The Growth of an Industry Described to Brentford Traders
The fascinating story of the rise to national fame of the potato crisps – one of the romances of modern industry – was told to members of the Commercial Section of the Brentford Chamber of Commerce, on Tuesday night by Mr C. J. Scott, a director of Smith’s Crisps, Ltd.
Mr W. J. Meyers, Junr, presided, supported by Mr C. J. Scott and Mr C. Elkins (secretary). Others present included Mr A. E. Wiseman (president) Mr A. H. Charlton, J.P., Mr A. P. Ledsham, Mr W. J. Bolton and Mr A. E. Moore.
Mr Paine, of Paine Bros, of High Street, Brentford, was proposed a member by Mr A. E. Moore, seconded by Mr Fensom.
The secretary read details of a scheme called the United Trade Improvement Scheme, proposed by the Merton and Morden Chamber of Commerce. One of the conditions was that members should pledge themselves to give the highest possible service to their clients, and not to give dividends or bonuses other than under the scheme itself. There was a badge involved for which a subscription and royalty were payable.
The matter was referred back for further consideration.
Reporting on what had occurred at the meeting of the London and Suburban Trades Federation, the chairman said there had been a very interesting social evening during which Sir William Perring had given a lecture on his world cruise.
The secretary read details of a report given about the question of exaggerated advertising, upon which the Advertising Association had formed a committee to investigate.
Parking in front of the court
Mr Poole asked what was the rumour that there was to be no parking in front of the police court? A stranger to the town thought it quite a journey to go round to the Butts when they wanted to shop in the High Street.
The chairman said that he personally had been stopped leaving his car there. He understood the trouble was that magistrates could not find room for their own cars.
It was agreed to write to the County Council representatives on the matter.
Mr C. J. Scott’s lecture was entitled “The development of a business”.
Mr Scott said that though potatoes were one of the oldest forms of food, crisps were a modern idea, which originally came from France where they were served with game as in this country. They were originally marketed in packets in England in 1913, but not developed. Mr Smith, who had been associated with that early move, could see the possibilities, and in 1920 started in business with a capital of £10,000 although only £6,000 was actually used. They started in a small shed in Cricklewood. The Smith’s trademark, with the large “IT” was developed by an invalid friend of Mr Smith, and soon became widely known.
He explained the difference between the various sorts of potatoes and how some would not chip at all. There were only three or four varieties of potatoes that could be used in their business. The quality of the product depended on the potatoes, and they knew something about them for they used 36,000 tons a year. As far as possible they used an English potato, but at certain times they had to import potatoes because the English ones were not suitable. Last year though, they had 83 farmers in England growing a special potato from an imported seed under contract, which showed a profit to the farmers – who had previously got very low prices – and was economic to the firm. They were now trying to contract for 1,000 acres of land in Cornwall, which would also help them to stop importing.
Of the oil in which the crisps were cooked, he said it was the finest ground nut oil made from Empire nuts.
Their first week’s production was 2,646 tins, he said, and the previous week – in the quietest time of the year – it had been 119,000. They had begun with a staff of 12, and now had one of 3,000, and would soon be increasing that.
He explained the development from the hand slicing of potatoes to the modern and elaborate machines. All cooking was done by gas, and they were the second largest consumers of gas on the Gas Light and Coke Company’s books. The crisps were packed by hand in the old days, and they still were, for no machine could pack so regularly or with so little breakage as the girls could do it.
The little screw of salt, he said, might seem a small thing, but if they ever sent a packet out without it, someone spent a 1½d stamp to write in about it. (Laughter.)
Girls had previously been employed to wrap the salt, but now they had 15 machines, each costing £750, to do that job.
Within the first twelve months they had had three factories over England, and they had become national as soon as possible, which facilitated distribution a good deal. The cost from one centre would have been almost impossible, and though decentralisation had increased overhead costs, it had been of great advantage for distribution and as an advertisement. Whenever possible they chose arterial roads. There would be just on 20 places all over the country of their own, and their vans were recognised all over the roads of England.
They had had records of 115 competitors since they had started, and now he supposed there were about 15 or 20. They had never attempted to kill competitors by price-cutting or anything like that, but as production had increased they had been able to reduce prices to the retailers and to the wholesalers.
They made a special point of service, and to-day they had 150 vehicles, including 20 saloon cars for the travellers. He explained that they had hardly any postal orders coming in, as the drivers each had their round and each used their own discretion to a large extent, and some fine tributes had been paid.
The founder of the firm was still there, and the first man who cooked crisps for him was works manager at Brentford today.
He said that ridicule had nearly killed the business at first, but that was long past. Crisps had a high food value, for it must be remembered that 80 per cent of a potato was water which of course disappeared under the process, so that they could only use 20 per cent. of their raw material. The starch content was broken up, which meant that people who could not eat ordinary potatoes could eat crisps with safety.
“If all the packets we have produced this year,” he said, “were placed end to end they would reach 15,909 miles. The value of the company today on the Stock Exchange is worth over one and three-quarter million pounds.”
Mr Martin thanked Mr Scott, and Mr Charlton proposed a vote of appreciations, saying that it was obviously a business that well deserved the success that had attended it. He thought their business could be looked upon as a national asset.
Mr Bolton seconded these remarks, saying that the success of the business was a benefit not only to those concerned in it but to the rest of the country.
The County of Middlesex Independent, Saturday 2nd November, 1935