It’s been a long battle, but one seemingly won by a name famous in Sheffield. The potted meat wars dates to the time when every small butcher in the city produced its own version of this very Yorkshire delicacy.
As trends changed, and pre-packaging came to the fore, a handful of Sheffield-based companies survived, though most fell by the wayside, to leave us with Binghams and Sutherlands.
While Sutherlands takes a large chunk of the market, the undoubted winner turned out to be Binghams, producing about 15,000 individual cartons everyday that go out to most of the major supermarkets.
The company’s history starts with the birth of Charles Bingham in 1893, who along with his brother Walter, started trading in yeast and meat, selling products from push bikes during the early 1900s.
In 1914, despite going to fight for the Yorkshire Regiment in World War One, Charles started producing and selling Binghams Beef Spread from his Sheffield home, a recipe still used today.
By 1934, the business had become so successful that Charles built a purpose built factory in Western Road, Crookes, which is still home of the Binghams brand.
Having seen off competitors and fighting for his country again during World War Two, Charles guided the business up until 1969, when he sold the business to Samworth Brothers.
Under the Samworth Brothers wing, Binghams Food became a subsidiary of Pork Farms, although the business maintained its own identity and brand. In the early 1970s, Pork Farms was sold to Northern Dairies, which was to become Northern Foods.
In February 2007, venture capitalist company Vision Capital bought out a significant share of Northern Foods’ business, which included Pork Farms and Binghams Food, and not long after, businessman Peter Moon received a call asking if he would be interested in purchasing the business.
Moon had worked for Binghams Food as general manager in the 1980s, and with his wife Stella, jumped at the opportunity to reacquaint himself with the business.
Despite employing about twenty people, the manufacturing process is geared up for mass production.
The different areas of the factory are dotted around the courtyard where Charles Bingham used to house his stable of cars – the old garage since converted into packaging operations.
The butcher works alone, slicing and cutting the beef according to the production schedule. While there may be a common misconception that potted beef is made from any cut of beef, Binghams Food favours beef flank to ensure quality in their product.
The beef is cooked overnight before it’s removed and sieved into separate pans for stock and meat. Then the meat is transferred to the mincer, along with seasoning, before it’s put through a hydrogenator. The temperature is checked to ensure it is still above 85°C before the product is deposited into pots. The retail cartons then go into the pasteurising oven before moving into the blast chiller to bring the temperature of the cartons down as quickly as possible.
An operator checks every single pot by hand for a correct seal before it is passed on to be sleeved by hand. Due to the space within the factory, a packing machine cannot be installed so all the cartons are sleeved by hand.
These days it’s not just about potted beef spread. Along with the familiar beef and beef and tomato spreads, there are now modern-day favourites like potted pulled pork, BBQ pork spread, and fajita beef spread.