Lost items from our supermarket shelves
If you have spent more than four decades on this planet, you will have seen many shops go the way of dinosaurs. Not a single day goes by without there being a “Do You Remember the Woolworths Pick and Mix” counter or “School Puddings” meme. I have yet to see a single Book of Face post with cosy memories of swallowing Liqufruta if you have an irksome cough. Or a meme that says “Do you remember gargling with TCP?”
Over the last four decades, there has been a fair few foodstuffs that have gone the way of the dinosaurs, Transatlantic flights from Prestwick Airport, and the 400 Trans-Lancs Express bus route. Some of which have been discontinued due to abject unpopularity, corporate decisions or adverse publicity.
With The Lost Precinct posts having been successful, it had only been a matter of time before this spawned The Lost Hypermarket. This will focus on lost food, drink, and non-food items that you may have picked in your local Fine Fare.
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A is for Ayds:
Before Barry Bethell and Patrick Allen peddled milk shake derived slimming products, there was no shortage of weird and wonderful proprietary meal replacement options. Limmits was one example; then there was the special shakes from The Cambridge Diet. Lovers of chocolate and fudge had one in Ayds.
Ayds (the Reducing Plan Candy as it was known in its Illinois homeland), was an appetite suppressant. It was packaged like a box of chocolates, or another box of tea bags. Its commercial peak came in the 1970s and 1980s, back when weight watching rose in popularity.
Just as sales were buoyant, external forces stopped Ayds in its tracks: the discovery of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. In other words, AIDS. With the product name being pronounced the same way, sales fell by 50%. In 1988, it changed its name to Aydslim in the UK and quietly disappeared from the shelves.
B is for Banana Bubbles:
Banana Bubbles is living proof that the good and the great cannot get everything right. Kellogg’s launched the cereal in 1995 as a companion to Coco Pops. They turned the milk yellow, in the same way that Coco Pops turned the milk brown.
The cereal was a rare flop for Kellogg’s, being discontinued a year later. As yours truly has tried them as part of a variety pack, I could understand why they flopped. Whereas Shreddies locked hunger till lunch time, Banana Bubbles gave you hours of indigestion till teatime.
C is for Chocky:
In 1998, throughout the North West of England, Brooke Bond conducted a year-long trial of Hot Drinks in Cans. There was three varieties: Red Mountain coffee; PG Tips tea; and Chocky, a specially created hot chocolate brand. Co-op and Spar shops, and a few independent shops, sold the hot drinks in cans from inside a red cabinet. (A bit like a Meat Pie warmer you see in pubs and football grounds).
Besides being an early 1980s children’s television programme, Chocky was undoubtedly my favourite one of the three. The hot chocolate hit the spot with a moreish flavour. As a tea snob, I preferred the Red Mountain can to the PG one.
In the end, Brooke Bond didn’t roll out Hot Drinks in Cans. Perhaps the market was too crowded, given the rise of premium priced coffee shops. On the other hand, many people have their own particular preferences with milk and sugar. Some prefer to have strong tea or weak tea, or a different brand of beverage.
D is for Dixcel toilet tissue:
Once upon a time, there was room for more than one mass-market toilet paper brand. Alongside the one with that Labrador puppy, there was Dixcel’s toilet tissue. The brand name is derived from its original manufacturer, Peter Dixon and Son. Formed in 1871, they made toilet tissue and newsprint at the Spring Grove Paper Mills in Oughtibridge (near Sheffield).
Upon expansion, the brand became Number Two for wiping number twos alongside Andrex. In 1975, an advertisement featuring Little and Large extolled its value for money credentials (forty more sheets than its rival). In later years it challenged its rival with Kittensoft, again with size and strength making it “very well endowed”. It used sporting prowess as a way of selling toilet tissue in 1986 (with a promotion for free sports lessons).
After being slated for polluting rivers and changes in ownership, the Dixcel name did survive, though not as a toilet paper brand. One member of the Dixon family, Nick Dixon had a flourishing motor racing career. With entrepreneur David Sears and his share of the family inheritance, Nick invested in automotive parts. Today, the Dixcel name is seen on high performance brake parts, with a significant base in Japan. This time, Dixcel is a portmanteau of Deceleration and Excellence.
E is for Ever Ready Silver Seal batteries:
At one time, there was two Ever Ready battery companies: one in America, and another one in the UK which was initially the American parent’s export arm. In 1914, the British Ever Ready Electrical Company split from its American parent. By 1981, a hostile takeover bid saw BEREC being bought by the Hanson Trust. This saw its mainland European operations scaled down.
