1854 Anchor Foods founded

Anchor brand products advertised in 1925

The founder of the Anchor brand was, unsurprisingly, a seaman. Hailing from the Shetland Isles in Scotland, at the age of 26 Gilbert Wood seized an opportunity to become a merchant in the young colony of South Australia. His obituary in The Pictorial Australian gives an account of how it happened:

He came to Melbourne as chief mate of the brig Seaton, of Aberdeen, and afterwards had charge of the Grenada, schooner, trading between the colonies. About the time of the Victorian gold rush he took a cargo of flour to Melbourne on account of Mr. S. White, a miller at Aldinga. In this transaction he showed some shrewdness. The flour had been sold, but whilst it was in the course of delivery he discovered that the firm who had engaged to take it was hopelessly involvent. He thereupon by prompt action managed to get back the greater part of it, which he disposed of again at an advanced rate. In this way he made a capital bargain for the vendor. He eventually took the premises in Rundle-street now occupied by Messrs. Gilbert Wood, Son & Co., and developed by the aid of integrity, shrewdness, and energy a flourishing and extensive mercantile concern.

In 1876, with his son Peter and employee Jame Gartrell, he formed the company Gilbert Wood, Son & Co. and adopted the Anchor brand for many of the dry goods they sold. Over following decades, Wood’s firm is mentioned in numerous shipping reports as a significant importer of goods which were stored in a warehouse at Port Adelaide. As wholesale grocers, Gilbert Wood, Son & Co. supplied other merchants and major institutions including the Adelaide Hospital.

Gilbert Wood

After Gilbert’s death in 1886 Peter Wood became head of the company and was, in turn, followed into the firm by his own sons Robert and Colin. In 1896, Gilbert Wood, Son & Co. moved into a new warehouse constructed in Adelaide’s prestigious North Terrace, opposite South Australia’s Parliament House. The company expanded and by the 1920s had operations in Fremantle, Perth, Broken Hill and Kalgoorlie as well as in Adelaide. The Fremantle operation, opened in 1892, eventually became the focus of the brand and today ownership and operations are based in Western Australia.

In 1925, the Anchor Foods range included self-raising flour, jelly crystals, custard powder, pickles, peppers, bird seed, jams, dried fruits, rolled oats, curry powder and baking powder. The company also blended and packed its own tea under the brand of Wood Son’s. Later additions to the range were gravy mix, prepared seasoning, coffee, table salt and junket crystals.

The company continued as G Wood Son & Co, trading as Anchor Foods until it was acquired by Bennett  & Fisher Limited, Adelaide stock agents,  in 1978. The business remained profitable and was sold again in 1987 to CSR then, two years later, to Best Foods, the owners of Uncle Toby’s. In 1992, Goodman Fielder acquired Uncle Toby’s and Anchor Foods along with it.  An Australian Financial Review article is scathing about the neglect the brand suffered under Goodman Fielder’s ownership, with sales slipping from $100 million to $20 million in 12 years.

Anchor Foods was rescued by Western Australian businessman David Clapin who bought the company in 2002. It now produces a range of vinegars, breadcrumbs and cooking needs under the Anchor brand, along with Lion flours and baking mixes, flour under the Natural Baking Co. and Lighthouse brands, and a range of herbs, spices and spice mixes under the Spencers brand.

Anchor may not be the most prominent name on supermarket shelves or in your pantry but it’s hanging in there and boasts a history few other Australian brands can match.

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