No kitchen store cupboard looks complete without a dash of mustard. From Norfolk to the South Pole via Nigella’s handbag, here’s the story of that brilliant, beautiful yellow…
In real life (as opposed to showrooms), kitchens aren’t empty: they’re full of stuff…But stuff can be beautiful! In our new blog series we’re celebrating the remarkable brands and underappreciated artists who fill our kitchen cupboards with visual beauty, through brilliant packaging design.
And where better to start than in our home county of Norfolk, and the unmistakable yellow of Colman’s Mustard…
When we wanted something in glorious, vibrant yellow to help decorate our artist’s kitchen (above), there was really only one choice. ‘Iconic’ is an overused term, but if it applies to any British brand, then it surely does to the timeless, instantly-recognisable packaging of Colman’s Mustard.
The condiment has been adding a dash of spicy heat to Britain’s favourite dishes, from cheese on toast to roast beef, for over 200 years. And, in an ever changing world, Colman’s Mustard packaging has stayed true to its origins. On the jars, tubes and especially the famous boxy tins of English mustard powder, you can still find clues to the Colman’s story.
The trademark bull’s head is a symbol of tradition and quality, dating from 1855. The bold red and black lettering and the elegant black script date from 1866, when Queen Victoria granted the company a Royal Warrant. Around the tin you’ll find the Legion of Honour gold medal, awarded to Colman’s in Paris in 1878, along with the traditional mixing instructions and recipe hints.
And of course, there’s that wonderful, sunny yellow – a proof that Colman’s understood the power of ‘brand recognition’ long before the concept gained a name.
Colman’s Mustard: a potted history
The Colman’s of Norwich® story begins all the way back in 1814, when Norfolk flour miller, Jeremiah Colman, bought a mustard manufacturing business by the River Tas, near Norwich. Nine years later, his nephew, James, joined him, with the business eventually passing in 1851 to James’s son, aptly named Jeremiah James Colman. By this time, Colman’s was employing over 200 people in Norwich, had opened a branch in London, and was moving its factory to larger premises in Norwich’s Carrow district.
Colman’s spread was rapid. To keep up with customer demand, mustard seed was sourced from across the country and then from Holland. In 1866, Queen Victoria granted the company a Royal Warrant, a regal tradition that continues to the present day. By 1869, the workforce was 1,100 strong and in the 1880s Colman’s branches opened in Australia, India and Latin America.
Jeremiah James was something of a philanthropic visionary; he was as committed to the welfare of those who worked for him as he was to producing high-quality products. In this, he followed the example of his mother, Mary, who had set up a Colman’s clothing club, a school for employees’ children, and a night school. There was an on-site kitchen providing hot meals for staff, and company doctors and nurses were on hand to attend employees who were unwell. This also made sound business sense: company workers stayed loyal, and it was common for several generations of the same family to work for Colman’s.
Crime writers and Mustard Clubs: building the Colman’s brand
The company recognised the commercial value of strong branding from the outset, investing in well-planned and memorable advertising and marketing campaigns, aimed at all ages and all income groups.
In the 19th century, for example, Colman’s commissioned Royal Doulton to make branded ceramic mustard pots exclusively for restaurants. Enamel brand signs were displayed in shops, towns and cities across the UK and beyond. From 1900 to 1939, the company supplied custom-made cabinets to schools nationwide — to demonstrate the ingredients used in Colman's products.
In the 1920s, while establishing herself as one of Britain’s best known writers of crime novels, Dorothy L Sayers worked on the Colman’s account with legendary billboard artist John Gilroy for S H Benson’s advertising agency. They developed the concept of ‘The Mustard Club’ a brilliantly successful campaign, with its first posters (“Has father joined the Mustard Club?”) appearing on buses. At its height, the Mustard Club was attracting 2,000 applications a day.
From the South Pole to Nigella’s handbag…
In 1901, a tonne and a half of Colman’s Mustard accompanied Captain Scott on his first expedition to the Antarctic, on board the Discovery. Captain Scott complimented Colman’s not only on the “entirely satisfactory” quality of its products, which the company had donated, but also the “careful packaging”. And in 1907, Colman’s Mustard was off to the South Pole again, included in Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition essentials on the Nimrod (spot the Colman’s products in our post on Shackleton’s Cape Royds base kitchen here.)
Over the years, there have been changes to the company itself, which is now owned by Unilever, but Colman’s Mustard can still be found in every sort of kitchen and around the world, working its way into many different national cuisines. Over two centuries since it was first made, it seems that millions of us still find its strong, spicy kick irresistible. Colman’s Mustard gets its own entry in both Nigel Slater’s Eating for England and Peter Astley’s Unmitigated England.
Nigella Lawson never leaves home without it, as this 2018 Good Housekeeping article revealed: “…I always travel with a tube of Colman's. At home in my kitchen, I have it in two forms: powder and as-made mustard in a jar, to cook with and to splodge brightly on the plate when I eat.”
Colman’s Mustard remains one of those much-loved food products that is impossible to imagine without its famous packaging - and let’s face it, no kitchen store cupboard is complete without a dash of that wonderful yellow.
See more about how Naked Kitchens built our four extreme bespoke kitchens – including the Colman’s-filled artists kitchen – here.