Interviews

Buying up Britain: British household names that aren't actually British

5 min read

17 April 2013

Branston Pickle, Boots, and even Heathrow are all part of a long line of British brands that have filed for residency in foreign countries.

When visiting a foreign country for the first time, we all want to taste the local food and visit shops we don’t normally see at home. Those wanting the British experience find themselves riding double decker buses, visiting Selfridges and Harrods and having tea and scones at the Savoy hotel in London.

But how much of the British economy actually belongs to the UK? Take transport, for example. The airport most tourists land in, Heathrow, is owned by Spanish company Ferrovial. Arriva busses are owned by Germany’s Deutsche Bahn. 

But it doesn’t stop there. Boots has gained dual nationality status, being co-owned by Italian billionaire Stefano Pessina and US drugstore company, Walgreens. Selfridges is owned by Canadian businessman Galen Weston, and Harrods has become one of many buildings in London to be owned by Qatar Holding. In 2005, the Savoy was purchased by prince HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin AbdulAziz Alsaud of Saudi Arabia.

When we think we’re being quintessentially British by drinking Tetley’s tea from a Wedgwood cup and snacking on a cheese and pickle or jam sandwich, we’re far from the truth. Wedgwood was purchased by US KPS Capital in 2009, and Tetley is owned by India’s Tata Group. The Tate & Lyle sugar you used to sweeten your tea – including the Lyle’s Golden Syrup brand – has been owned by American Sugar Refining since 2010. Branston Pickle was recently gobbled up by Japanese firm Mizkan. Robertsons marmalade and Hartley’s jam were sold to an American firm, Hain Celestial, in a £200m deal.

In fact, to date, we’ve sold more than half of our assets to foreign owners. This just comes to show that unlike most countries who fiercely hold onto their brands, Britain promotes free trade. So, one of Britain’s great strengths lies in its openness and ability to absorb the best of different cultures. 

Here are six other brands that, through passing onto foreign hands, have made the UK truly diverse:

1. Rowntrees

New nationality: Swiss

In 1969, companies Rowntree and Mackintosh merged to create a confectionary business in York called Rowntree Mackintosh. Nestlé acquired the company in 1988 in a controversial battle as Nestlé was protected from similar takeover attempts under Swiss law. Eventually, the founding names were lost in history. Rowntree’s name was only included on Fruit Pastilles and Fruit Gums, while the Mackintosh’s remaining legacy is Mackintosh Toffee.

2. Asda

New nationality: American

Archie Norman, Asda’s CEO in 1991, fashioned the store on the basis of Wal-Mart. Thus, when Wal-Mart – who wanted to enter the UK market – bought Asda in 1999 for £6.7b, it seemed only fitting. Wal-Mart sold Asda to Corinth Services Limited in 2009. As Corinthe is a subsidiary of Wal-Mart, however, Asda still remains under Wal-Mart’s thumb.

3. Orange

New nationality: Dual nationality of French and German

Orange was first acquired by the German company, Mannesmann AG, in 1999. Shortly thereafter, Orange was bought by Vodafone. In 2000, however, Vodafone sold Orange to France Télécom – who adapted the Orange name – because EU regulations wouldn’t allow the company to hold two mobile licenses. Since 2009, Orange and Deutsche Telekom’s T Mobile, merged to become EE.

4. Ty-phoo

New nationality: Indian

In 1968, Ty-phoo merged with Schweppes. and the following year with Cadbury (now owned by American company Kraft Foods), becoming Cadbury Schwepps. Ty-phoo – subject to management buyout – formed Premier Foods. In 2005, the Apeejay Surrenda Group, an Indian company, purchased numerous tea brands – including Ty-phoo – from Premier Foods.  

5. Scottish and Newcastle

New nationality: Duel nationality of Danish and Dutch

In 2007, a joint proposal to buy the company by Carlsberg and Heineken, was rejected. The board viewed the offered amount as a significantly undervalued worth of the Scottish and Newcastle Group. The next month, Carlsberg and Heineken upped the stakes with a larger sum, finally purchasing the company in 2008.

6. British Energy

New nationality: French

British Energy was once Britain’s largest electricity generation company. It was purchased in 2009 by Électricitéde France (EDF). What followed were at least 17 months worth of duel branding, before it finally went from British Energy Generation Limited to EDF Energy Nuclear Generation Limited in 2011.