Let's hear it for the 1875 vintage

As Heinz tomato sauce goes green after 125 years, history shows that changing our favourite brands is a risky business
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Heinz green tomato sauce - where did they get the idea from? Green Tabasco? The chilli company successfully launched a green jalapeno sauce last year. And if green is this year's red we must surely look forward to green strawberry jam, green redcurrant jelly, green beetroot and green radishes.

Heinz green tomato sauce - where did they get the idea from? Green Tabasco? The chilli company successfully launched a green jalapeno sauce last year. And if green is this year's red we must surely look forward to green strawberry jam, green redcurrant jelly, green beetroot and green radishes.

But those who tinker with products that have stood the test of time do so at their peril. The Heinz 57 range spans a century - no small achievement in a market which welcomes thousands of new products each year, and then abandons them. When Coca-Cola changed the formula of its drink, it provoked a global revolt. The company quickly reverted to the original formula.

Change may not be death itself; but which of us does not mourn the loss of Opal Fruits (to the global name of Starburst) or the evocative Marathon (whose name was changed to Snickers).

There are plenty of brand names that evoke waves of nostalgia, such as Bovril, Marmite, Bisto, Colman's Mustard, HP and OK sauces, Cadbury's Dairy Milk, Bird's Custard, Lea and Perrin's Worcestershire Sauce. But how worthy are they? Such genius has been used to promote them that advertising itself may be their most potent ingredient.

Bisto is remembered for those glorious adverts in which two ragged kids sniff at the almost-real scent of gravy wafting towards them. But what is Bisto but potato flour with a little salt and caramel browning, which you add to the flavoursome juices from your own roast?

And then there is Bird's Custard, for long promoted with the image of jolly, yellow cartoon chickens. But there are no eggs in this custard, just cornflour, artificial vanilla flavouring and yellow colouring to which you add your own prime ingredient, milk.

The history of many of these great brands is actually the story of advertising itself. Think of the campaigns that glorified Colman's Mustard powder for a century and a half. Something went out of the product when the marketing men concluded that modern housewives were too impatient to mix dry mustard powder and the company introduced ready-to-use mustard.

Marmite survived an image change when its compact metal lids were replaced with plastic ones. But the anchovy paste Patum Peperium (Gentleman's Relish) was surely struck down when the lovely white porcelain jars were banished in favour of un-pleasing plastic ones. (The originals are back, at a price, from stores such as Harvey Nichols.)

For all that, these brands have a very special place in our food history. While our national cuisine may be called into question, the same cannot be said of our innovative food industry. In canning, bottling, preserving, in producing beverages, Britain has led the world from the beginning of the industrial revolution.

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