The British favourite has been a staple food since it was first sold at Fortnum & Mason in London in 1886, and H.J. Heinz now produces more than one billion cans every year from its main factory in Kitt Green. Founded by Henry J. Heinz in 1869, the US company has used the same recipe for its tomato sauce since the beginning, but, while the ingredients are listed on the back of the can, the exact spices and measurements have been kept under wraps. In 2016, Gregg Wallace visited the Wigan branch – one of the largest food factories in Europe – to speak to manufacturing co-ordinator Paul Sherrington, who revealed only two people in the world know the combination.
While he was there, Mr Wallace tasted the three spice blends to try and guess himself, with the results being shown on the BBC’s new series “Inside the Factory”.
Mr Wallace said on Monday: “At the factory in Wigan, dried haricot beans have been rehydrated, but they need a sauce and the special ingredients are being prepared in the spice-mixing area.
“The recipe has always been classified and making sure it stays that way is manufacturing co-ordinator and secret agent, Paul Sherrington.
“The ingredients are listed on the label of a can of beans, but because no recipe can be copyrighted, the exact proportions they use are a trade secret known only by the head buyer and the chief quality officer.
“The secret spice recipe has stayed the same since 1896 and is delivered to the factory as three anonymous powder mixes.”
Mr Sherrington took Mr Wallace to the area where the three spices could be seen in big tubs, ready to be measured out.
He said: “This is where we make up the secret spices that make the beans famous.
“No one knows the recipe, only two people in the world know about these spices.
“I don’t know what the powder mixes are, honestly, I don’t.”
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“Paul doesn’t know the exact ingredients either, but he does know how much of each mix to measure out for the bag of sparse.”
Since the show was filmed, Mr Sherrington has retired and has been replaced by David Whiteley.
Mr Wallace spoke to the new manufacturing co-ordinator to ask how the recent coronavirus outbreak has impacted the spice and flavouring supply line.
Mr Whiteley said: “Absolutely not, no, we’ve had good ties with India, and the other Asian countries that have provided with a decent supply chain of spices.
“We’ve had no suffering from a lack of goods and materials coming into the site.
“We always lose a little bit of sleep over something, but that’s not one of the issues we are facing at the moment.
“At the minute, social distancing is a massive, massive challenge and a headache for us all, everybody is enforcing it.
“I can see that the people coming in are feeling a little bit anxious, that is evident in body language and mentally it’s a tough challenge for us all.
“But, if I’m honest, I think coming to work gives us that normal place that we go to.”