Sara Lee and 100 years of brand name aquisiton

In modern times a well-known brand is king. So much so that the product itself can be secondary, the brand name being a trading commodity in itself. A brand name inspires confidence in the product by the consumer, this confidence being boosted by a premium price, and might conjure ideas of dependability, quality, consistency. Quite how the brand name becomes such a force can often be due to luck, timing or innovation but more often than not by advertising and sufficient cash to spread the word.

The shoe polish industry mirrors this in many ways. Pre-1900’s shoe blacking and dubbin application were of practical necessity to smarten up or waterproof scuffed shoes and boots. While there were products that were known and marketed nationally it wasn’t until the very early 1900’s that Kiwi and The Chiswick Soap Company came onto the market with something new and innovative, at a price people were prepared to pay and that fulfilled a demand. They also hit upon a distinctive brand name and with good old fashioned enterprise, coupled with a war or two, ensured multi-national sales.

Of course, it didn’t take long before there were polish manufactures popping up all over the place, often successful and entrepreneurial companies looking for additions product lines or adapting existing industrial processes or replacing the blacking products previously made. And so the iconic names of Cherry Blossom, Kiwi, Wren’s, Propert’s, Meltonian, Nugget, Cobra, Shinola and many others were born.

While the Kiwi product ploughed its own successful furrow for many years it was the combination of The Chiswick Soap Company and Reckitt & Sons Ltd that began the fascinating process of acquisition of competitors (and most importantly their brand names). In 1906 the launched their Cherry Blossom brand (the packaging, then as now, featured cherries not cherry blossom!) the same year that Kiwi was launched in Australia. The product, borne partly to find a use for 5inch circular pieces of tin-plate leftover from another process, was an instant success and seven years later the Chiswick Polish Company Ltd was formed with the production of soap moved elsewhere.

In 1912 Reckitt & Sons Ltd had bought the businesses of William Berry Ltd and Master Boot Polish Company. In 1913 the Chiswick Polish Company was formed, jointly owned by the Mason family and Reckitt & Sons Ltd. William Berry Ltd and Master Boot Polish Company were integrated into the Chiswick Polish Company and all metal polish operations transferred to Reckitt’s in Hull. The process of acquisitions and mergers had begun.
cherry blossom ad 1928
nugget signIn 1916 the first liaison between Chiswick Polish Co and Nugget Polish Company (by now a well-established brand in its own right and a strong worldwide competitor) as a joint pooling arrangement is discussed as they had to compete for allocations of turpentine during World War I. B Beddow and Sons (the Propert brand) was bought by The Chiswick Polish Company after the death in 1922 of Alfred Beddow, the sole proprietor although the Propert manufacture and marketing seems to have continued autonomously in Battersea until at least 1945. Come 1929 Chiswick Polish Co amalgamates with Nugget Polish Company Ltd and the name changes to Chiswick Products Ltd. Blyth & Platt Ltd were an old manufacturer of boot polish of the Cobra brand were bought by Chiswick Products Ltd on October 1st 1928 (bought from parent company Lever Bros). Blyth & Platt carried on trading as a company from their Watford premises until 1953. Many years later in 1938 William Wren’s polish business is acquired bringing with it Lavendo furniture polish; a white cleaner called Purwhite and Wren’s Super Wax Shoe Polish.

The Cherry Blossom, Cobra, Wren’s, Propert’s, Nugget and Meltonian brand names lived on. In 1954 Chiswick Products Ltd merged into the newly-formed Reckitt & Colman Holdings Ltd and became integrated into the Reckitt empire with production and offices moving from factory to factory as the company reorganised and consolidated production.

Into the 1980’s then and things start getting complicated as we switch focus to Kiwi. During the ’50s Kiwi opened new manufacturing plants in Britain followed by India, France, Canada, South Africa, Spain and Pakistan. By 1967 the Kiwi brand became so big and its product range so diverse, that all KIWI companies were brought together under one umbrella: Kiwi International. A merger in 1981 of two long-established Australian companies, Nicholas International Ltd (a pharmaceutical company) and the Kiwi Polish Company Pty Ltd and formed Nicholas Kiwi Limited. In 1984 Nicholas Kiwi was acquired by the American based Consolidated Foods Corporation, which in turn changed its name to Sara Lee Corporation. Sara Lee also owned the Tuxan brand of shoe polish and so sold both Tuxan and Kiwi polish brands in the UK.

