Welcome to the Great British Diet website, a place where the food that has shaped many a Brit's life is celebrated. From traditional fare like Toad-in-the-Hole and Cottage Pie, to those foreign dishes that we have adopted as our own, to those iconic products we grew up with, to the memorable packaging and media of our best-loved brands...all will be discussed.


Feature article:

Country Life Butter

Country Life Packaging

Butter - what a great product: natural, versatile and oh-so tasty. As you might have guessed, I am somewhat of an advocate for this traditional British ingredient and would take it over a spread any day of the week - I'm sorry but, to play on a certain phrase, I do believe it's not butter.

When it comes to buying the stuff Country Life is one brand that has always been a firm favourite due to its great taste and commitment to sourcing from British dairies. However, in the 80s and 90s there was something in particular that helped put it ahead of the pack for me and that was a set of adverts featuring the so-called Buttermen. These yellow, all-butter animated mascots were not only Matt Groening's inspiration for The Simpsons - okay that may be a slight lie! - but they were also very charming with their jolly little song informing us: "you've never put a better bit of butter on your knife". Indeed, it is in perhaps in recognition of their charm and the power of good old nostalgia that Country Life has resurrected the Buttermen for a new picnic campaign.

Of course, an awful lot has changed since the Buttermen's first outing with their new campaign featuring a very 21st century Internet-based competition complete with downloadable iPhone app. However, some things haven't changed in that this is still a great tasting British butter and, for that, it deserves a GBD write up.

Packaging

Country Life Packaging

Country Life's gold packaging instantly sets it off on the shelf and works well to communicate a certain level of product quality. The brand logo reinforces this with a simple, crisp font that nicely picks up on the countryside and natural themes through the working of the letter 'y' in to a tree graphic. Beneath this, 'butter' appears in smaller capitalised white font against a streak of green to mimic grass. The copy 'made exclusively with British milk' appears under all of this to pick up on, what I understand to be, a strong point of differentiation for the brand. This is nice simple stuff with a clear hierarchical design that moves the eye through the elements. Naturally, the branding design is somewhat condensed to accommodate the extra campaign content, but I'll quite happily take a smiling Butterman over a little clutter any day of the week.

Country Life Packaging

Country Life Packaging

Simple and clean again with nutritional information clearly displayed on the right and a bit of brand copy on the left that picks up on the British theme in slightly more depth. To be honest, I have been particularly impressed with Country Life's commitment to British farms and it certainly makes me happier to buy the product - especially when other big butter manufacturers source their ingredients from abroad. As for the underside, the advertised competition is elaborated upon a bit to complete a well thought out design.

Taste

I'm no butter connoisseur and I certainly couldn't testify as to whether or not 'you'll never taste a better bit of butter on your knife', but Country Life certainly does have a lovely creamy consistency and a well judged level of salting. Indeed, a slice of bread topped with some butter is one of life's greatest simple pleasures and, having just sampled Country Life on a bit of toast, I can firmly say this is a great tasting product.

Advertising

Country Life has had some pretty effective television advertising over the years with the 1980s Buttermen reportedly increasing the brand's market share by 15% and, more recently, John Lydon's 2008 endorsement-based adverts helping increase quarterly sales by 85%. Seems like someone certainly knew what they were doing.

 

 

 

 

 

Above: The Buttermen get festive - absolutely love it!

 

 

History

In 1970 Country Life was first hit the shelves courtesy of the English Butter Marketing Company - a dairy consortium established to promote the English butter industry. 1981 saw the Milk Marketing Board invest a record-breaking £1.25m in a television campaign and the Buttermen were brought to our screens as a result. In 2004 Dairy Crest (owners of brands like Vitalite, Clover Butter, Cathedral City and Davidstow) bought the Country Life brand off the English Butter Marketing Company and the brand is now the only leading butter to exclusively use British ingredients.

Web Links

Country Life Website

Country Life Facebook Page

Hot Cross Buns (Homemade)

Watching an episode of 'The Great British Bake Off' promises two things: one, it's going to make my mouth water; two, it's going to make me want to get in the kitchen baking as soon as possible. In this sense, the latest Easter special certainly did not disappoint with a number of very tasty looking recipes from co-hosts, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. However, what really made my mouth water was Paul's apple, sultana and cinnamon hot cross buns. In fact, I was so taken by these that I forwent the usual bread machine recipe I resort to at this time of year - which usually produces excellent results I must say - and adopted a more traditional, hands-on approach. Of course, this is rather more labour intensive than other options but the result is truly magnificent. Indeed, one of my fellow taste testers exclaimed these were the best hot cross buns they had ever eaten and, even though it may seem like I'm blowing my own trumpet, I have to agree wholeheartedly.