One of the fruits of Hanson’s ownership was a rejigging of its battery brands. In 1982, its product range was simplified, leading to the introduction of Silver Seal Zinc-Chloride batteries. The Silver Seal make was designed for good all-round operation: portable radios, electronic games, calculators and torches. This was augmented by the premium Gold Seal brand, designed for high drain applications.
By 1992, the Hanson Trust was sold to Ralston Purina. Shortly afterwards, Silver Seal batteries were discontinued. Ever Ready Gold Seal’s natural successor is Energizer’s Max Plus brand.
F is for Fry’s Five Boys chocolate:
Launched in 1902, Fry’s Five Boys was a fancy name for what was basically Fry’s Milk Chocolate. This repackaging was based on a previously successful campaign featuring the titular males. It was a thin, milk chocolate, similar to anything that Milka would sell in 2020.
Each of the five boys denoted five different facial expressions: desperation, pacification, expectation, acclamation, and realisation. This was illustrated on the wrapper till the 1960s. Later wrappers had more cartoony style pictures without the expressions. The chocolate was discontinued in the early 1970s.
G is for Gini:
With greater trading opportunities between the UK and the European Community member states, Cadbury Schweppes chose to introduce a well-known French brand to the UK’s supermarkets. Known as Gini, the bitter lemon drink has been manufactured in France by Perrier since 1970.
Whereas our friends across the English Channel used Serge Gainsbourg to advertise the drink, the UK campaign was more direct. French sensuality had been eschewed in favour of “The British have got Gini.”
Perrier’s bitter lemon drink had a brief sojourn in the UK, disappearing from British shelves in the early 1990s. Perhaps it was too tangy for Anglophile palettes. Then again, Gini might have been crowded out of the market by 7UP and the then-recently launched Sprite.
H is for Highland Toffee:
From 1900 to 2005, McCowan’s of Stenhousemuir cornered the market in sticky fudge and toffee at pocket-friendly prices. Following its sale to Nestlé in 1959, the company traded as a going concern up to its sale in 1989. For many people of a certain age, its best known product was the Highland Toffee bar.
The Highland Toffee bar was a sticky confection some six inches long and an inch wide. It was a fudge based chew bar that was often cover-mounted to comics as a free gift. Alongside its 12p original version (1986 prices, by the way), there was also a chocolate coated Highland Toffee.
After the Nestlé – Rowntree Mackintosh merger in 1989, McCowans became an independent company before changing hands in 1996. Dutch confectioner Phideas took over, running the company till 2003. After a two-year spell as an independent company, they were taken over by the owners of John Millar and Son. The merged company ceased trading the following year, with the iconic Stenhousemuir factory seeing demolition.
I is for Ice Magic:
Yes, I know we have touched onto the School Puddings Meme territory with one! Birds’ Ice Magic was a fantastic chocolate coating for ice cream. Seconds after squirting the Ice Magic onto your ice cream, the chocolate sauce hardened on contact. There was four different flavours including Chocolate Orange and Chocolate Mint.
Whereas Birds’ product has long since left the shelves, it is survived by Askew’s Treat Chocolate Chunk Crackin’ and Smuckers’ chocolate topping. The present bottle designs do not encourage me to purchase their items in the same way as Birds’ product did (with its alpine shaped bottles).
J is for Jubilade:
For the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, there was no shortage of limited edition patriotic foodstuffs and beverages. Matthew Brown and a few other breweries launched special ales. The Co-op even got in on the act with Jubilade.
Jubilade was a carbonated strawberry fizzy drink. It had similarly patriotic packaging that befitted its premise with a regal scene. As the drink only had a limited shelf life, it left our shelves at the end of ’77.
K is for Karvol:
Alongside Vick and Olbas Oil, there was a more child-friendly decongestant in Karvol. If you remember the advert in the mid-1980s, we saw a baby with a blocked-up nose. Moments later, the baby’s nose is unblocked because its mother sprinkled some Karvol near its little nose on a handkerchief.
The original version I remember (circa 1984) had a cinnamon smell. Later versions were available in menthol and pine. Karvol came in pods; you needed to cut the tiny nozzle with a pair of scissors and squirt it on a handkerchief or a paper tissue. Perhaps one reason as to why you cannot get Karvol in the UK is that the capsules could easily be swallowed.
L is for Liqufruta:
For many people, cough medicine is a distress purchase. It is firmly in the ‘need’ category instead of ‘want’ for obvious reasons. Liqufruta wasn’t your usual linctus or dry cough medicine: it was made with garlic. My late Nana swore by it when she had a cold.
Its active ingredient was Guaifenesin, a noted expectorant that has been used in non-garlic-based medicinal syrups. For several years, Liqufruta hasn’t been available in the UK, though can still get it in the USA.
