Goodbye to icon of culture and cookery

It's been a stock cupboard staple in British cupboards since the 1930s, an icon of pop culture and a landmark on the west Norfolk landscape. But the times they are a changing and the Campbell's brand is ending its days both on supermarket shelves and in King's Lynn, where it has had a factory since 1959.

It's been a stock cupboard staple in British cupboards since the 1930s, an icon of pop culture and a landmark on the west Norfolk landscape.

But the times they are a changing and the Campbell's brand is ending its days both on supermarket shelves and in King's Lynn, where it has had a factory since 1959.

Lynn was the sole production site of Campbell's in the UK until 2001 and everyone knew someone who worked at the site, which is synonymous with the brand and now Fray Bentos pies.

But production of Campbell's condensed soup, made famous by Andy Warhol in the 1960s, has now ended and the last tin of soup made by Campbell's owner, Premier Foods, in Lynn will be driven out of the factory tomorrow.


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It is not yet known what is going to happen to the site, but it is likely the tall red tower, which has marked out Lynn for decades, will disappear.

Premier bought the Campbell's brand two years ago along with just a two-year licence on the soup brand.

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It decided to close the Lynn site because it has three factories in the area, none of which were running at full capacity and what was Campbell's soup will now become Batchelors soup.

Darrin Bouch, general manager at the site for the last 14 years, said: “Campbell's condensed has always been produced here.

“It is exported all over the world and to ex-pat countries like Gibraltar and Spain.

“It is an iconic brand but we have to draw a line in the sand and say Batchelors is our future and we need to work on building that brand.”

The Lynn plant produced 20m cans of Fray Bentos pies per year, which adds up to about 129 per minute in full production, said manufacturing manager Colin Avis.

A further 70m cans of soup are made a year, both Campbell's and own-brand labels.

One can takes about two hours to produce from start to finish. Their labelling machine can label tins at a rate of four to five tins per second.

Some 2,000 tonnes of carrots and potatoes, 380 tonnes of celery and 2,500 tonnes of onions a year are used at the factory, among 600 other ingredients used.

“It is hard to appreciate how much goes into making a can of soup, the materials, ingredients. Each different cans have different folds, cooking the soup for the right amount of time, cooled for the right amount of time,” said Mr Avis.

“You don't appreciate the skills needed when you pay 50p for your can of soup.”

The Campbell's site once stretched from the railway line to the Hardwick roundabout. It was the sole manufacturing site and headquarters for Campbell's in the UK until 2001.

There was more car parking, meadows and an area of glass houses.

Karen Stone, the supply manager, said these were run by Dr Gordon McWalter, a tall ginger-haired man who worked on cross-pollinating tomatoes so they were just what was needed for the soup.

In the very early days root vegetables for the soups would come straight into the factory direct from the fields.

Gangs of workers, mostly women, would then sort through them and clean and peel them before they went into the cooking process.

There was even a butcher on site who would make cuts of meat as well as help create stocks for the soups.

And the meatballs were hand stuffed into the cans by workers.

With the packing hall, sales and marketing, there were in excess of 750 people at the site when it first started.

For Mrs Stone and many others it will be the end of an era. She said: “There are still Campbell's people and in 10 years' time they still will be Campbell's people.

“Part of its appeal is that it is a cooking aid. We have produced some fantastic recipe books over the years. One was a tomato soup and chilli cake.

“We used to have a competition every year and winners would have their recipe printed on the can label.”

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