Johannesburg - Some brands are part of us, part of our culture, our collective consciousness. They speak to our love of bright colours, our quirky sense of humour and, often, our hedonistic love of good food and the good life.
Ask a South African abroad and they’ll know exactly where to find biltong, boerewors, Mrs Ball’s Chutney and Ouma Rusks. Not just because they crave the food they grew up with, but because these products remind them of home, of our history, and who we are.
These are some of the brands we love best:
All Gold tomato sauce
The country’s most popular tomato sauce was launched in 1908, after its unique recipe was brought to South Africa by Scottish chemist John Semble for production by H Jones and Company, a jam manufacturing company in Paarl.
It was originally made by lowering muslin bags filled with herbs and spices into pots of ripe, freshly crushed tomatoes.
Says brand guru Sylvester Chauke: “It’s not just tomato sauce, it’s a statement piece for any meal.”
Mrs Ball’s chutney
Mrs HS Ball’s chutney, first produced commercially in 1870, was originally branded: “Mrs Henry Adkins Senior, Colonial Chutney Manufacturer, Fort Jackson, Cape Colony.”
Adkins’s daughter Amelia, who married Herbert Saddleton Ball, continued to produce her mother’s recipe from her home in Fish Hoek until her husband met a food importer. Production rapidly increased, warranting a move to a factory in Diep River.
Today Mrs Ball’s is a household name across the world, mainly due to clever marketing. It’s essential with curry and bobotie is unthinkable without it.
Comments Chauke: “This brand is a good reminder that those South Africans in the UK must come home!”
They are made in the Eastern Cape in a place called Molteno. It’s said that it was here in 1939, during the Great Depression, that Ouma “Nannie” Greyvenstein came up with her original recipe. She and fellow churchgoers were given just a half-crown (30 British pennies) to raise funds. She came up with her recipe for boerbeskuit. At the next church bazaar, her first batch of rusks sold out within minutes and orders came pouring in for more. Later adverts had the slogan “Doop ’n Ouma” or “Dip an Ouma”.
“This brand is so warm, it’s like a blankey,” says Sylvester Chauke, founder of DNA Brand Architects.
It’s tempting to buy a tin just for its cool, retro branding, never mind the pilchards inside. Lucky Star has been around for 54 years, and is popularly consumed with slices of bread. It happens to be über-healthy too, high in protein and omega-3. Lucky Star is also a winner in South African expat stores.
Black Cat peanut butter
Black Cat has been in lunchboxes, spread on bread, since 1926. Who remembers the hokey TV advert in the 1980s that depicted a nerd on the beach with his girl? After sand is kicked in his face, the nerd chomps a Black Cat peanut butter sandwich and throws Mister Muscle on his back.
The tagline: Mister Muscle: “Black belt, huh?”… Nerd: “Uh uh, Black Cat!”
Grandpa headache powders
Neatly stacked into its yesteryear packaging, Grandpa headache powders have been around since 1916. Don’t let the benign old dude on the box fool you. Grandpa is widely loved because, despite being almost impossible to ingest without “powdering” your lower face or coughing most of it out, it works like a bomb. Each powder sachet contains not only 453.6mg of aspirin and 324mg of paracetamol, but 64.8mg of caffeine – which is why at least one person you know is addicted to them, typically downed with Coke. Comments Chauke: “Grandpa has been curing hangovers for years. Love him!”
Around since 1940, Koo tinned fruit, beans and vegetables can be found in the grocery cupboards of most South Africans. Arguably a little strong on sugar to suit our national sweet tooth, these canned necessities are great for emergencies – or storing in the bunker in case of enemy attack.
This tiger has been on our breakfast tables since 1925, when it was launched by Tiger Brands, which initially called it Tiger Oats. A unique milling process gives Jungle Oats its nutty flavour. It turned Gary Player into a tiger of a golfer (if ads are to be believed), and is reputed to give you the energy to cope with all that the urban jungle throws at you. The colours on the box alone will wake you up.
Bakers’ history stretches back to 1851, to Baumann’s bakery in Durban. Due to the anti-German sentiment, the company’s name was changed in 1915 from Baumann’s to Bakers Limited. Originally, biscuits were packed loose in tins and the company was prepared to pay railage on the empty returns. Later, packets were introduced which consisted of two layers of paper: one was the familiar blue lattice-printed Bakers paper and the other, inside, layer was of “pure vegetable parchment”. One of its most popular products today is Blue Label Marie Biscuits. And who doesn’t love a Romany Cream?
How many braais, campfires, cigarettes, paraffin lamps and birthday candles have Lion matches lit? The Lion Match Company was established in Durban more than 100 years ago and today it produces a whopping 8 million boxes of matches a day. These little yellow boxes of friends have saved the day on countless occasions – their value sometimes realised only when you find them wet or used.
“The stoep would not be a stoep without Cobra,” says Chauke. Indeed, many of us have childhood memories of the red polished patio gleaming after a good going over, and that distinctive Cobra smell. It’s one of the products you can buy at The South African Shop in London, because the colourless version can also be used on wood or vinyl floors.
Charles Glass began brewing Castle beer in Joburg in 1895, so this was the golden “milk” of the city’s gold prospectors. And it’s been a great success story. “This brand is all about South African patriotism and sport, especially rugby. It’s strongly associated with flag-waving pride,” comments Mike Sharman of Retroviral Digital Communications. Today, Castle is brewed in nine countries and enjoyed worldwide.
Whether or not you like Nando’s chicken, you’ll have grown to love this brand’s cheeky humour.
“South Africans have a unique sense of humour. It’s not slapstick and not dry, it’s a hybrid of the two,” says Sharman, whose agency was the first to work the brand.
“We’ve also got a lot better at taking ourselves less seriously. Nando’s has done a great job of tapping our comedic taste.”
Abroad, Nando’s is rocking.
“Nando’s is a household name in Britain, with restaurants throughout the country,” says Heather Walker, editor of TheSouthAfrican.com in London.
“The weird thing is that for some reason Nando’s prefers to keep its South African origins well hidden. Maybe South Africa via Portugal is too complicated to explain?
“Unless you were from South Africa, you would never know Nando’s even started there.”
Let’s take a bow on this one, because these days rooibos can be found in any British supermarket.
Walker says it’s labelled as redbush tea, “although South Africans are trying to teach their British friends to call it by its original Afrikaans name – partly because redbush sounds somewhat obscene to our ears”.