Branston brings out legal guns in saucy battle over HP logo

IT IS a quintessential British brand that has been a fixture on our dinner tables for more than 100 years. But now, HP Sauce might be forced to axe its famous Houses of Parliament logo after a rival manufacturer said it may be in breach of the Trades Description Act.

Premier Foods, which makes Branston's version of the sauce, has suggested HP introduces a windmill as its logo following the company's decision to move production to the Netherlands. In another blow for the brand, MPs told The Scotsman they are to boycott HP in the Commons dining rooms in protest against the shift overseas.

Premier Foods said last night it was "taking advice from lawyers" over the use of the Houses of Parliament image.

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Sue Knight, Premier Foods' general manager for Branston, said: "We think it would be much more appropriate if they replaced the Houses of Parliament with a lovely picture of a windmill, or maybe a vase of sunflowers."

She added: "The advice we're getting from lawyers is that if HP continues to use the Houses of Parliament image ... there may well be grounds for action.

"A lot of people are urging us to put the Houses of Parliament design on our bottles. It's something we would consider now that HP seems to stand for Holland Produced rather than Houses of Parliament."

Heinz, which makes HP, announced last week that the Birmingham-made sauce, with its distinctive label, will be going Dutch from next year. The decision to move production from Aston, with the loss of 120 jobs, to its European sauces centre in Elst, sparked a furious response from unions and politicians.

John Jordan, acting national secretary of the T&G, said: "It's a case, pure and simple, of corporate greed. Birmingham is a highly profitable site and this move is to bail out the factory in Holland. We would hope the public think again before buying this supposedly British brand."

Heinz said its announcement marked "a sad day for Birmingham", but insisted that the company was forced into the move to save 25 million. Nigel Dickie, director of corporate affairs for Heinz UK and Ireland, said: "This is a rather desperate attempt by Branston to gain publicity for a brand that, since its launch in October last year, has mustered less than a 1 per cent share.

He added: "HP is the undisputed No1 brown sauce. The 'Houses of Parliament' has been a distinctive feature of the HP Sauce label for over 100 years and this picture represents the historic usage of HP Sauce in the restaurant at the Houses of Parliament."

Mr Dickie said his company always took steps to ensure consumers were not confused about its products country of origin - "it will be made clear on the label that the sauce is manufactured in the Netherlands". He added: "Branston's comments about images are nonsensical. Some Royal Mail stamps - which, of course, carry the Queen's image - are printed in Holland."

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Brown sauce is not the first institution of the British dinner table to find itself in the middle of a legal battle this year. Melton Mowbray pork pies were the subject of a High Court dispute after Northern Foods challenged a move to restrict production to the Leicestershire town and the surrounding area.

Frank Doran, an Aberdeen MP and chairman of the House of Commons Administration Committee which oversees services in the Palace of Westminster, said a boycott by MPs was underway.

Mr Doran said: "I know a lot of my colleagues are running a campaign to boycott HP Sauce.

An early day motion is to be tabled on the issue. There are a large number of MPs who have strong feelings on the matter."

But Mr Doran added that parliament had no power to force Heinz to drop the legendary logo. He said: "Like anyone else, I'm sad to see any jobs lost or any product which has a British character being moved out of the country.

"But it's a commercial decision and not one that parliament could influence."