products, HP sauce, Rowntrees or any products from companies who export jobs. We are being sold out, jobs are going and it may have escaped the companies notice, but if people loose their jobs they don't have the money to buy the products. There used to be a call "export or die" just after the second world war, so I have been told. Now it's more like "export and die".
I can understand moving production of stuff to Poland or China, where it has to be cheaper to operate, but how the hell can it be cheaper to make stuff in Germany and Holland? The cost of doing business, the tax burden and the red tape here must be much worse than generally acknowledged. Until that's resolved any attempt to "Buy British" is doomed.
Tim Oakley, Uxbridge
The Raleigh bicycle I bought 18 years ago was made in the UK, but when I have to buy a new one, it will be made in Randers, Denmark!
Luci Smith, Copenhagen, Denmark
I for one now refuse to buy HP sauce and others should do the same. I also refuse to speak to call centres with overseas staff and insist on speaking to UK based operators.
I also note in Scotland supermarkets carry a large range of "Scottish" goods; meat, vegetables etc which I buy in preference to foreign products. I recently moved from South West England and the only local produce supermarkets promoted well was milk, despite the local availability of a range of dairy, meats and vegetable products. It not only supports your local community to buy local it can also help the environment.
J Robertson, Falkirk
"Would Bond drive a foreign-built Aston Martin?" When Bond was handed a fat cheque he drove a BMW so I think that the nationality of his car is hardly a statement of patriotism any more.
Orde Saunders , Kent, England
HP sauce was always my favourite brown sauce. However, when the production was moved to Holland resulting in British jobs being lost, I have refused to buy it or use it anymore. They have shot themselves in the foot as far as I am concerned.
The governments of both Britain and Scotland should be running high profile campaigns to encourage the consumer to buy domestically manufactured products. This makes sense from both the economic and the environmental perspectives. Buying from China may be cheap, but what's the cost?
Derek Dillon, Falkirk, Scotland
I think it's important to distinguish between emotional and financial values of a brand. The former cannot survive now if a manufacturer cannot play by the basic laws of global economics. Does anyone think that a Volkswagen Tuareg is a Slovak car? I doubt it. Yet it's made in Slovakia, together with about 50 percent of Porsche Cayenne.
Do you consider Hondas and Nissans assembled in Britain to be British cars? Probably not. But everyone seems to think Vauxhall is British even though it's just rebranded German Opel. As is Ford Focus.
On the other hand, Rolls-Royce will remain British even it's now, in terms of technology, German to the deepest core and not a single component is made in the UK.
Kristian, Bratislava, Slovakia
"Designed in the UK" is all very well but myself and other fellow designers find it very difficult to produce a sample through UK manufacturers as they all want substantial orders before they will assist. Others are simply shop windows for China and in my case a sample for one low cost product cost £5000.00. The government needs to be proactive in subsidising designer samples through local manufacturers if it wants to shift the economy from a lopsided base of services versus manufacturers.
Julie Anderson, London
Watching American cable TV in Canada in the 1980s, I remember many ads featuring popular music and sports stars promoting the "Buy USA" idea. The idea quickly took off (it was a time of increasing Japanese and foreign imports) and the Americans have never looked back. Surprising other countries haven't looked to do the same kind of simple, yet effective push to encourage loyalty to domestic products in the UK - or in Canada!
Paul, Kyiv, Ukraine
What do you expect with your uncivilized trade unions? They have broken GB completely and the end is not in sight. I "exported" myself many years ago and have never regretted it and the proudest day of MY life was when I became a US citizen. GBA (means God Bless America!) Stan Cory.
Stan Cory, Scottsdale, AZ. USA
The problem isn't only British. I've been given a heat proof cup for a Christmas present. On its base it reads "Texas" and "Great American Products" and "Made in China"
Jed Bland, Belper