Raleigh Preserving Company is among Australia’s forgotten food companies. Once a popular brand, the company manufactured a range of canned vegetables, soups and sauces under its own name. From 1947, it also produced canned peas and baked beans under the Biddy’s brand. Raleigh ended up (as did so many Australian companies) as a subsidiary of Nestlé and its name, along with Biddy’s, had disappeared by the 1970s.
I became interested in Biddy’s peas after someone shared an old radio jingle promoting them. Then I found an advertisement in the Australian Women’s Weekly featuring both canned peas and baked beans and to further investigation into the brand’s owner, Raleigh Preserving Company. It’s not clear when the company was founded. The earliest company registration I can find dates to 1929, but the record notes that the organisation had a previous life, possibly in Queensland.
Raleigh probably began manufacturing in Melbourne in the early 1930s. From early in the 20th century, preserving companies and soft drink makers regularly ran public notice-style advertisements reminding the public and bottle merchants that the bottles remained their property. Raleigh Preserving Company first featured in these advertisements in 1934. Their first Melbourne factory was in Essendon, but by 1940 the operation had moved to West Brunswick. The new factory advertised for “Girls – for tomato canning”.
The introduction of celery soup to the range in 1946 apparently merited a newspaper article. The Age reported that: Canned celery soup is now being manufactured in Melbourne. Raleigh Preserving Co. Pty. Ltd., which commenced manufacturing yesterday, aims at producing 500,000 ½-lb. and 1-lb. tins during the next four weeks.
In the 1950s, Raleigh began to expand its presence and promote its range. There was already a shed in Pakenham, east of Melbourne, used for shelling peas grown in nearby Kooweerup. In 1951, a factory was constructed and production was moved to the new site. The same year, Raleigh set up a warehouse operation in Ultimo, Sydney, and in 1952 began their sponsorship of a radio program, Rally Round, on 2UW.
At this point the range included tomato sauce, canned peas, beans and carrots, and a range of soups: tomato, celery, asparagus, pea, oyster, mushroom and vegetable. Raleigh was also producing tomato juice and a range of “strained foods” for babies. The Biddy’s brand seems to have been a value-based brand promoted as especially good for children. In 1950, where an 8oz. can of Raleigh vegetables was retailing for one shilling (10 cents), a 16 oz. can of Biddy’s Peas was selling for a shilling and sixpence (15 cents).
The company went from success to success, In 1957 The Age reported that Raleigh Preserving Company had made a record profit, despite export sales declining somewhat. It was, perhaps, this success that eventually led to the disappearance of both brands. In 1959, Raleigh was taken over by Sydney trading company Mauri Bros. & Thompson, who formed a joint venture with the English food company Crosse & Blackwell. The Raleigh plant was expanded to make Crosse & Blackwell products.
In 1960 Nestlé acquired the Crosse & Blackwell company worldwide and bought out the Mauri Bros. interest. The factory at Pakenham was expanded to make Nestlé baby foods and, later, frozen foods. The Raleigh Preserving Company brand was the first to disappear, with Biddy’s hanging on into the early 1970s. Both brands are now deregistered.