M is for Mantunna tea:
We were nearly going to have Mazawattee Tea in this entry, but we found that the name has been resurrected. Highly popular in Merseyside was Mantunna Tea, the best known brand of the Gold Crown tea factory on Wood Street, Liverpool.
Like Tetley, Mantunna Tea came in a dark blue box. They were also sold in branches of Kwik Save and Morrisons throughout the North West. In a Commodore Format article on the then forthcoming release of Batman Returns (C64), Roy Bannon of Denton Designs said he swore by that tea.
After Gold Crown went into receivership, production was switched to a new factory in Knowsley. The assets were acquired by Typhoo Tea Limited in Leasowe, on the Wirral peninsula.
N is for Noodle Doodles:
“Gene Hunt, your DCI. It’s 1973, almost dinnertime… I’m havin’ hoops.”
Back in the late 1970s, Heinz realised that hoops weren’t the be all and end of shaped spaghetti. With a bit of help from a former Timelord, Heinz launched Noodle Doodles. In its original adverts, Jon Pertwee was the voice of Noodle Doodles as heard on this flexidisc.
Noodle Doodles’ Imperial Phase came in the mid-1980s. Jon Pertwee was replaced by a dancing animated chef and an adaptation of Yankee Doodle Dandy. As part of the campaign, you could send five can labels to Heinz for a party tape. With the blasted Noodle Doodles tune at the start and finish, on each side to the cassette. The rest was some of Black Lace’s greatest hits: Superman, Agadoo, Do The Conga and (unsurprisingly as this was for kiddies) no Gang Bang.
By the start of the 1990s, there were no Noodle Doodles on the supermarket shelves. Heinz (and its rival in the Great British Shaped Spaghetti Stakes, HP) focused on licensed brands. Instead of Haunted House you got Barbie and Hello Kitty spaghetti shapes. At least they didn’t ditch Gene Hunt’s favourite shaped spaghetti.
O is for Oxydol:
In 1912, Oxydol was launched by Thomas Hedley in Newcastle-upon-Tyne as a rival to Rinso. The brand was sold to Proctor and Gamble in 1927, thus becoming the company’s first soap powder brand. It also had a pioneering role in the TV and radio industry – by sponsoring the radio play Ma Perkins. Therefore, the aforementioned continuing drama was the world’s first Soap Opera, when aired on WLW-AM.
Today, America is the home of Oxydol in spite of its Novocastrian roots. In the 1950s, Oxydol changed from being soap flakes to washing powder. Its decline and fall in the UK was thanks to sparkier rivals like Bold and Ariel.
P is for Pacers:
At this time of writing (2020), the Class 142 Pacer units will be entering their last year of service. In the world of confectionery, Pacers were a bit like Chewits or Fruit Tella sweets. Instead of fruit flavours, they came in spearmint flavour.
Pacers started life as Opal Mints. After being renamed as Pacers in 1976, three green stripes were added to the white sweets. The minty chews were discontinued some time in the 1980s, probably weeks or months before Manchester Victoria saw its first Pacer units on the Oldham – Rochdale Loop Line.
Q is for Quatro:
Once upon a time, there was room for more than one carbonated mixed fruit drink. There was, and still is to this today, Lilt. For about ten minutes in the early 1990s there was Gini (“The British have got Gini…!”). In 1982, there was another one: Quatro. The drink was so-called because it used four fruits: pineapple, passion fruit, orange and grapefruit.
Though its stint on the shelves was brief (Coca Cola Company discontinued the carbonated mineral in 1986), its legacy was two highly memorable adverts. The first one had incidental music by Interferon (I also recommend their 1983 song Get Out of London purely for the promo video). The second ad gave the viewer some H.R. Giger style steampunk imagery. Sadly, a case of “nice video, shame about song.”
R is for Rinso:
Launched in 1908, Rinso is one of the world’s first mass-market washing powder brands. Prior to then it was known as Hudson’s Soap, after the name of the manufacturer, Robert S. Hudson. As a Lever Brothers product, Rinso was launched in the United States of America ten years later. Its very existence gave rise to the creation of a programming genre we know and love today. The soap opera.
The term Soap Opera came about in America, where radio plays were sponsored by soap powder manufacturers. Rinso was used to sponsor The Amos ‘n’ Andy Show. In the UK, Radio Luxembourg listeners were treated to The Rinso Hour, a sponsored variety programme.
Outside the UK, Rinso is the market leading detergent in Indonesia. It is available in Turkey and Central America. As to why you cannot find it on British supermarket shelves, it was replaced by Surf in the 1970s.
