From the Brand Historian’s Timeline: 1837
Conventional marketing wisdom says that versatility is the Fool’s Gold of brand positioning, because nearly always it’s more of a theoretical benefit than an actual one. As the new tech software brands like Lotus 123 (with spreadsheets) and Harvard Graphics (with presentation charting) showed in the 1980s, what customers respond best to is the killer app.
But Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce is the flavoursome exception to that rule. Since its mysterious appearance on the first cruise ships in the 1830s, Lea and Perrins has been perking up posh cheese on toast, sprinkling oysters, boosting burgers, spiking Blood Marys and adding a little relish to crisps and steak tartare. As the early advertisements promised, Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce ‘adds a peculiar piquancy applicable to every dish.’
Whilst the exact circumstances of its creation are still a little hazy, the brand appeared during the Golden Age of lotions and potions, elixirs and snake oils that found their way into the marketplaces of the new industrial landscapes of the mid-nineteenth century. John Wheely Lea and William Henry Perrins were Worcester pharmacists who sold a goodly variety of this stuff, including patent trusses, worming tablets for horses, hair restorer and Cheltenham Salts. But it was the dark meaty sauce of decomposed anchovies, fruit and spices brewed up in their kitchens behind their chemist shop which made their name.
With claims to be the secret recipe of an English milord (who may or may not have been the Duke of Wellington’s wingman), brought back from India, and patronised by the Gentry, this umami power pack of taste was soon being exported all over the world where it fired up the locals and their dishes from dim sum to Creole stews, satay to barbecues. Brits on a Grand Tour loved it too, keeping a bottle or two in their luggage as a handy tastemaker and a secret medicine to keep the nasties away.
Lea and Perrins and their sauce did very well, and the Perrins family became serious benefactors, including building the huge St John’s Parish Church of Barmouth in Snowdonia which I note looks to be a similar brownstone colour to that of Worcester Sauce.*
Following its sale to HP Foods in the 1930s, the brand has become something of a rich orphan passed from one large corporation to another. Since 2005, it has been part of Heinz Kraft where I have no doubt it continues to be a strong contributor. In the time of COVID, travel is sadly denied to us, but when, before too long I hope, we are flying again, and the drinks trolley arrives with all the usual suspects including the familiar bottle of L&P, please raise your Bloody Mary and toast the chemists of Broad Street, Worcester whose salesmanship transcends all the known laws of brand positioning. A little piquancy can go a long way….
Music to relish:
Piano Concerto No2 Mendelssohn
* For more on Barmouth and St John’s, please visit mariansonthemawddach.com