Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Hovis forced to abandon nostalgia as UK wheat crop is washed away

Its best-known advertising campaign conjured nostalgic imagery of a long-gone Britain of steep cobbled streets and a young lad in a flat cap doing errands on his push bike.

The famous Hovis TV ad of the 1970s was directed by Ridley Scott and featured Dvorak's Symphony No 9. The revived, nostalgic Hovis TV ad campaign of 2008 featured the young lad down the ages, always reaching for a slice of brown whether the backdrop was the miners' strike or World War One.

But after decades of trading on heritage, Hovis has been forced to move with the times and admit it can no longer stick to a pledge to use only British wheat. The torrential rains of 2012 have pushed up the price of the commodity, leading Hovis to announce that it will be using EU wheat from the weekend.

Hovis parent company Premier Foods has long championed the cause of UK food and farming, and the change has no doubt caused much debate in its boardroom - but it is far from the only food company forced into a difficult position by the second wettest year on record.

Premier Foods is cutting the amount of British wheat from around 1m tonnes to 660,000, making up for the rest with wheat from northern Europe and some from Canada.

Group procurement director Mark Hughes said: "It's not a decision we have taken lightly." And a senior analyst at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board told the Financial Times "we're so far away from normal it is almost unbelievable sometimes".

Label mates at Premier Foods include other quintessentially British brands like Bisto, Ambrosia, Oxo, Sharwood's and Batchelors'.

It also makes Cadbury branded cakes, and this week renewed its commitment to keep making the confections for Kraft-owned Cadbury, including the 'iconic' Mini Roll, until at least June 2017.

Cadbury has itself been forced to move with the times and was taken over nearly three years ago by US food giant Kraft, which later spun Cadbury and its other snack and food brands off into vehicle Mondelez International.

"As good today as it's always been," were the immortal words uttered at the end of the Hovis TV ad. Premier Foods will be hoping that its customers agree, even if it's had to bow to the vicissitudes of wheat prices.

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