I Thought Heinz Baked Beans Were American

by Paul Simister on April 18, 2011

I was talking to my fiend Lynda last Friday and I was shocked.

Lynda moved to the United States about four years ago from the UK and she said he was missing Heinz Baked Beans because she couldn’t get them where she lived, except from a speciality import shop a long way away from where she lived.

That doesn’t make sense says I, slightly patronisingly. Heinz are a huge American company and they must sell one of their most famous products in the States.

Well it seems that I was wrong.

Heinz Baked Beans (or is that beanz because we all know that “Beanz mean Heinz”) is an iconic brand in the UK (it was number 19 in the UK Top Brands in 2010).

According to Wikipedia, “Heinz Baked Beans were first sold in the UK in 1886 in the upmarket Fortnum & Mason store in London as an exotic import at a high price.”

These days baked beans are considered a staple, an integral part of the Full English Breakfast and an easy and quick snack for lunch or tea.

In the States, things are a bit different.

Again, according to Wikpedia,

“In the United States, Bush’s, B&M, and Allen’s are well-known producers of baked beans. B&M concentrates almost exclusively on Boston-style baked beans, while Bush’s produces several flavours; both use cured bacon to improve the flavors of their products…

Heinz also sells baked beans in the US, but there are substantial differences between the Heinz baked beans sold in the UK and the nearest equivalent American product (Heinz Premium Vegetarian Beans). The American product contains brown sugar where the British beans do not, and the US product contains 14g of sugar per 16 oz tin compared to 7g for the British version (equating to 140 vs 90 calories). The US beans have a mushier texture and are darker in colour than their UK counterpart.”

So while interesting (to Heinz baked beans lovers) what does this have to do with business strategy?

Quite simple.

What are you assuming to know or believe in your market which isn’t true?

My logic for Heinz baked beans was impeccable.

  • Heinz are an American company.
  • Baked beans are from America.
  • Therefore Heinz baked beans are American.

But it was wrong.

Make a list of the fundamental beliefs you have about your market – about your customers (and non-customers), about your competitors and about the wider environment.

Then ask yourself what proof you have that each of your beliefs is true. Look for evidence both ways – that it is true or that it may be wrong.

We live in a word of mental models based on our beliefs, assumptions and knowledge.

What we perceive is real to us. Even worse our minds have a nasty habit of ignoring stuff which conflicts with our own beliefs.

But we can get into trouble if our perceptions are wrong.

And even if it doesn’t cause problems, we could be missing an opportunity.

Many years ago, a fundamental assumption in the banking industry was that to compete you had to have branches in the city and town centres. And that meant a huge financial commitment.

But it wasn’t true.

Technology meant that first telephone banking (with First Direct) and then Internet banking were viable opportunities which could offer a better value proposition to customers for much less cost to the business.

Sure some people still want a bank with a physical presence near them but many are happy to deal with a bank at long distance – over the telephone and the Internet or through the post.

That’s just one example.

Amazon could be another.

Imagine twenty years ago, if you had the ambitious to build a huge business selling books and CDs. Your mind would focus on a chain of shops up and down the country. We know it’s not true and again, the value proposition presented by Amazon is very strong.

Challenge your beliefs and see what insights you can find.

Me? I’ve got to get a food parcel ready for Lynda.

Paul Simister is a business strategy coach who helps small business owners to profit from differentiating their businesses, being distinctive in the eyes of their customers and standing out in a crowded marketplace.

You too can move past your profit tipping point (free report) by answering the seven big questions of business success.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim M. July 25, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Hello Paul:

I came upon your blog while I was actually searching, via Google, for information on Boston Baked Beans.

I recall, as a boy growing up in the 1960s, seeing Ted Williams (“The Splendid Splinter” slugger of our famed Boston Red Sox baseball team, the last player to bat .400, etc.) doing television commercials (what you folks would call “telly adverts”) for either one of two New England-based companies that manufacture Boston Baked Beans–one being the Portland, Maine-based B&M Company, the other the Friends Company, originally based in Malden, Massachusetts..

In those TV spots of the 1960s, Williams used to pitch baked beans and brown bread (B&M and Friends manufactured both products), what were, along with frankfurters or “hot dogs,” once a very Saturday night supper tradition of working and middle-class Bostonians; as we called them, “franks & beans.”

It seems what were once two, local business rivals are now one under the same umbrella company–the Friends Co. was bought out by B&M, which, in turn, was absorbed by the larger food conglomerate B&G Foods. Such, sadly, is the norm in these days of acquisitions and mergers, often spelling the end to more local and regional businesses.

But anyway, I’ve sent a message off to B&G Foods, to see if they may help me track down any info. on baseball legend Ted Williams’ TV advertising for either of the baked bean companies. It would be a gold strike if I could actually unearth a film of one of “Teddy Ballgame’s” old TV “commercials” (as we usually call television advertising in the States)..

