Bloody Mary! Admen shake the staid image of Worcestershire sauce

Worcestershire Sauce, the most conservative of condiments, is making a comeback from the darker recesses of the kitchen cupboard. It is, the advertisers insist, a young and sexy sauce.

Worcestershire Sauce, the most conservative of condiments, is making a comeback from the darker recesses of the kitchen cupboard. It is, the advertisers insist, a young and sexy sauce.

The latest of a long line of traditional British products to receive a make-over, Lea & Perrins's sauce is the focus of a new £3m peak-time television campaign aimed at Britain's lads, students and thirtysomething professionals.

The campaign will include ads showing young men playing the motor racing game Scalextric and a young woman flirting with a male dinner guest; all discover a taste for the sauce. The ads will target soap operas and shows such as Sex in the City and Friends.

Nick Mustoe, from Mustoe Merriman Levy, the ad agency behind the campaign, said: "This is about challenging a prejudice. Most people would say [the sauce] is what you put in tomato juice but it's a foodie thing – there is a whole group of loyal users who use it in all types of cooking."

This attempt at trendiness is a long way from Lea & Perrins's colonial roots. The sauce was invented after two Worcestershire chemists, John Wheeley Lea and William Perrins, were asked by a former Governor of Bengal, Lord Sandys, to recreate a sauce he had tasted in India.

Their early attempts tasted foul and the remaining sauce was left unused in the chemists' basement. A year or so later, it was tasted again during a clear-out. Now aged, it was delicious.

Launched in 1837, the fermented mixture of onion, garlic, shallots, malt vinegar, anchovies, tamarinds, chillies, cloves and molasses was quickly selling 14,500 bottles a year. It won Royal approval, and soon became a fixture on the Empire's ocean liners and colonial outposts.

Yet, despite now selling 9.5 million bottles a year in Britain and being sold in 130 countries, its image remains dated. Most people use it only as an occasional sauce and in a Bloody Mary.

The campaign is expected to continue with further "re-education" of consumers, who will be faced with "power recipes" which use Lea & Perrins and a new internet-based campaign intended to associate the sauce more closely with youth culture. It already has its own website in the US.

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