90 Year Birthday special

Voice of the foodsector is born

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Food Manufacture was first published in May 1927, in the same month that Charles Lindbergh became the first man to complete a solo non-stop tans-Atlantic flight
Food Manufacture was first published in May 1927, in the same month that Charles Lindbergh became the first man to complete a solo non-stop tans-Atlantic flight

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Food Manufacture was launched in May 1927 as a forum for those working in food and drink manufacture. Ninety years on, it is a role it still plays.

May 1927, the month that the very first issue of Food Manufacture ​was published, is probably best remembered for being the same month that Charles Lindbergh became the first man to complete a non-stop trans-Atlantic airplane flight, from New York to Paris, winning the Orteig Prize and $25,000.

Lindbergh landed his monoplane, the Spirit of St Louis, at Le Bourget airfield near Paris at 10:21pm local time on Saturday May 21, 33 hours and 29 minutes after taking off from New York.

Food Manufacture​ was published from 173/5 Fleet Street, London EC4, and was available by annual prepaid subscription for the princely sum of 10 shillings (post free). The first six issues carried no advertising (this was only introduced in the second volume, from November 1927 to April 1928).

The very first issue of Food Manufacture​ carried articles on: ‘Scientific control in food’; one called ‘Food and Fortune’; and another titled ‘Paucity of technical periodicals dealing with cocoa, chocolate and confectionery’, written by AW Knapp, chief chemist, Cadbury Bros.

Other articles covered bacon curing, sweet manufacture, bacteria and the canning industry, and the estimation of preservatives in foodstuffs.

Confectionery manufacture was written about often in those early issues, with an article on ‘Scientific control in the cocoa and chocolate industries’, featuring pictures of air and gas roasters from Baker Perkins.

While it doesn’t supply these particular items of kit today, Baker Perkins is still around supplying equipment into the sector. In that same issue, there was also an article on ‘The manufacture of shredded wheat’ – a breakfast staple, still popular today.

Something else that has survived over the years, although has yet to achieve widespread appeal, is prune ice-cream. An article in the November 1927 issue of Food Manufacture​ by authors from the University of California was titled: ‘A promising specialist: prune ice cream’.

Research with The California Prune Board recently unearthed that a California prune-flavoured ice cream recipe developed by one of its brand ambassadors, TV presenter Peter Sidwell, is still being made.

What’s more, a California prune-inspired chocolate, created by UK chocolatier Paul Young, picked up a bronze prize at this year’s Academy of Chocolate Awards.

Britain’s fishing industry has declined significantly since 1927, when several articles appeared about the herring industry. It was described then as “amongst the more important provisioners of the nation”.

In contrast, the British beet sugar industry, another sector covered way back in 1927, has since thrived, although it has inevitably been consolidated into fewer processing factories.

Evidence and scientific fact (back to top)

Canning was also a topic that appeared regularly within the pages of the journal. And, even then, Food Manufacture​ was an ardent campaigner for comments and discussion on food manufacturing based on evidence and scientific fact rather than personal opinion and “prejudice”.

The situation food and drink manufacturers found themselves in then is frighteningly similar to that faced today. In the article on ‘Food and Fortune’ a reference was made to “alarmist statements appearing in the daily press”.

This called for the need for more reliable channels for specialists to pass on their knowledge. Hence the launch of Food Manufacture​.

The author, a Robert Whymper, said: “And it is here that Food Manufacture may well fill in a long-felt need, for, as I understand the purpose of the producers, it is intended to publish a monthly review of scientific facts relating to our food stuffs in such a manner that even those not trained in scientific jargon can ‘read without tears’ and understand.”

It was an ambition to which subsequent editors and journalists on the magazine aspired over the next 90 years. However, the industry, science and regulatory backdrop is very different today – as are the channels of communication.

The prominence of the web and social media would have amazed commentators of 1927. The experts who wrote for Food Manufacture​ then would, no doubt, have been scandalised by the importance given to the opinions of celebrities and others with an axe to grind on food supply, as they air their views on Twitter and other social media channels.

Today’s reader would probably find some of the language used in the articles and editorial of 1927 somewhat pompous. But it was often not without humour.

This was wittily shown by a cartoon in the very first issue, which illustrated the views of Americans who considered the UK’s doorstep milk distribution service ‘Death on the Doorstep’.

