Canned baked bean war breaks out in the UK

February 24: War in the UK canned baked bean market has forced Heinz to change its recipe, it emerged this week.

Leader in the £222m ($387m) market with more than two thirds of sales, Heinz is under threat from baked beans made by Premier Foods.

Premier, which produces a range of food brands such as Cross & Blackwell, launched Branston baked beans last October, since when it has taken almost 10 percent of the market.

It says that in taste tests almost three-quarters of consumers prefer the Branston baked beans, which are packed – along with much of the own-brand canned beans sold in UK supermarkets – at Premier’s factory in Cambridgeshire.

Newspapers reported this week that a leaked two-page Heinz memo revealed plans for an improved recipe to be launched in the Spring.

It emerged as Heinz was given clearance to buy the HP Foods business – including canned HP Beans – from French food giant Danone. The was concern that there would be loss of competition in the ketchup and sauces market, so the acquisition was referred to the UK’s Competition Commission.

But the Commission found that there was “very limited, if any, competition between Heinz and HP products”.

However, HP Baked Beans were produced for Danone under license by Premier, a contract that was up for renewal in March, which now looks unlikely now that Heinz controls the brand.

Premier is probably unconcerned. At the end of January its Branston beans took a claimed 9.4 percent of the canned beans market, up from 6.4 percent at the end of December. “That’s an increase of one percent every 12 days,” said a Premier spokesman.

Premier’s research says that in tests 76 percent of consumers preferred Branston. “This was a straight blind test conducted among 746,000 consumers in November and December conducted by Premier Foods and audited by Swift research,” said the spokesman.

Heinz, which packs more than a billion cans of beans and pasta products at its huge Kitt Green plant in Lancashire, dismissed the suggestion that the recipe changes were a response to the success of Branston baked beans. “We are constantly looking at new recipes and testing is an ongoing process,” said a spokesman for Heinz, speaking to the Daily Mirror.

But the war is intensifying with Premier due to launch a £7m ($12.2m) advertising and marketing campaign this year. It will feature a ‘heavyweight’ television campaign featuring an animated bean can called ‘Richer Branston’.

Every year 500 million cans of beans are sold in the UK.