HP Sauce

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HP Sauce
TypeBrown sauce
Place of originUnited Kingdom
Invented1899 (1899)
Main ingredientsTomatoes
Other informationwww.hpsauce.co.uk
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 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.[2] It was the best-selling brand of brown sauce in the UK in 2005, with 73.8% of the retail market.[3]

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.[4] It is used as a condiment with hot and cold savoury food, and as an ingredient in soups and stews.

The picture on the front of the bottle is a selection of London landmarks including Elizabeth Tower, the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Bridge.

Early history[edit]

A bottle of Original HP Sauce

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 no longer brewed on the Aston site during the last few years of production there.

Wilson's gravy[edit]

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 said: "If Harold has a fault, it is that he will drown everything with HP Sauce."[7] The satirical magazine Private Eye titled its parliamentary gossip column after the sauce.


A bottle of Fruity HP Sauce

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

Also the ingredients vary markedly. In 2007 for example the varieties from Mexico and Canada were lighter and less concentrated.[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.[9]
  • HP BBQ Sauce is a range of barbecue sauces, and is the UK's best selling barbecue sauce product.[10]
  • In March 2008, HP also announced the launch of HP Steak Sauce.
  • HP Guinness is a steak sauce which includes the famous Irish stout.
  • In the summer of 2008 a version with less salt (45%) and sugar (80%) than the original HP Taste was released. The current version has 0.9 g of salt per 100g and has 25% less salt and 30% less sugar than the original recipe.
  • Since 2011 the original HP sauce has been manufactured with a new reduced-sodium recipe, with 0.8 g per 100 g. The traditional recipe was 1.2 g sodium per 100 g. 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.[11][better source needed]

Heinz takeover[edit]

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[2] 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, 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 125 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 had been 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; they subsequently sold it for half that price and it now houses a distribution warehouse for East End Foods.[20]


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. ^ a b BBC News 9 May 2006 ‘Great British’ sauce heads abroad. Retrieved 12 March 2008.
  3. ^ Authority, Competition (2012). HJ Heinz and HP Foods: A Report on ... – Great Britain: Competition Commission. books.google.ie. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  4. ^ "HP Brown Sauce". Heinz.
  5. ^ "HP Sauce-Story". Heinz. Retrieved 17 May 2012.
  6. ^ a b Thring, Oliver (4 May 2010). "Consider the brown source | guardian.co.uk". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
  7. ^ Hélène Mulholland (13 October 2006). "Ban HP from Houses of Parliament, say MPs". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  8. ^ "Heinz and the HP Sauce Brand in 2007 – A Consumers Perspective". 6 June 2007.
  9. ^ "Kraft Canada HP Sauces".
  10. ^ IRI Data, 52w/e 26 Jan 8
  11. ^ "HP Sauce's recipe secretly changed after 116 years by American owners of the Great British Condiment". Daily Mail. 10 September 2011. Retrieved 15 February 2012.
  12. ^ BBC News Heinz buys HP sauce in £470m deal, 20 June 2005. Retrieved 11 March 2008.
  13. ^ "Heinz buys HP sauce in £470m deal". BBC News. 20 June 2005. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
  14. ^ "Watchdogs probe HP sauce takeover". BBC News. 26 October 2005. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
  15. ^ Terry Macalister (10 May 2006). "HP Sauce to be Holland-ised". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
  16. ^ "Staff told of HP factory closure". BBC News. 23 August 2006. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
  17. ^ "Final British bottle of HP sauce". BBC News. 16 March 2007. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
  18. ^ "Mock wake staged in sauce protest". BBC News. 23 March 2007. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
  19. ^ "Demolition of HP factory begins". BBC News. 2 July 2007. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
  20. ^ "M6 CORRIDOR: Lonely road". Logistics Manager. 4 September 2009. Archived from the original on 10 June 2014. Retrieved 25 May 2012. (subscription required)

External links[edit]