S is for Supermousse:
Back in 1980, we didn’t half have a penchant for liking anything that had ‘super’ in our favourite brands, bands or phrases. Supertramp were at their commercial peak; Syd Little’s catchphrase in The Little and Large Show was ‘Supersonic’; and Birds Eye had a good dessert called Supermousse.
In a nutshell, Supermousse was a strawberry, chocolate or chocolate mint mousse with knobs on. It was topped with cream and looked like quite sophisticated. Well, as sophisticated as individually potted mousse could get in 1983. Much was made about its “triffic ending” in an ad featuring Mike Reid.
After being discontinued, the brand was revived in 2009 when Roland Rat was used to relaunch the product. Sadly, David Claridge and his world famous puppet rat didn’t do wonders for the dessert. It was discontinued again the following year.
T is for Toast Toppers:
In the pre-microwave era, most of our convenience food came in tins. For a quick snack or a supper, Heinz’s Toast Toppers fitted the bill. Launched in the 1960s, there was Ham and Cheese, Chicken and Mushroom flavours and, best of all, Chicken Curry. Essential supper fodder for many a Child of the 1980s like this numpty, who wrote this blog post. The Mike Sammes Singers even did a jingle for H.J. Heinz and Co. Ltd back in the ’60s.
With your topped toast, you placed your three or four slices under the grill for a few minutes and enjoyed them with a mug of Oxo. (Well, other hot and cold drinks are available). Sadly, Toast Toppers were discontinued in 2015. The Chicken Curry one – probably the finest Toast Topper flavour – went several years earlier.
U is for United chocolate biscuits:
The 1980s was a good decade for chocolate biscuit brands. As well as Kit Kats, Penguins and Cadbury’s Snack, there was United Biscuits’ United brand. With blue and white striped wrappers, each chocolate covered biscuit had honeycomb filling at the top and biscuit at the bottom. There was also mint and orange flavours.
The advertisement and packaging was influenced by football related imagery. As the animated TV adverts said, it was a biscuit that made you “delighted to eat United”. Possibly on a train bound for Stalybridge Celtic’s thrilling encounter against Rhyl on a Mark I carriage with some butties from The Tripe Shop.
V is for Virol:
Like Bovril and Marmite, Virol owed its existence to the brewing industry. It was a malt extract by-product with Vitamin A, B, and D, which was doled out to growing children. It was a sweet, sticky brown substance that was manufactured by Bovril, before being spun off as an independent company.
After several changes of ownership, including James Goldsmith’s Cavenham Foods, the tonic was sold to Optrex in 1979. Virol seemed to have disappeared from our shelves in the mid-1980s. Some people claim that Holland and Barratt’s malt extract is a modern-day equivalent.
W is for Weekend:
“Don’t forget your Weekend, tomorrow…”
The year is 1975. After coming back home from the football, you nip to the newsagents for a Football Pink and some cheap and cheerful chocolates for a night in front of the telly. Mackintosh’s Weekend assortment fitted the bill: by being posh, though not-too-posh. Slightly below the Milk Tray and Black Magic though above Smarties and Rolos.
Rowntree Mackintosh’s mid-price assortment included posh jelly beans, candied fruits and nougat (well, nuggit [sic] if you live in Ashton-under-Lyne). They were introduced in 1957, presumably as something to eat in front of Sunday Night at the London Palladium. It was upmarket enough to justify its own signature tune, sung by Matt Monro.
There is a slight Dukinfield link with these chocolates: its original manufacturers, Mackintosh. Before moving to Halifax, its founders had roots in the Cheshire town.
X is for Brand X (or more correctly, Brand Ex):
Brand X is a term given to any generic own brand items. If you prefer, it is the jazz fusion combo that was one of Phil Collins’ cross-curricular projects, whilst drumming or singing with Genesis. For this part, we could just give you a roll-call of long gone own brand names like Somerfield Basics, ASDA’s Farm Stores or TESCO Value (but there’s another Lost Hypermarket post in this one).
Instead, our Brand X (or Brand Ex) is Morrisons’ Bettabuy range. With the likes of ASDA, TESCO, Sainsburys and Safeway losing ground to discounters, Morrisons’ answer to Kwik Save’s offensive was Bettabuy. The choice of name was a no-brainer; it was the store chain that Curly Watts and Reg Holdsworth was gainfully employed by in Coronation Street. Furthermore, Morrisons’ Eccles branch (before they moved to a bigger store on the site of the old bus station) doubled as the fictitious supermarket. Plus the staff all wore the ubiquitous blue with white checked overalls.
