The very first Bisto product, in 1908, was a meat-flavoured gravy powder, which rapidly became a bestseller in the UK. It was added to gravies to give a richer taste and aroma. Invented by Messrs Roberts & Patterson, it was named "Bisto" because it "Browns, Seasons and Thickens in One".
In Birmingham in the 1930s a competition was held to choose a name for the two Bisto twin characters, a boy and a girl sniffing the beautiful aroma of Bisto's gravy. The competition was won by Mr and Mrs Simmonds, who named the twins after themselves, calling them Bill and Maree. They were awarded a beautiful china doll. Bisto Granules were introduced in 1979. The granules dissolve in hot water to form a gravy substitute. This product capitalised on the growing preference among British consumers for foods (or food substitutes) that can be quickly and conveniently prepared. As of 2005, Bisto Gravy Granules dominate the British market, with a share in excess of 70%. Every UK grocery outlet is likely to have a Bisto product on its shelf.
In 1991, Bisto launched a new, more expensive, beef-like granule. Packaged in a glass jar, it offered a fuller flavour than the standard granule. Fuller flavour chicken and onion variants were added in 1993, and the whole range was relaunched as Bisto Best.
More recently, a ready-made Bisto "Heat And Pour" gravy has been available in beef and chicken flavours. This comes in plastic pouches suitable for heating.
In 2004, Bisto diversified into chilled and frozen products by introducing Bisto Roast Potatoes, Bisto Crispies, Bisto Yorkshire Puddings and Bisto Frozen Mashed Topped Pies.
In 1919, the Bisto Kids (created by illustrator Will Owen (1869–1957) ) appeared in newspapers and soon became popular. Bisto is notable both for the age of its brand and for the advertising campaigns it has used. Although the Bisto Kids have not been included in Bisto advertising for many years, many people still recognise them; the Bisto Kids, a boy and girl in ragged clothes, would catch the odour of Bisto on the breeze and exhale longingly, "Aah, Bisto!" The Bisto Kids were also part of more elaborate advertising campaigns in later years.
During the 1980s, the company released a series of commercials in the UK which featured a song that included the recurring phrase, "Never in a month of Sundays". In fact in 1984 RHM Foods launched a nationwide competition to find the first live Bisto Kids. This was the beginning of "The Bisto Kids of the Year Awards" (which no longer runs in the UK). The first ever competition was won by Hayley Griffiths and Jimmy Endicott from Doncaster. They were six years old at the time and became the faces of Bisto, both for public relations and marketing events, and also appeared in an advert shown on prime time TV to find the next Bisto Kids. The advert showed Hayley and Jimmy fighting over a magnifying glass as they searched a giant globe, and finished with them in the gravy boat catching packets of Bisto, before disappearing in a puff of smoke. For 12 months the pair were the modern incarnation of the raggedy urchins mentioned above, until they handed over their crown in 1985.
The latest campaign for Bisto encourages families to sit up at the table for one night a week to eat 'proper' food. This advertising campaign has seen support from unlikely sources such as politicians and members of the clergy.
Bisto has had several owners since its creation. It is currently owned by Premier Foods, which acquired Bisto when it bought Rank Hovis McDougall in March 2007 to form the largest UK foods manufacturing company. At the time of the acquisition, a Premier Foods director was quoted as saying, "When we acquired RHM, I don't think any of us realised that that old warhorse, Bisto, was part of the mix. To us, it's just gravy."
- ACNielsen Total Grocers MAT 2005.
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