HP Sauce is a brown sauce originally produced by HP Foods in the United Kingdom, now produced by the H. J. Heinz Company in the Netherlands. It was named after London's Houses of Parliament. Since its first appearance on British dinner tables, HP Sauce has become an icon of British culture. It was the best-selling brand of brown sauce in the UK in 2005, with 73.8% of the retail market.
HP Sauce has a tomato base, blended with malt vinegar and spirit vinegar, Sugars (molasses, glucose-fructose syrup, sugar), dates, cornflour, rye flour, salt, spices and tamarind. It is used as a condiment with hot and cold savoury food, and as an ingredient in soups and stews. It is also popular in Canada, the Republic of Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.
The original recipe for HP Sauce was invented and developed by Frederick Gibson Garton, a grocer from Nottingham. He registered the name H.P. Sauce in 1895. Garton called the sauce HP because he had heard that a restaurant in the Houses of Parliament had begun serving it. For many years the bottle labels have carried a picture of the Houses of Parliament. Garton sold the recipe and HP brand to Edwin Samson Moore for the sum of £150 and the settlement of some unpaid bills. Moore, the founder of the Midlands Vinegar Company (the forerunner of HP Foods), subsequently launched HP Sauce in 1903. In 2013, nearly 140 years since it was established, the Midland Vinegar Company Limited returned to the originator's family, with Nigel Britton, great great grandson of the founders, now being the owner.
For many years the description on the label was in both English and French. The factory in Aston, Birmingham, was once bisected by the A38(M) motorway and had a pipeline, carrying vinegar over the motorway, from the Top Yard to the main Tower Road factory site. The Top Yard site was subsequently closed, and vinegar was not brewed on the Aston site during the last few years of production there.
HP Sauce became known as "Wilson's gravy" in the 1960s and 1970s after Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister. The name arose after Wilson's wife, Mary, gave an interview to The Sunday Times in which she claimed "If Harold has a fault, it is that he will drown everything with HP Sauce."
Also the ingredients vary markedly. In 2007 for example the varieties from Mexico and Canada were less concentrated and more light. In addition, a number of other products exist under the HP brand.
The brand was passed from the Midlands Vinegar Company to Smedley HP Foods Limited, acquired by a division of Imperial Tobacco, then sold to the French Groupe Danone SA in 1988 for £199 million.
In June 2005, Heinz purchased the parent company, HP Foods, from Danone. In October of that year the United Kingdom Office of Fair Trading referred the takeover to the Competition Commission, which approved the £440 million acquisition in April 2006.
In May 2006, Heinz announced plans to switch production of HP Sauce from Aston to its European sauces facility in Elst, Netherlands, ironically only weeks after HP launched a campaign to "Save the Proper British Cafe". The announcement prompted a call to boycott Heinz products. The move, resulting in the loss of approximately one hundred and twenty-five jobs at the Aston factory, was criticised by politicians and union officials, especially as the parent company still wanted to use the image of the House of Commons on its bottles. In the same month, local Labour MP Khalid Mahmood brandished a bottle of HP Sauce during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons as part of a protest against the Heinz move. He also made reference to the sauce's popularity with the former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson. These plans were confirmed on 23 August 2006 and the factory at Aston ceased production on 16 March 2007. A week later a "wake" was held at the location of the factory.
The factory was demolished in the summer of 2007. The tower of the factory was a famous landmark alongside the Aston Expressway. One of the giant logos from the top of the tower is now in the collection of Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery.
The six-acre Aston site was purchased by developer Chancerygate in 2007 at £800,000 per acre, but they subsequently sold it for half that price and it now houses a distribution warehouse for East End Foods.
HP Sauce accompanying lobster and mushrooms in a Prince Edward Island restaurant
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