Though it may not seem like it these days, in the past Britain has produced some of the world’s most well-known and well-loved brands. A recent poll has revealed what exports Britons as most proud of, and despite the fact that the vast majority are no longer British-owned, we still feel a sense of satisfaction for sharing our iconic products to the rest of the world.
Here are the nation’s top ten favourite British brands. (In a bizarre example of mistaken brand identity, Heinz came fifth on the original list despite being American-founded and owned.)
10. HP Sauce
It has long been rumoured that the name ‘HP’ stand for Houses of Parliament, where the sauce was allegedly served at the turn of the 20th Century. Regardless of the provenance, the image is now a firm part of the sauce’s identity. Launched in 1903, the recipe had been sold by greengrocer Frederick Gibson Garter to the founder of Midlands Vinegar Company for a £150 to settle a debt. After changing hands several times durnig the last fifty years, it is now manufactured in the Netherlands and sold worldwide.
9. The Financial Times
How do you differentiate your newspaper from its competitors? Don’t change the content, change the paper. An example of simplified brand identity at its best, the FT is still printed on distinctive salmon-pink paper, and in 1998 became the first British newspaper to sell more copies internationally than at home.
London’s most famous department store is synonymous with old-world British luxury and prestige. Although it is now owned and controlled by the Quatari royal family, this image is a powerful one and holds particular appeal with wealthy internationals. A recent study showing that the average Chinese shopper spends 125% more than an American visitor to the Kensington store has the company planning to open a branch in Shanghai.
7. PG Tips
Pre-Gest-Tee, soon abbreviated to PG, was launched in the 1930s by Brooke Bond. The brand was famously promoted on television by a collection of tea-drinking chimpanzees, a motif which remains central to their brand promotion today. Unilever bought Brooke Bond in 1984 but unlike many of our favourite Brit-brands PG Tips is still manufactured in the UK and exported worldwide.
You either love it or hate it as the saying goes, but evidently a large proportion of us are proud of the divisive spread. First produced in 1902, the brand is now owned by Unilever and is (according to them) available in 25 countries.
WO Bentley sold his first car in 1921 but the company was sold to Rolls-Royce only ten years later. After a long period of dwindling sales, the maker of staid and stately limousines saw a resurgence in the 1980s, eventually being bought by Volkswagon in 1998. Most recently the brand has partially thrown off its pipe-smoke-and-pimms image by producing a super-luxe sports car which sold out throughout 2005 and was purchased by celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez and Denzel Washington.
4. Marks and Spencer
Started as a penny bazaar in Leeds in 1884, the store differed from its competitors by displaying products on trays for customers to examine, rather than keeping all stock behind a counter. Look how that innovation caught on? (We’re talking to you Argos). However despite being beloved at home, Marks and Spencer’s international activity has been troubled to say the least. After closing all its European outlets in 2001 due to unprofitability, M&S are now taking tentative steps towards opening a store in Paris.
When Henry Royce and Charles Rolls met in Manchester in 1904, they agreed to create a company to manufacture “the best car in the world”. The Rolls-Royce company was formed in 1906. In 1971, the British government had to take over the then-ailing company, with the motor car business floated in 1973. But by 1987 it had recovered sufficiently for all its units to reconvene under the one brand. In 1998, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars was sold to Volkswagen, although BMW retained the name and marque.
Britain’s best-known chocolate company was founded by a grocer named John Cadbury, who opened his first commercial premises for the manufacture of cocoa and chocolate in 1831 in Birmingham. The first milk chocolate bar was launched in 1897, with Dairy Milk hitting shops in 1905.
The Cadbury name houses some true giants of the confectionary industry, but to take one example, the Cadbury Creme Egg is the highest selling chocolate item between New Year’s Day and Easter, has sales in the excess of 200 million per year and an estimated brand value of £50 million. Cadbury was bought by American food giant Kraft in January 2010, despite enormous opposition from chocolate-lovers and politicians alike. Kraft closed the Cadbury factory in Keynsham, Somerset, in March 2010 and switched production to Poland.
1. Aston Martin
Number one in the poll of top British exports goes to James Bond’s car of choice. The company was founded by Robert Bamford and Lionel Martin, who named their own brand of car Aston Martin after a successful negotiation of a hillclimb course at Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire.
In 1964, the DB5 was driven by Sean Connery in the film Goldfinger, giving the car, and the the brand legendary status. By 1987, when 75% of the company was bought by Ford, the company had changed hands numerous times. In 2007, the company was sold to two international investment houses. But, like so many on this list, despite its international ownership, it remains an iconic British brand.