Recipe (Paul Hollywood)

Ingredients

Buns:

  • 10fl oz (300ml) whole milk

  • 1lb 2oz (500g) strong white flour (I used Allinson's Strong White Flour)

  • 2½oz (75g) caster sugar

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1 sachet of fast-action yeast (7g)

  • 1¾oz (50g) salted butter (softened)

  • 1 medium free-range egg, beaten

  • 2½oz (75g) sultanas

  • 1¾oz (50g) mixed peel

  • 1 eating apple, cored and chopped in to reasonably small chunks (I ended up using a Braeburn apple)

  • 1 orange, zest only

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

  • sunflower oil, for greasing the bowl and clingfilm

For the cross:

  • 2½oz (75g) plain flour, with extra for dusting

Method

  1. Heat the milk in a saucepan until its reaches a boil then remove it from the heat and leave it to cool to hand temperature (this is worth doing early on as it takes a while to cool).

  2. Take a large bowl and mix together the dry ingreaients (flour, sugar, salt, yeast and softened butter) making sure that salt and yeast do not touch when first put in to the bowl. Add the beaten egg and continue to work it in with your hands.

  3. Make a small well in the centre of the mixture and begin to add the milk slowly. You often won't need all the milk - I didn't - as you want to add just enough to form a sticky dough that holds together.

  4. Add the sultanas, mixed peel, chopped apple and orange zest in to the mixture and work in a bit so everything is loosely worked in.

  5. Flour your work surface and place the dough on to it to start the kneading process. Knead for a good 5 minutes or so until the dough is smooth and elastic.

  6. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled cling film and leave in a warm enivironment (for example, an airing cupboard or an oven set to a very low temperature like 30 degree C) to prove for about an hour, or until doubled in size. The amount of time you leave it will naturally depend on how warm the enviornment is. Mine ended up looking like the following:

  7. Lightly flour the work surface again, remove the dough and knockback for about 1 minutre or so. Stretcth out the dough lengthways, gauge the middle and cut in two. Proceed by taking each half and rolling them out:

    With a cutter, mark each half in the centre and then in to thirds each side of the centre mark - this should give you 12 buns in total. When you are happy with the spacing of your marks, slice the dough to give you your buns.

    Note: At this stage I weighed each of my buns so the 12 pieces of dough were all the same - mine all came to 104g. This does involve taking some time to shift around little pieces of dough so everything is the same but it does help immensely in terms of things cooking evenly in the oven.

  8. Once you have your 12 pieces of dough, shape them in to balls by cupping your hand around them and rolling them in to roughly the same shape. Place each shaped bun on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and leave a small space between them so they have some room to expand but will end up pressing against one another as they rise. Something like this:

    Finally, place them in a warm environment to prove for another hour - again times will differ greatly depending on how warm it is.

  9. Remove them from the oven and turn up the temperatire of the oven to 220C (no fan)/425F/Gas 7. These are what my buns looked like:

  10. To make the cross mixture, take the flour and mix it together with five tablespoons of water in a bowl to form a thick paste - be careful here to not add too much water or will be too wet and runny. Take a piping bag and proceed to pipe a line of paste down one row of buns at a time beginning vertically and then going horizontally. My ok-ish attempt is below.

  11. Place the buns in the centre of the oven to bake for 20 minutes or until they are golden brown.

    Note: I would suggest watching them like a hawk here - especially after all this work - and if they start to brown too quickly on top then get some heat proof paper and lay it over the top so they continue to cook without burning.

  12. Remove the buns from the oven when done. Whilst they are still warm, gently heat some apricot jam in a sacuepan, sieve the jam to give it a smooth consistency and brush the top of the buns with it to finish.

  13. Leave the buns to cool, get some butter - no margarine here please - and tuck in to these beauties.

Web Links:

BBC Food 'The Great British Bake Off' Recipes

'The Great British Bake Off' Facebook Page

PG Tips (Brooke Bond)

PGTips

As I said in my Tetley review, growing up Brooke Bond PG Tips and Tetley were the two brands of tea and it was no coincidence that both were supported by very strong brand characters. In the case of PG Tips it was the rather amusing affairs of a certain group of chimps styled as a typical British family that first endeared me to this brand. Whilst the so-called 'Tipps Family' didn't provide the same level of feel good narrative and warmth that the Tea Folk did, they never failed to make me laugh and I found the whole concept really quite charming.