Anyway, back to the reason I am writing to you–I think you may have misunderstood the Wikipedia entry on Heinz baked beans. Yes, Heinz Baked “Beanz” (with a “z”) were a first British-marketed product. But Heinz Baked Beans (with an “s”) were first manufactured in the United States, your initial assumption correct that Heinz is a very American company, based in Pennsylvania, most famous for its (supposed) 57 varieties of ketchup (also spelled “catsup,” by some).

Tell me something, Paul–would “Hyacinth Bucket” be eating her baked beans with a spoon or with a fork, at one of her “candlelight suppers?” Or would baked beans be too “common” a dish to be served to the upper classes

Jim M.
Arlington, Massachusetts USA


Paul Simister July 25, 2011 at 7:13 pm

What a great comment Jim and you obviously know much more about baked means than me.

I always assumed that beanz and beans was just a marketing play on words.

You obviously watch British TV and for a middle class snob like Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet for those not familiar with the show) then baked beans would be much too common – too much “transport caff”.

They do seem a popular breakfast accomplishment with the bacon, sausage, eggs etc but I don’t Hyacinth would stoop that low if one of her soirées became an all-nighter.

And if they were served, the beans would definitely be eaten with a fork.


Jim M. July 26, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Hello again, Paul:

I actually don’t know beans about beans. But I know enough about long-standing American products to know that Heinz marketed its lines in the United States first.

But you are correct that the beanz (with a “z) was just a marketing differentiation, for the beans (with an “s”) produced for the States versus those produced for England/The United Kingdom.

Yes, I do love some of your so-called “Britcoms.” In fact, I am now following Clive Swift (the long-suffering “Richard Bucket” on “Keeping Up Appearances”) in his new “The Old Guys” series, which I’m happy to see also features Jane Asher, who I recall was Paul McCartney’s girlfriend in the 1960s, before he met and married Linda Eastman. I also know, of course, that Jane is the sister of producer/singer-songwriter Peter Asher, of Peter & Gordon fame.

I guess knowing all this also makes me an “Old Guy,” huh?

But I am young enough to have also been a punk rocker, and still try to keep up with what’s going on in today’s pop culture, declining though it is.

I also followed the wonderful Patricia Routledge in her post-“Hyacinth” role, in that “Miss Marple”-like series, “Hatti Wainthropp Investigates.” One of my dreams would be to see Miss Routledge perform live on stage.

We’ve still got a few of those great, older actresses over here too–Angela Lansbury of stage & screen, and Betty White of “The Golden Girls,” and Jean Stapleton, who played “Edith Bunker” on “All in the Family.”

Did you receive “All In The Family” in England, either first-run or in syndication (reruns)? It was supposedly, although very loosely, based on a British telly program called “Till Death Us Do Part.”

“All In The Family” put many catch-phrases, and its main character, “Archie Bunker” (played by the late, and really great Carroll O’Connor), into the American vernacular.

In the States, we receive British TV programming through either a cable TV channel called “BBC/America,” or, for those without cable service (that includes me), on broadcast channels via PBS (Public Broadcasting System)-affiliated stations.

The latter is how I watch “Britcoms” and other programming of the U.K., although PBS airs the shows on a delayed basis. However, the fact we received “The Old Guys,” now, almost a year ago, makes me realize the delay is not as long as was once the case.

The “Public” of PBS may imply it’s government-run. But, in actuality, PBS is largely viewer-supported (donations, memberships), and through grants and endowments from corporations, Only a small percentage of PBS funding is from the federal government.

Most of our broadcasting in the States is private enterprise, although government-regulated through the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), since the airwaves are deemed to belong to the public (taxpayers). Cable and satellite service, and Internet programming, is completely free of government control, and, therefore, not subject to editing of adult content (i.e.–nudity, profanity, violence, etc.).

Increasingly, now that I have high-speed Internet service, I am obtaining TV programming from the Web. I just love all the old sitcoms and dramas of the 1950s through ’70s which are available on Hulu.com.

Some day, I still hope to visit jolly old England, when better health and finances may permit longer-distance travel. Right now I’m being watched for prostate cancer, among other chronic issues.

I’m also wary of travel on account of the terrorism situation. I know the places in my own area well enough to circumvent possible trouble, But that wouldn’t be the case in a foreign country. Heck, I haven’t even been to New York since 9/11/2011, and I really love Manhattan.

Well, cheers, Paul! And keep that upper lip stiffer.

I’m still awaiting my invite to that “candlelight supper.” Must have gotten lost in the post.

Arlington, Mass. USA


Paul Simister August 4, 2011 at 8:51 am

Thanks again for your comment Jim although you’re moving away from the point of my blog which was using Heinz Baked beans as an example of making false assumptions without doing any verification work.

It’s so easy for assumptions to turn into beliefs which are taken for granted and accepted as the truth.


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