by Brenda Watson
Member of the Guild of Food Writers
Similar to mustard - pickles, chutneys and relishes are something of an institution in Britain. They are usually eaten with cold meats and cheese, never on their own. Traditionally, they were produced in jam factories when the plant was not busy with seasonal fruits for jams and marmalades.
Today they are made all year round in increasing variety by producers large and small seeking to satisfy the tastes of pickle and chutney lovers at home and abroad.
Britain's most famous brand is Crosse and Blackwell Branston Pickle (owned by Nestle UK), the leader in the sweet pickle market. It has a 43% value share of the domestic market, with Crosse and Blackwell's Sandwich Pickle variant taking the figure well over the 50% mark. (There is also a Chilli version designed to capitalise on the trend for ethnic-minority-style hotter products.)
The Victory Roll from Breadwinner Foods, twice winner of the British Sandwich Association's Manufacturer of the Year title, partnered by Crosse & Blackwell Branston Pickle.
Figures for Branston Pickle sales in overseas markets are also impressive. According to Nestle UK, holder of the Queen's Award for Export Achievement, the pickle is sold in nearly 50 countries, from the United States to Australia and South Africa to Japan.
Nestle bought Crosse and Blackwell in 1960. The company began more than 250 years ago as the West and Wyatt grocery business on the site of the old Shaf tesbury Theatre in London. It was subsequently bought by two young men, Edmunde Crosse and Thomas Blackwell, and the renamed business expanded rapidly.
In its heyday in the 1950s, Crosse and Blackwell was as much part of a British dinner time as the traditional meal of the time: meat with two vegetables. By 1959, sales for the brand had reached an all-time high and the company's advertising slogan of "Ten O'Clock Tested" (claiming that all its food brands were subjected to an early morning taste test every day) became the nation' s catchphrase.
Branston Pickle remains Britain's favourite today and the company continues to promote it. For example, at the 18th Fast Food Fair Exhibition mounted in Brighton, Sussex, last November, Crosse and Blackwell joined forces with the British Sandwich Association to create "The Great British Butty Contest".
In the 50th anniversary year of the end of World War II, competitors had to create new sandwich (or "butty") ideas with a patriotic theme. The winner - with its Victory Roll - was London-based Breadwinner Foods, twice winner of the British Sandwich Association's Manufacturer of the Year title as well as its 1995 Marketing Award.
Breadwinner's Victory Roll was created with ingredients that paid tribute to all servicemen and women from the United Kingdom, thus starting with a traditional cottage roll and including roast Aberdeen Angus beef, English Stilton cheese and creamed Welsh leeks. With the addition of lettuce, tomato and "that most British of ingredients, Crosse and Blackwell Branston Pickle", the company claimed to have created a sandwich that Sir Winston Churchill would have been proud of.
Branston Pickle, which will celebrate its 75th birthday in 1997, is a rich deep-brown pickle containing crunchy vegetables and well-cooked spices that bring out the flavour of cheeses and cold meats - ideal for the Ploughman's Lunch served in pubs all over Britain or hearty sandwiches. This pickle style is sometimes described as "traditional farmhouse" and other popular brands include Heinz Ploughmans.
But the market is changing as customers seek ever more unusual and sophisticated tastes. This has led to the establishment of a number of small regional producers, using traditional open-pan methods to produce a new generation of food accompaniments. Not only are they finding that hand-made chutneys - such as Devon Onion & Pineapple, the Wooden Spoon Preserving Company's Mixed Fruit with Cider, and Wiltshire Tracklements' Thai Relish - are tickling tastebuds at home but they are also finding favour (and flavour) overseas. Export interest is significant with such attractively presented pickles appealing to the gift market as well as for home consumption.
Britain and India, of course, have strong historical links and Indian food sales in the UK have never been more buoyant. Another boom sector for pickles is that of ethnic-minority-style chutneys (plus sauces and accompaniments) such as Sharwood's Green Label Mango Chutney and Patak's range of authentic Indian foods that includes its own Mango and Tomato Pickles (among others) designed to appeal to lovers of both ethnic-minority food and mainstream pickle and chutney.
For more information contact:
Crosse and Blackwell
c/o Nestle UK
St George's House, Croydon,
Surrey, United Kingdom, CR9 1NR
Tel: +44 181 686 3333. Fax: +44
181 687 5031
11 Bethune Road, Park Royal, London, United
Kingdom, NW1O 6NJ
Tel: +44 181 961 9404. Fax: +44 181 961 8466
Food From Britain
123 Buckingham Palace Gate, London, United
Kingdom, SWiW 95A
Tel: +44 171 233 5111. Fax: +44 171 233 9515