What It's Like to Be the Editor of Cosmo U.K.

‘British’ brands that aren’t even British anymore
aston martin rapide review
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Bye bye, brands

With the news that the Yanks have been messing with our Cadbury Creme Eggs, we thought it might be interesting to take a look at other iconic British brands now in foreign hands.

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 a totally non-UKIP way, Here is a list of food and drink products familiar to UK shoppers, dating from as far back as 1778 but now owned by Johnny Foreigner.

1. Sarson’s Malt Vinegar

There’s nothing quite as British as fish and chips. But unfortunately that vinegar you shake on it isn’t quite so British anymore. Store cupboard staple and the UK’s number one vinegar brand Sarson’s was sold off to the Japanese Mizkan Group in 2005.

Created in Shoreditch, London, by Thomas Sarson, the popular vinegar has been traditionally brewed in vats since 1794. Those vats are just now in Japan.


2. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce

U.S. company Heinz has owned the Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce brand since 2005.

This is ironic, considering it’s doubtful Americans can pronounce it properly.

It is at least still produced in Worcester, rather than Heinz’s native Pennysylvania-shire.

Devised by Worcester chemists John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins to please a nobleman, the sauce has a distinctive flavour. The recipe has been a closely guarded secret since the 1830s, and is actually slightly different in the States, although both versions contain anchovies.

In the ad campaign we’ve chosen to highlight, the brand recommends adding Lea & Perrins to traditional British cuisine, to create new twists on old classics such as "bangers and splash" and "splish and chips."


3. Boddingtons Draught Bitter

Boddingtons Draught Bitter ("The Cream of Manchester") is as Mancunian as Coronation Street, the Madchester movement and a certain football club, right?

Wrong. Although the brewery was British-owned at the time of the infamous "Do you want a flake with that, love?" ad, it now belongs to a Belgian-Brazilian-American multinational behemoth. Despite history dating back to 1778, production in Manchester stopped in 2005.


4. Beefeater London Dry Gin

Britain built an empire on gin. It’s running in our very veins. There’s not a lot a good gin and tonic can’t cure, from a common cold to a bad day at work. Heck, we practically put it on our cornflakes.

Since 1862 Beefeater London Dry Gin has been proudly made in the UK’s capital. It looks British, thanks to the Yeomen of the Guard on the label. It tastes like gin.

But it’s technically no longer a British brand. French company Pernod Ricard bought it (no doubt just to tick us off) in the 1980s.

However, Beefeater is still made in Kennington, and it just opened quite a snazzy Beefeater Distillery museum and visitor’s centre, so it’s kind of all good. We suppose.


5. Hovis Bread

With Britons once voting the Ridley Scott-directed "Gold Hill" Hovis ad their favourite of all time, you can be sure the brand has a special place in the nation’s heart. So special in fact, the company felt confident to release this heartstring-tugging nostalgia fest of a commercial as a 122-second way to commemorate the company’s 122-year history.

They may as well make the next ad on Mulholland Drive, though, as L.A.-based investment company The Gores Group now owns the majority stake in the bread-maker.


6. Branston Pickle

Every patriotic Brit knows a cheddar sandwich can only be improved with a handsome dollop of Branston Pickle. Created by Crosse & Blackwell in Branston, a suburb of Burton upon Trent, in 1922, generations of Britons have grown up with cheese and pickle sandwiches in their lunch boxes.

Fast forward to 2013 and struggling Premier Foods flogs our nation’s favourite pickled chutney to Japan. Mizkan again. What’s next, we wonder? Some kind of "small chunk" abomination?

There’s nothing particularly British about the ad we’re highlighting, apart from Harry Hill’s dulcet tones.


7. Terry’s Chocolate Orange

The Yanks might have snagged Cadbury, but we still have Terry’s Chocolate Orange, right?

Actually, no. That’s also owned by U.S. interests in the form of Mondelez International, an American multinational conglomerate.

Despite Terry’s of York being able to trace its roots back to 1923, Chocolate Oranges have been made in Poland since 2005. They better not mess with the recipe, though, or next Christmas Britain will actually revolt.

You may remember the vintage Terry’s Chocolate Orange campaign. It was on well before fat Dawn French started scoffing them all.


8. Tetley Tea

Joseph Tetley & Co. was started way back in 1837. The world’s second-largest tea brand is now available in 70 countries, even ones where they put the milk in first.

But it’s not British anymore. It’s owned by Indian giant Tata Global Beverage. Tata bought the company in 2000 in what was then the biggest acquisition in Indian corporate history, after Tetley got into a spot of bother with a shrinking UK market and competition from whippersnapper rivals.

Incidentally, Tetley was the first company to sell tea bags in the UK in the 1950s, hence posh Prunella in the above ad trying to persuade British housewives they don’t need the fuss of tea leaves.


9. HP Brown Sauce

The ultimate condiment for a classic English breakfast or bacon sandwich, HP Brown Sauce is named for the Houses of Parliament and even features the distinctive building on its label.

