Britain's emerging reputation as a nation of fine-food lovers will take a knock today with the revelation that something far more mundane than the latest balsamic vinegar is vying for space on our shelves.
Our love of the baked bean and other canned delicacies such as Spam has never been stronger, according to a new report.
The findings show that the value of baked beans market hit almost £300m last year, a 13 per cent rise on 2001. Since the truce in the baked bean price war of the mid-1990s, which saw the cost of a can fall to as low as 4p, the baked beans market has taken off.
Research by Mintel, the consumer trends analysts, predicts that a rekindled appetite for baked beans will push the value of the market up to £360m over the next five years. The report adds that our fondness for tinned produce is not just limited to baked beans.
Spam, corned beef, PEK (chopped pork) and canned pasta are all also enjoying a resurgence in popularity, which runs contrary to the image of aspiring home chefs elbowing each other out of the way to get the best bargain at the farmers' market. Sales of all canned meals and meats are tipped to reach £660m this year, up 10 per cent since 2001, Mintel said.
For years, food producers ignored tinned products, preferring to focus on new markets such as bagged salads and chilled ready meals. But a change in ownership of some of the biggest British companies has forced executives to think far more creatively about some of the world's oldest brands.
Premier Foods, a tinned food specialist, shook up the staid baked beans market last year with the launch of Branston Beans, an entirely new brand. It recently claimed the new range accounts for one in 10 of all cans of baked beans sold in the UK. The move followed a new range of baked bean flavours from Heinz, which has monopolised the sector since the beans first appeared on the shelves at the turn of the last century. Heinz "Mean Beanz" range spans flavours from tikka to Mexican.
The other trigger for our new found love of baked beans was Jamie Oliver's decision to put them on the menu of Fifteen, his London restaurant, according to Mintel's consumer analyst and author of the report, David Bird. "Jamie Oliver elevated the baked bean to a higher status, raising awareness and also a few eyebrows among foodies," said Mr Bird. Mothers realised that if the celebrity chef could get away with charging £7 for a plate of beans on toast, they could certainly get away with serving them up for dinner.
"It's a peculiar idiosyncrasy of the British that, in an era of luxury organic meals, this market is surviving. Beans are seen as nutritious," Mr Bird added.
In the same way Heinz has added spices to its baked bean recipe, the US meat group Hormel Foods relaunched Spam with black pepper in an attempt to shake off its old-fashioned image. Spam is being marketed as the archetypal modern ingredient, perfect for pizza toppings or to fill tortilla wraps. Sales of Spam rose by double digits in the past two years, Mintel said.
The value of the cold canned meat market rose by 7 per cent in the past two years, reversing declines of about 6 per cent. There is now a low-fat variety of PEK, a retro brand, owned by Smithfield, that was fed to soldiers in the First World War.
Chopped pork and ham invented in the US by Jay Hormel in the 1930s. First sold in Britain in 1941
Heinz Baked Beans
Voted the number one supermarket brand by shoppers last year. Only four people know the recipe
Sales peaked in the 1950s with Fray Bentos selling Argentinian beef. Popularity fell after Falklands War
A Spam rival, US Smithfield Foods relaunched its chopped pork with a new low-fat version this yearReuse content