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HP Sauce

HP Sauce
Type Brown sauce
Place of origin United Kingdom
Invented 1895 (1895)
Other information
Owned by H. J. Heinz Company, previously:

HP Sauce is a brown sauce[1] originally produced by HP Foods in the United Kingdom, now produced by the H. J. Heinz Company in the Netherlands. It is named for the Houses of Parliament. It was the best-selling brand of brown sauce in the UK in 2005, with 73.8% of the retail market.[2] HP Sauce has a malt vinegar base, blended with tomato, dates, tamarind extract, sweetener and spices.[3][4] It usually is used as a condiment with hot or cold savoury food, or as an ingredient in soups or stews.


  • Early history 1
  • Wilson's gravy 2
  • Varieties 3
  • Heinz takeover 4
  • Canada 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early history

The original recipe for HP Sauce was invented and developed by Frederick Gibson Garton, a grocer from Nottingham.[5] 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.[6] 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.[6] Moore, the founder of the Midlands Vinegar Company (the forerunner of HP Foods), subsequently launched HP Sauce in 1903.

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 in its original years was known as "The Handkerchief" because of the reversal of the name "Garton's" ('snotrag' being U.K. slang for handkerchief).[7]

Wilson's gravy

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".

Private Eye‍ '​s Parliamentary news section is called "HP Sauce".


HP Sauce is available in a range of formats and sizes, including the iconic 9oz or 255g glass bottle, squeezy plastic bottle, and TopDown bottle.

Also the ingredients vary markedly. In 2007 for example the varieties from USA and Canada were less concentrated and more fruity.[8] In addition, a number of other products exist under the HP brand.

  • HP Fruity is a milder version of the Original brown sauce, using a blend of fruits including oranges and mango to give a milder, tangier taste. This variety has been renamed "HP Chicken & Rib" in Canada and the US (though it can be found in some stores with the original name).
  • HP Bold is a spicier variant in Canada.
  • HP BBQ Sauce is a range of barbecue sauces, and is the UK's best selling barbecue sauce product.[9]
  • In March 2008, HP also announced the launch of HP Steak Sauce.
  • HP Guinness is a limited edition recipe which includes the famous Irish stout.
  • In the summer of 2008 a version with less salt (25%) and sugar (30%) than the original HP Sauce was released.
  • Since 2011 HP sauce has been manufactured with a new reduced sodium recipe 0.8 g per 100 ml. The traditional recipe was 1.2 g sodium per 100 ml. This was a direct result of Government policy with regard to salt levels in food. Consumers report that the taste is now more sour or even tastes "off", which has led to complaints to Heinz.[10]

Heinz takeover

Signage from the defunct factory in Aston, exhibited at Birmingham's mac gallery in June 2010.

The brand was passed from the Midlands Vinegar Company[11] 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.[12]

In June 2005, Heinz purchased the parent company, HP Foods, from Danone.[13] In October of that year the United Kingdom Office of Fair Trading referred the takeover to the Competition Commission,[14] which approved the £440 million acquisition in April 2006.[15]

The HP Sauce factory in 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[16] and the factory at Aston ceased production on 16 March 2007.[17] A week later a "wake" was held at the location of the factory.[18]

The factory was demolished in the summer of 2007.[19] 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.[20]


HP Sauce accompanying lobster and steak in a Prince Edward Island restaurant

HP Sauce for the Canadian market is manufactured by H. J. Heinz of North York, Ontario.


  1. ^ O'Hara, Christopher B.; Nash, William A. (1999). The Bloody Mary: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Most Complex Cocktail. Globe Pequot. p. 87. 
  2. ^ Authority, Competition (2012). HJ Heinz and HP Foods: A Report on ... - Great Britain: Competition Commission. Retrieved 1 January 2012. 
  3. ^ "Brown Sauce Taste Test! HP Sauce goes toe-to-toe with Branston, Daddies & itself!". 2007-04-10. 
  4. ^ bottle of HP Sauce
  5. ^ "HP Sauce-Story". Heinz. Retrieved 17 May 2012. 
  6. ^ a b Thring, Oliver (2010-05-04). "Consider the brown source | Life and style |". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2010-07-07. 
  7. ^ "Definition of snotrag". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 8 March 2015. 
  8. ^ "Heinz and the HP Sauce Brand in 2007 – A Consumers Perspective". 2007-06-06. 
  9. ^ IRI Data, 52w/e 26 Jan 08
  10. ^ "HP Sauce's recipe secretly changed after 116 years by American owners of the Great British Condiment". Daily Mail. 2011-09-10. Retrieved 2012-02-15. 
  11. ^ BBC News May 9, 2006 ‘Great British’ sauce heads abroad. Retrieved on March 12, 2008.
  12. ^ BBC News Heinz buys HP sauce in £470m deal, June 20, 2005. Retrieved on March 11, 2008.
  13. ^ "Business | Heinz buys HP sauce in £470m deal". BBC News. 2005-06-20. Retrieved 2010-07-07. 
  14. ^ "Business | Watchdogs probe HP sauce takeover". BBC News. 2005-10-26. Retrieved 2010-07-07. 
  15. ^ Terry Macalister (2006-05-10). "HP Sauce to be Holland-ised | Business | The Guardian". London: Retrieved 2010-07-07. 
  16. ^ "England | West Midlands | Staff told of HP factory closure". BBC News. 2006-08-23. Retrieved 2010-07-07. 
  17. ^ "England | West Midlands | Final British bottle of HP sauce". BBC News. 2007-03-16. Retrieved 2010-07-07. 
  18. ^ "England | West Midlands | Mock wake staged in sauce protest". BBC News. 2007-03-23. Retrieved 2010-07-07. 
  19. ^ "England | West Midlands | Demolition of HP factory begins". BBC News. 2007-07-02. Retrieved 2010-07-07. 
  20. ^ "M6 CORRIDOR: Lonely road.". Logistics Manager. 2009-09-04. Retrieved 2012-05-25.   – via HighBeam (subscription required)

External links

  • BBC News - Final Bottle of HP
  • Official HP Sauce website
  • Coverage of planned closure of Aston factory
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