“Don’t Just Say Brown – Say, Hovis”

Jonathan wrote at Anglotopia.net on November 27, 2018:

“…Richard ‘Stoney’ Smith, was born on 16 February 1836, in the mill house opposite the water-powered mill in the small town of Stone, Staffordshire. There had been a mill on the site since the Middle Ages, but the one Stoney’s father ran had been built by a certain Robert Bill in 1795. It had two large millstones and could produce 180 pounds of flour an hour, and was driven by water cascading down the mill-race onto a 25-foot diameter water-wheel.

Smith’s idea was to lightly steam the wheat germ, and so stabilize it and prevent it going bad. Then he put it back into the flour, and he realized he could put back as much as he wanted – which he did. His flour had three times more germ than natural flour. He patented the process in 1887, in both the UK and the USA, and dubbed it ‘Smith’s Patent Germ Flour’. From this he baked bread, and called that, ‘Smith’s Patent Germ Bread’. The same year he joined a much larger milling and baking firm, S. Fitton & Sons Ltd, in the town of Macclesfield, Cheshire. He was given a seat on the board, probably in return for his valuable patents, and he was to die in 1900.

The new bread could not have come at a better time, as there was a surge in interest in healthy eating, perhaps in part because of the unnatural and unsanitary crowding in the rapidly-expanding cities. The problem was in the name, which was anything but appealing, or even remotely exciting. So Fitton & Sons organized a competition, offering £25 for a name for their loaf. The name ‘Yum Yum’ did not win, but it did come second. The winning entry was by an Oxford schoolteacher with the Dickensian name of Herbert Grime. Mr. Grime showed his erudite Latin skills by shortening the phrase, ‘hominis vis,’ meaning ‘the strength of man,’ into the crisper ‘Hovis.’ The word Hovis was registered as a Trade Mark in 1890. A few years later, across the Atlantic, Will Smith Kellogg released his Corn Flakes in 1906, similarly marketed as a health food.

Thomas Fitton was the driving force of the firm at that time, and with its new name, and now necessary for all growing children, according to the advertisements of the day, Hovis became a big hit. The company also claimed at the time that 1½ pounds of this bread was more nutritious than 1 pound of white bread and ½ pound of beef steak (and much more digestible). Since it was also Supplied to the Queen and Royal Family and a Cure for Indigestion, its success was assured. Fitton & Sons sold the flour to local bakers, who baked it in tins that stamped the name right into the loaf. By this distribution and franchise method, they were already selling a million loaves a week by 1898. To help supply the bakers of London they had, in 1896, purchased Imperial Mills, on the Embankment, right in central London along the River Thames. In 1898 Fitton & Sons changed their name to ‘The Hovis Bread Flour Company.’

Part of the new healthy society was the craze for cycling, and in a remarkable presaging of the Google Maps strategy, Hovis brought out their ‘Cycle Road Maps and Guides’ that not only contained advertising for the bread but indicated on the map tea-shops where it could be bought as part of the great British institution, high tea.

In 1918, ‘Hovis Limited’ was launched as a public company. In 1920, expanded on their success with cycle maps, Hovis published ‘Where to Go and How to Get There: Hovis Road Map of England, Wales, and Scotland.’ With the discovery of B vitamins in wheatgerm in 1924 sales received a further boost. With competition from other ‘brown bread’ manufacturers growing, they developed the slogan Don’t Just Say Brown – Say, Hovis, which was first seen in 1924. Following the entry into the company of Cecil Gordon Wood in 1928, a period of expansion began, and Hovis acquired mills in England and overseas. By the beginning of the 1930s they had 20,000 bakers producing their bread every day, and proudly displaying a gold ‘Hovis’ sign on their storefronts. The bread came in a both a one-pound and a two-pound loaf, as well as an 8-ounce ‘junior’ loaf and ‘mini’ loaves that sold for one penny and were loved by children…”

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