Page last updated at 14:12 GMT, Tuesday, 9 May 2006 15:12 UK

'Great British' sauce heads abroad

By Douglas Marshall
BBC News

Special edition HP Sauce
Special edition HP Sauce bottles sold out at Harrods
It is an iconic brand that has been associated with the great British fry-up for 100 years.

Since the early part of the last century, bottles of the stuff were sent around Britain's huge empire.

And now HP Sauce is being sent abroad again, but this time for good.

For Heinz, the US owners of the Birmingham-based sauce makers have decided it costs too much to make it in Britain.

From next year it will be produced from a state-of-the-art factory in Holland.

Ironically, the decision comes just a few weeks after HP Sauce launched a campaign to "Save the Proper British Cafe".

It is selling wristbands from a website and ploughed 5,000 into a "fighting fund".

Paul Harvey, marketing manager of HP Sauce, said: "Britain has already suffered the demise of proper British institutions like the red phone box and the faithful Routemaster bus, which is why it seems so important to start this campaign to Save the Proper British Cafe."

I grew up there and remember the smell of HP Sauce
Ken Hardeman, Birmingham city councillor

That loyalty has not been extended to the workforce at the Aston factory, which has stood as an icon in the gateway to Birmingham.

"I grew up there and remember the smell of HP Sauce, which was part of Birmingham," said Ken Hardeman, cabinet member for regeneration at Birmingham City Council.

"It is sad, it is a tragedy and it is a loss of what is a really British company. It is somewhat ironic HP will be made in Holland."

He said the council would be trying to help those who will find themselves unemployed.

Unions have described the closure plan as a "savage decision" against a "loyal workforce".

But Heinz said the factory has become unviable and will close in March next year.

'Wilson's gravy'

John Lamb, from Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: "It is obviously devastating that such an iconic Birmingham brand is going.

"It is a very visible place as you come in on the main thoroughfare to Birmingham and it is a great pity it is going to close."

The factory has stood in Aston since 1875, when the Midland Vinegar Company was started by Edwin Moore, who later bought the recipe from a Nottingham grocer who owed him money.

HP Sauces
HP has become a powerful brand over the past 100 years

It was named HP Sauce because it was reputedly once served at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster and soon became a worldwide brand thanks to its empire connections.

The brown sauce is made with a malt vinegar base and a blend of fruits and spices and the bottle still features the Houses of Parliament on its label.

Its links with Westminster continued into the later part of the 20th Century.

In the 1960s and 1970s it became known as "Wilson's Gravy" because the wife of the then prime minister, Harold Wilson, told The Times newspaper he would smother his food in the sauce.

Last year designer Paul Smith created a special edition HP Sauce bottle as part of Harrods' Truly British series. The 1,899 bottles sold out in days.

Jobs go as HP Sauce moves abroad
09 May 06 |  West Midlands
HP sauce deal 'set for clearance'
22 Feb 06 |  Business
Designer charity sauce sells out
06 Sep 05 |  West Midlands

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