Nowadays, much has undoubtedly changed about PG Tips but the reason I and, in my opinion, so many others still love it is that, at its heart, it remains the same: it puts a smile on people's faces with fun, engaging brand characters and, most importantly of all, it knows how to make a decent, affordable cuppa.

Packaging

Yesteryear:

(Above: Screenshot of third party YouTube video)

A beautiful piece of packaging featuring the elegant tea lady graphic on the right, the classic PG Tips logo on the left along with the name 'Brooke Bond' - a respectful nod to the creator of PG Tips - and, finally, the smart green banner along the bottom. Everything is kept nicely uncluttered and, in turn, conveys a sophistication and elegance that befits the tradition of tea drinking perfectly. I can't say that I don't sorely miss this age of PG Tips packaging.

Today (2012):

The all-over design of tea leaves, white clouds and blue sky immediately sets the tone by conjuring up notions of naturalness and freshness. This is reinforced with a written description of how PG Tips is "100% natural" and uses only the finest quality ingredients. PG Tips work with the Rainforest Alliance is also touched upon in order to paint a picture of responsible brand that addresses such issues as conservation, workers rights etc. Finally, the theme of taste is also addressed with graphics and an explanation of the pyramid bag design as well as the classic slogan, 'It's the taste'.

Overall, this design isn't a complete departure from that of old: the PG Tips logo looks very similar, the tea leaves still have distant echoes of the tea lady in her field; both white and green still play a primary role in the colour scheme; and the tea bags continue to come, the way they should do, in card based packaging. However, the tea lady graphic is still a big loss as I came to associate it so closely with the brand. Moveover, the respectful nod to "Brooke Bond" has disappeared completely which, regardless of what they wanted to do with the packaging, should have remained in my opinion. Finally, and more generally speaking, I think the modern design has lost that charming sense of sophistication and elegance that was so quintessentially English.

Today (2012 Magazine Giveaway Packaging):

 

Fantastic piece of packaging. Earlier iterations of the modern design very much had that middle ground feel: they had lost that sense of elegance and sophistication the old tea lady designs had about them and moved over to something just a bit too plain and okay-ish. However, with their 2012 magazine giveaway, PG Tips tarted up their boxes wonderfully with Monkey featured centre stage - the tea leaf dotted wallpaper idea was a particularly nice touch - and lots of fun little graphics on the various panels. I still think that "Brooke Bond" should be there in these modern designs but, really, hats off to the designers on this one.

TV Advertising

PG Tips have come up with some gems over the years and, fortunately, YouTube is chock-a-block with their ads. Therefore, I have selected but a handful for your viewing pleasure and suggest you pay a visit to Youtube for more. Enjoy.

Monkey's Christmas Message

Wallace & Gromit PG Tips Advert (2006)

PG Tips 75th Anniversary Advert

A Question of Taste Advert

Chimps at Christmas (1992)

Spin-offs:

PG Tags

(Above: Screenshot from third party Youtube video)

Launched in 1985, PG Tags were simply the brand's regular tea bags attached, by string, to a little tag featuring the classic PG Tips logo.

The accompanying advertising broke away from the popular Chimps format entirely by opting for a more youthful and upbeat presentation. This was echoed in the product packaging which featured the word 'Tags' scrawled, as if handwritten, across the box and an all-over background design which looked like school or office work paper.

PG Tags "Easy as One Two Tea"

PG Tags "Blah Blah Easy PG Tags"

The New Ones

(Above: Screenshot of PG Tips advert for 'The New Ones')

Of course, many UK readers will already be at least partly familiar with this product range due to the funny 'Monkey and Al' ad that's recently been on (see below). For those that don't know, 'The News Ones' represents a range of three teas ('The Delicate One', 'The Fresh One' and 'The Strong One') which have been created by pressing the tea leaves at different stages to vary the strength.

Personally, I am yet to try any of these teas (I'll update this section with text and imagery when I do); however, I have seen the packaging and I have to say it's a bit of an improvement on the pyramid bag one. The presentation is smarter and the colour schemes have been chosen well to reinforce the strength of the tea.

History (see here)

Related GBD Articles:

PG Tips History

Brooke Bond

Web Links:

PG Tips

UK Tea Council

Tea Advisory Panel

 

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