Created in 1899 by a grocer from Nottingham, the sauce was made in the Midlands from the early 1900s right up until 2007, when the factory at Aston was closed down as new owner Heinz moved production to the Netherlands.

In 2012, an advertising campaign emphasizing the sauce’s Britishness saw a social media backlash. It’s reported that sales of brown sauce of all types dropped 19% in 2014.

This amusingly bad advert from HP Brown Sauce’s golden years shows a family of Brits abroad impressing the natives with the condiment. Maybe if they’d just shut up, it would still be ours.


10. Lyle’s Golden Syrup

We’ve saved the sweetest ’til last. Syrup sponge pudding, golden syrup cake, treacle sponge, treacle tart – all these quintessentially British comfort foods have one thing in common: Golden Syrup.

Launched by Abram Lyle in 1881 as "Goldie" syrup, from a sugar refinery on the banks of the Thames in London, the story goes that the sticky stuff was soon selling like the hot cakes it was used to make.

Still available in its delightfully old-fashioned tin – which Guinness World Records confirmed a few years back as the world’s oldest unchanged brand packaging – it’s now owned by another American megacorp, American Sugar Refining, Inc.


11. Twinings Tea

Nothing is as quintessentially English as a cup of tea. Thomas Twining began selling tea from a stand in the Strand in 1706. But today although Twinings still packs tea here, in Andover, Hampshire, if you open one of those little sachets in your hotel room it will have been made in Poland after almost 300 British workers were sacked in an efficiency drive.

12. Smarties

Whatever next, made in Germany? Well, yes, the popular tubes of sweets now roll off production lines in Hamburg after being made in York by Nestlé for 69 years.

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.

13. Cadbury

Much of the confusion over flags of convenience seems to originate when British companies are sold to new foreign owners who pay scant regard to our proud manufacturing history. A classic example is Cadbury, with its long tradition of confectionery making in the UK. Its chocolate, including Britain’s bestselling brand Dairy Milk, is still made in Bournville, Birmingham. However, following the controversial purchase of the company by American giant Kraft, if you fancy a Crunchie or Turkish Delight it will have been manufactured in Poland.

14. Robertson’s

Like Branston pickle, the marmalade firm was owned by Premier Foods.

It was sold, along with other famous spreads like Hartley’s jam, Gale’s honey and Sun-Pat peanut butter to an -American firm Hain Celestial for £200million earlier this year.

15. Weetabix

Chinese company Bright Foods bought the majority stake in the company, which also makes Alpen and Ready Brek, valuing the firm at £1.2billion.

16. Newcastle Brown Ale

Scottish & Newcastle, makers of the famous ale, was bought by Dutch brewer Heineken and Denmark’s Carlsberg in 2008 for a combined £7.8billion.

S&N was the UK’s largest and world’s seventh biggest brewer. It was split between Carlsberg and Heineken.

17. Jaffa Cakes

Jaffa Cakes and McVitie’s maker sold to Turkish food group in £2bn deal. United Biscuits will now be part of Yildiz, making the new owner the world’s third-largest biscuit manufacturer.

18. Shippam’s fish paste

It was founded in 1750 by Shipston Shippam, a quality butcher based in Chichester on the south coast of England. Now wholly owned subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corporation since 1989.

19. Walker Crisps

Walker Crisps are 56% of all crisps and popcorn sold in Britain. The brand was bought by PepsiCo back in 1989.

20. Hartley’s Jam

was bought by American corporation Hain Celestial in 2012, for £200 million.

21. Milk

A third of the milk drunk in Britain is owned by foreign companies: Wiseman Milk is now part of the German group Müller, which bought it in 2012.

Britain has sold more than half its companies to foreigners

Just for a moment, imagine being a tourist in search of the full British experience. Where would you start? Well, you might take a sight-seeing trip around London on a red double-decker bus.

You’d possibly visit a quintessentially British store, such as Boots the chemist, Selfridges or Harrods, before having a proper English tea at the Savoy, Fortnum & Mason or the Dorchester.

You’d almost certainly go home, via a British airport, thinking you’d seen a slice of the real Britain. But, in one sense at least, you’d be totally wrong.

That bus you boarded at Trafalgar Square is run by a German company. Boots fell to the Italians in 2007. Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason and the Savoy are owned by Canadians; Harrods has been bought by a firm based in Qatar; the Dorchester by one based in Brunei. As for our airports, most of them are now run by a Spanish firm.

Maybe a tourist wouldn’t care all that much, even if he knew. But should we? After all, does it make any real difference if a British company has a foreign master?

For the past three decades, the UK has had a completely relaxed attitude about selling off its assets to companies based abroad. Indeed, most of the time, the swallowing up of yet another great British institution barely makes a headline.

How The Monarchy Can Make You Millions

• Shadow leader of the House of Commons calls for £4bn system of royal warrants to be overhauled;

• Dozens of companies which hold royal warrants benefit from corporate structures with bases in tax havens including royal “crown” jeweller Mappin & Webb

• Several firms have closed UK factories and no longer make their royal warranted products in the UK

• Royal warrants are used on products high in sugar and marketed at children

• Royal warrant given to firm that makes guns used to kill elephants and other big game hunting.

