Baked beans

The World Today Published 4 April 2019 Updated 31 July 2019 1 minute READ

Stockpiling of the humble baked bean is used by many as a shorthand in Britain for the public’s reaction to the feared disruption to trade following Brexit. Here are five little known things about the role of tinned beans in British life.

  1. Baked beans have been popular for so long that they are part of Cockney rhyming slang – for the Queen.
  2. There is no record of Her Majesty ever having enjoyed tinned beans, but Prime Minister Theresa May did reveal that her husband Philip made her a supper of beans on toast after a mauling by her party – she opened the can, but he made the toast and did the washing up.
  3. In 1869, a young American entrepreneur named Henry Heinz brought five cases of canned baked beans to London as samples. Fortnum & Mason, the top people’s store, was first to try them – and bought the lot. A rare luxury imported from the United States, they sold for £2 a can, about £170 in today’s money. By 1924 the price had fallen to 12 shillings (60p), or about £25 today.
  4. After Heinz established a factory in the UK in the 1930s, baked beans became a British staple. In wartime they were advertised as ‘a splendid food to preserve the stamina of the Nation’. During the Cold War in the 1960s, in preparation for nuclear attack, families were advised to stock up on baked beans because they are nutritious and can – in an emergency – just about be eaten cold if there no gas or electricity.
  5. Despite the enduring fame of the product, the original makers are not prospering. Kraft Heinz, now owned by a private equity group famed for cost-cutting, posted a loss of $12.6 billion in February, losing 27 per cent of its value. A stock market analyst said the company’s brands were ‘not very hip or current, and struggling to be relevant’.