Meltonian Wren's dubbinIn October 1991, although initially after the Meltonian brand which Reckitts had been rebuilding, Sara Lee Household & Personal Care UK Ltd (a subsidiary of the parent Sara Lee Corporation) acquired the entire Reckitt & Colman United Kingdom shoe care business, including its export business from the United Kingdom (the relevant Australian and New Zealand trademarks being assigned to Sara Lee’s Australian subsidiary, Kiwi Brands Pty Ltd). Reckitt & Colman’s USA shoe care businesses were at the same time acquired by Kiwi Brands Inc, another Sara Lee subsidiary. The brands acquired by SL/HPC UK were Cherry Blossom, Meltonian, Properts, Wrens and Magix; Reckitt & Colman retained, however, the Nugget brand (not recently sold in the United Kingdom), and its shoe care businesses in many countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America and some European countries, notably Spain. Certain stock was acquired, and a limited range of manufacturing equipment (filling line, a jar line for creams, a dye line, and mixing tanks and other processing equipment for liquid and cream polishes). This equipment was transferred to Sara Lee’s plant at Honley in Yorkshire, but one of the main products sold under the Cherry Blossom brand paste polish was now manufactured on Sara Lee’s existing equipment together with the Kiwi paste polish, the same product under both brand names. Reckitt & Colman continued to manufacture polishes under contract to Sara Lee for six months following the merger at its unit in Hull; this unit was subsequently been closed, and the remaining equipment sold or disposed of throughout the Reckitt & Colman group.

So here we see all the well known and historical brand names being bought and owned by just one company and gave Sara Lee 80% of the UK shoe polish market. There were other companies in the field but all with limited exposure: Punch Sales Ltd (Punch Brand, largely trade sales), S C Johnson & Co Ltd (which sold only one product, a sponge applicator) Carr & Day & Martin Ltd (CDM), Dougmar Ltd, Dunkelman & Son Ltd, Salamander AG (a German company, which supplies the Woly brand), Salzenbrodt GmbH & Co KG (also German, which supplies the Collonil brand).

In 1992 the Competition Commission looked into the Sara Lee acquisition and determined that because the Cherry Blossom and Kiwi brands were now one and the same product that some rationalisation would be brought in and a major brand lost and that domination of the market would squeeze out smaller players and prevent other manufacturers from entering the market. They also thought that UK production (in any case now only done at the Honley site) would be closed and moved abroad to Rouen, France. They concluded “We believe therefore that the merger may be expected to have effects adverse to the public interest. These are that there is a significant reduction in competition in the supply of shoe polish products to the self-selection sector of the market; Sara Lee has the opportunity, of which it may be expected to take advantage, to introduce substantial increases in prices to retailers without constraining forces being brought into play; and such increases are likely to be passed on to consumers.”

The Competition Commission required the following solution: “We therefore recommend that Sara Lee should be required to divest itself of the Cherry Blossom brand and associated trademarks and, pending divestment, to keep the brand and trademarks in good standing by, for example, maintaining production of the branded products, their quality and their prices at present levels.” Sara Lee Household & Personal Care UK Ltd’s undertaking to The Office of Fair Trading can be found here: Office of Fair Trading report

As of 2010 Punch, Woly, Collonil are minority players in the UK market – Punch sell largely through trade outlets, Woly in more specialised outlets with niche products, Collonil although having a wide portfolio isn’t a well known UK brand. Own brand supermarket shoe polishes are not insignificant – thought to achieve 50% share when sold alongside main brands. Predominant is the Sara Lee owned Kiwi brand and the only UK manufactured ‘big’ brand of shoe polish, Cherry Blossom.

And so, rather splendidly, despite brands being bought and sold over the years we have ended up where we started (almost). In 1906 Kiwi and Cherry Blossom were the biggest, most well known and best selling brands. 104 years later nothing has changed.

Photo: David Pratt

News, 31st December 2010 – SC Johnson buying Sara Lee’s Kiwi brand
SC Johnson said it is buying Sara Lee Corp.’s shoe care business, including the venerable Kiwi brand, for $328 million, as Sara Lee continues to shed non-food segments.

The companies announced the deal, expected to close by mid-2011, also includes Sara Lee’s shoe accessory lines Bama International and Kiwi Kleen. Sara Lee said the business had sales in fiscal 2009 of $315 million based on exchange rates at the time. The food and consumer products maker has shed several of its non-food units as it looks to focus on its more-profitable businesses such as Hillshire Farms meat and Senseo coffee.

Sara Lee also announced plans to sell a cleaning products division in Australia and New Zealand for about $50 million, and earlier in December it closed the $1.6 billion sale of its body care and European detergent segments to Unilever NV. With the binding offer from SC Johnson, Sara Lee has lined up deals to sell virtually all of its household and body care business.

Privately held Johnson makes household products under brands including Pledge, Glade, Goddards, Mr Muscle, Duck, Windex and Ziploc.