Royal warrants have been granted to companies for centuries and a regal seal of approval can be hugely valuable but an investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches has led to calls for the warrant system to be overhauled.

The Queen, Prince Philip or Prince Charles can grant a warrant to a company whose products have been used by the royal household for more than 5 years but the process is far from transparent.

For the past two months Dispatches has been scrutinising those companies with royal warrants

– an award that allows firms to put a royal coat of arms on their product stamped with the words ‘by royal appointment.’

City firm Brand Finance estimate royal warrants are worth £4.5bn to companies with the royal seal of approval. They claim firms with warrants are able to charge more for their products and generate a higher volume of sales into the future.

The programme – led by reporter Antony Barnett – discovered that a number of the royal family’s favourite firms are owned by companies that could benefit from offshore tax havens. These include royal “crown” jeweller Mappin & Webb whose parent company is based in Luxembourg.

Mappin & Webb holds warrants from the Queen and Prince Charles as royal jeweller, goldsmiths and silversmiths. In 2012 the Queen appointed Mappin & Webb’s master craftsman the prestigious role of crown jeweller whose job is , among other things, to prepare the jewels for the state opening of Parliament. Dispatches traced Mappin & Webb’s parent company to the controversial tax haven of Luxembourg and reveals how it is using complex financial methods that could reduce the tax it pays in Britain. Prem Sikka, Professor of Accounting at Essex University, scrutinised the firm’s accounts and calculated that its legal use of offshore tax havens has cut its UK tax bill by £3m in the last two years. There is no suggestion that the company is doing anything illegal however Dispatches asks if it’s appropriate that the company hold a royal warrant.

Mappin & Webb told Dispatches: “Mappin & Webb… …act transparently and responsibly in all our tax affairs… …Mappin & Webb and the Aurum Group are fully resident in the UK for tax purposes and always have been.”

Dispatches also found that several of the royal’s favourite brands with warrants have closed production in the UK and moved it overseas. Some of these include Hunter wellies, Bendicks Bittermints, HP Sauce and Pringle of Scotland.

Shadow leader of the House Chris Bryant, who campaigned to get Burberry stripped of its warrant when they closed a factory in his Welsh constituency, told Dispatches:

The whole point of a Royal Warrant is it’s a kind of statement of British satisfaction and it must add phenomenal value to a brand especially overseas in markets like China, the far east, the middle east – and I think that it should underline modern British values and that means it should be a company that pays taxes in this country, employs people in this country, does most of its business in this country

Bryant added: It’s a statement of Britishness which I think in a way doesn’t belong to the Royal Family…it belongs to the whole of us as citizens, and subjects of this country.

An opinion poll conducted for the programme revealed that 68%of people asked said royal warrants should only be given to companies whose products are made in Britain and more than three-quarters said they should not be given to products whose owners are based in tax havens.

The programme also reveals how Kellogg’s, the US firm that has a royal warrant from the Queen as ‘purveyors of Cereals’ legitimately puts royal warrants on many of its products including those high in sugar and marketed at children such as Pop Tarts, Coco Pops, Kraves , Rice Krispie cereal bars.

Dispatches also considers gunmaker Holland & Holland which has a royal warrant from Prince Charles and discovers the firm sells rifles that could be used for big game trophy hunting including the killing of lions and elephants. Whilst there is nothing illegal in this Dispatches notes that both Prince Charles and his son Prince Harry have been outspoken against the ivory trade and threats to endangered species.

On calling for the system of granting warrants to be overhauled, Chris Bryant said:

There’s a great cloud of unknowing…… I think it should be transparent…If I ran a British company now I’d be desperate for it to get a Royal Warrant, from any one of the members of the Royal Family who can grant them now. But when William and Harry come along, and they start to be able to issue Royal Warrants, that value will go up exponentially. And that’s why I think even, before we get to that point it’s all the more important that we have a proper review of the process so that it’s open and transparent and the whole of the country- the subjects and citizens of this country, get to understand how these things are awarded.

Made in Britain

Royal warrant firms that have moved all or most of their production overseas include:

• Bendicks Mints of Mayfair which is now made in Germany

• Parker Pens who have moved all operations to France

• Pringle of Scotland which is now made entirely in Asia

• HP sauce which is made in the Netherlands

In a statement to Dispatches, the Lord Chamberlain’s office said:

Standards are monitored, and any credible allegation that a warrant holder was acting unlawfully would result in an immediate review and may lead to a warrant being cancelled. It would be a breach of commercial confidence to reveal the details of those who were not successful in applying for, or retaining, a Warrant.

The Royal Warrant Holders Association told Dispatches they do not comment on the operations of specific warrant holding companies and the system is monitored for compliance on an on-going basis.

Regarding firms which move production overseas, the Association said these are commercial decisions made against the backdrop of a global market… some warrant holding companies have decided to relocate production and other functions to the UK.

How The Monarchy Can Make You Millions: Channel 4 Dispatches, Monday 14 December at 8pm

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