How many then would have predicted the transition of milk supply from doorstep jug deliveries, through bottles of creamy ‘gold top’ sealed with an aluminium cap – which garden birds over the years have taken great delight in penetrating to provide an early morning treat – to today’s two-litre high-density polyethylene containers of skimmed and semi-skinned milk on supermarket shelves?

Attitudes have also radically changed. But, while generally more liberal in our outlook, we are not necessarily more tolerant in our acceptance of difference – cultural or otherwise.

Attitudes have changed (back to top)

That said, we should be grateful that the rather condescending references to women as the providers of sustenance to their men in articles of 1927 have moved on.

Take, for example, one particular line from Whymper’s article on ‘Food and Fortune’: “Man is a funny creature, and our women learned long ago never to tackle him until he was fed adequately and well,” ​he remarked. Some might argue such patronising attitudes have not entirely disappeared today!

That said, it is also doubtful that describing vegetarians, wholemeal bread eaters, the “anti-sweet brigade”​ and “banana-and-uncooked-food coterie”​ as “food cranks”,​ as FE Thomas did in his article ‘A matter of definition’ in Food Manufacture​ of that time would be acceptable today.

To be fair to Thomas, though, what he was attempting to do was query what people really meant by “pure”​ food. That is a debate we recognise today.

His piece also responded to what he considered to be unfair criticism of manufacturers for “food-faking”​ by “making cheap varieties of their goods by the admixture of cheaper foods​”. Once again, that is another issue still resonating today.

As mentioned in my comment in the May 2017 issue of Food Manufacture​, in 1927 the disciplines of food science and food technology had yet to emerge and many of the submitted articles published were written by eminent ‘company chemists’.

It is also notable that the technologies, diet and food consumption trends described then were international in nature, with those from the US extensively covered.

But, the world was in many senses much smaller, with international trade in agricultural commodities nowhere near the scale it is today.

Although today’s world is radically different to that of 1927, it really is striking that so many of the concerns are the same.

This was most strikingly highlighted by comments made back then about the need to ensure food safety and ensure the protection of consumers against unintentional contamination and deliberate fraud through the adulteration of food.

Today, the industry talks about consumer demand for ‘clean-label’ or kitchen cupboard ingredients and is concerned about ‘adventititious’ (accidental) and fraudulent contamination of foods.

As we know only too well, these have ranged from the 2005 Sudan1 and Para Red in adulteration chilli incidents to the 2008 Chinese melamine in milk scandal, up to the 2013 horsemeat in beef fraud, which in July resulted in the successful prosecution of some of the individuals involved.

Revolution in food and drink (back to top)

There has been a revolution in the way food and drink reaches our homes. Readers of 1927, would also have been astonished by the power that supermarkets now exert on food and drink supply, driven by consumer demand for exciting new tastes, cheaper food and convenience.

And, in the world of 1927 where food and drink brands dominated, the impact that own-label food and drink now plays, would have been quite unimaginable.

But, even in 1927, the world was changing. An article on the British marmalade industry described it having passed its peak of production, with a “serious setback​” in exports, as demand from “the Colonies”​ fell away.

At the same time, it noted that British imports of preserved fruits had grown considerably. One can only guess at how amazed that author would be by today’s fruit and vegetables flown into the UK from around the globe.

In September 1927, Food Manufacture​ took its place at the 31st Confectioners’, Bakers’ and Allied Trades’ Exhibition at the Royal Agricultural Hall in Islington, London.

That show has long since disappeared and the magazine’s stand – together with that of other exhibitors – would be thought most drab by modern-day standards.

But, exhibitions still form a key part of Food Manufacture’s ​communications strategy and we will be exhibiting at next year’s Foodex Show, which takes place at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham from April 16–18.

Food Manufacture​ was set up to improve communication across the sector, with a core aim of dispelling misinformation and providing a vehicle for evidence-based science about food and drink manufacture. It is a role it continues to play and intends to continue for many years to come.

But, one thing is certain, it will be someone else reporting on the next 90 years of Food Manufacture​!

Key milestones 1920–1940

  • Low Temperature Research Station established 1921
  • East Malling Research Station set up 1921
  • Campden Research Station 1921
  • Research Association of British & Irish Millers 1923
  • British Food Manufacturing Industries Research Association 1925
  • Expansion of breakfast cereals, major chocolate and confectionery brands
  • Instant coffee
  • Development of canning and freezing
  • US Institute of Food Technologists 1939 launched
  • Food rationing started 1940

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