The Bettabuy brand applied to a limited number of items like baked beans, pasta, bread and tea bags. The name was used up until 2005 or thereabouts when Morrisons purchased Safeway’s UK stores. Morrisons’ cheapo brand comes under the Savers banner. Self explanatory? Yes. Original? No. Still, it doesn’t sound as brash as Bettabuy or No Frills.
Y is for Yorkshire Relish brown sauce:
HP Sauce and Daddies may be the gold standard as far as brown sauce brands are concerned these days. None of which could hold a candle to Yorkshire Relish Brown Sauce. The brand has its roots in Robert Goodall’s Yorkshire Relish, which was thin like Henderson’s Relish or Worcester Sauce.
The brown sauce hasn’t been seen on British supermarket shelves since 2001. If you wish to find it England, your best bet may be specialist Irish shops like The Irish Shop in Coventry Market. In Ireland, it is known as YR sauce and available in shops from Donegal to Dundalk and Cork. Robert Roberts is the present manufacturer.
Z is for Zubes:
To round off this trip around the Aisles of Empty, we look at another cough remedy. Zubes were circular lozenges which came in bags, tins, and – more famously – tubes. Your typical Zube Tube was about four inches long and similar to the tubes you get for Steradent denture cleaner. Its packaging had a red diamond with ‘ZUBES’ in a sans-serif typeface.
Way beyond the shelf life of these lozenges was the Zube Tube toy. This enables you to make out-of-this-world sounds. It is, basically, a vibrating coil that enables you to make weird noises, about a metre long. The first time I saw one of these was on The 8.15 From Manchester, and I fancied one of these toys back in 1990. It would have gone well with my giant purple Crayola crayon money box which I have loved and lost.
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From the Express Till…
Ten more honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut
- Kellogg’s Rise and Shine: the delights of that vile Maxpax vending machine lemon or orange drink for your breakfast table. Let’s face it, Just Juice was several times better.
- King Cup coffee and chicory: before we discovered coffee machines, paying through the nose for milky coffee, coffee with chicory was the proletariat’s choice. One example was Brash Brothers’ King Cup, which had a fairly nondescript taste. Ultimately, Brash Brothers was a tea merchants based in Greenwich and their heart might have been in the leafed beverage.
- McCain mini pizzas: long before the emergence of own-brand pizzas, the 1980s’ pizza lover had a limited choice in the supermarket. One example was McCain’s mini pizzas which came in Cheese and Tomato and Cheese and Onion flavours. They were fine as a snack instead of a teatime staple. The base was like blotting paper with a weird perforated texture. Each pizza was shrink wrapped alongside three others, placed in a polythene bag.
- Walkers Bitz and Pizza: pizza shaped maize snacks with a hint of tomato? A surefire winner, surely? Sadly not, despite a zany advertising campaign in Autumn 1986 which had an adaptation of the Dave Clark Five’s Bits and Pieces.
- Golden Wonder Stix: me too-ism reigned in the world of 1980s potato snacks. Golden Wonder’s Stix, launched in 1984, was a copycat version of Walkers’ much more successful French Fries.
- Lyril soap: for this 1960s soap, the adverts sold us a “lovely, lively, Lyril feeling”. Whatever it was, it made things happen (“then things start to happen”). Though unavailable in these parts, it is still available in Asia where the product is known as Liril.
- WFLA milkshakes: WFLA, with its mid-1980s Max Headroom imagery was aimed at the teen/young adult market. In Tetra Pak carton form, WFLA was available in three flavours: Chocolate and Hazelnut, Chocolate Mint, and Coffee. They were pretty much a precursor of today’s cold coffee based drinks.
- Heinz West End Grill: this tinned convenience food was basically baked beans, sausages, mushrooms and bacon in a tomato sauce. Of similar leanings was Crosse and Blackwell’s London Grill which had bits of kidney in the tomato sauce.
- Crosse and Blackwell Spaghetti-Saurus: in the pre-commodified era of shaped spaghetti product development, 1980s children could have had Spaghetti-Saurus on toast. As you would expect, different kinds of dinosaur shapes. Today, it survives in SPC’s Spag-a-Saurus shapes in Australia: AU$2.19 a tin (equivalent to £1.13).
- Top Cat tinned cat food: due to its use as a British cat food brand name, the BBC had to change the name of the Top Cat cartoon to Boss Cat. Years after its was discontinued, the animated feline take on Bilko was known as Boss Cat on these shores till the 1990s.
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Wish to add another product line to The Lost Hypermarket?
If you wish to elaborate on our 26 discontinued products, or add some more to our list, feel free to comment. Was your favourite Brand Ex item from Morrisons or Fine Fare? Do you miss other chocolates besides those mentioned on this article? Comment away.
S.V., 26 April 2020.