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Western Margarine: 1934 Review

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Note: This is an abridged version of a chapter in British Commerce and Industry 1934

Mr. Valdemar Graae requires no introduction to those engaged in the food industries of Great Britain and of the Continent of Europe itself. His personal record of nearly forty years' connection with margarine in England has equipped him with the knowledge and experience that give the utmost confidence in the success of the task he has now set himself.

As chairman of the famous Maypole Dairy Co and director of the English Margarine Works, he has spent his life in the closest touch with both the retailing and manufacturing sides of the provision business. As a believer in an undoubted future for the best quality margarine, he has decided to put to practical test the ideals towards which he considers the industry should strive, and to utilize in the distribution of the products of the company the best type of educative salesmanship.

The company is therefore engaged in the manufacture of high quality grades of the product and in supplying them to buyers under their own special brands. Modern retail trading in quality goods is based on the publicity given to proprietary brand names. These brands may be associated with a manufacturing group, or with large and small distributive organizations, national and local. The secret of their success with the public is the confidence they give, that for no consideration and under no temptation will the standard of the product be degraded.

Unfortunately, in the sale of margarine, price has been allowed to remain in many distributors' minds as the main, if not the only, factor that should be considered, and there have been in consequence almost no limits to the cheapness to which competition has driven manufacturers, at the expense of quality and even genuine value in the product itself. This means that the educational side of margarine salesmanship has been sadly neglected and the public has been left to cherish impressions bequeathed from previous generations—impressions that are now erroneous — that margarine is not capable of rising above the makeshift and substitute phase, whereas in fact, like butter, it can be supplied one hundred per cent palatable and one hundred per cent food value.

It also means that manufacturers, in taking the line of least resistance by pandering to cheapness rather than quality, sometimes even a reasonable claim to quality, have found themselves in the inevitable financial cul-de-sac of having to manufacture and supply under cost of production.

Some courage is therefore needed to risk capital in the margarine market, and especially to utilize it in proving that the public is prepared to pay for a high quality margarine product — as it is already doing, when so disposed, with other products — provided it has complete confidence in the value of its purchase.

Margarine manufacture epitomizes a good deal of the progress that has been made in both the mechanical and chemical sides of modern industrial methods. To take the mechanical aspect first. A margarine factory is run from a central power-house and the individual machines in the various processes are served by their own motors, which draw their power from this source. After refining, the ingredients of the final product meet for the first time in the first set of machinery—the melting tanks. They then pass on to the emulsifying churns. After this, the cooling drums which harden the creamy emulsion from the churns into a dry, granular substance. This is passed in trollies to the rolling and kneading plant, and thence to the final process of beating and salting, which is also performed by another type of kneader.

The margarine at this point is ready for packing and storage, and under the Western Margarine system passes on conveyers to a separate group of automatic machines, which weigh, wrap and pack it in the required sizes, whether in 1-lb. rolls, bricks, or in 28-lb. or 56-lb. boxes.

A separate box-making factory is kept busy in conjunction with the main business, where the latest type machines are capable of taking standard lengths of timber to saw them into planks, cut and trim them into various box sizes and nail the slats together in completed boxes. In addition, the margarine plant itself is duplicated for each process, in order to ensure continuity of manufacture, and the whole unit gives an impression of efficiency and of up- to-date appliances and methods not easily to be excelled in any other organization.

But this mechanized form of production is not the secret of manufacture, since margarine is a scientific product requiring also the technique of the chemist in the transforming of the raw materials supplied by nature and, in particular, in demanding an intimate knowledge of the behaviour of these various materials under different temperatures. For this purpose there is a large and fully equipped laboratory.

When the oils and fats have been refined satisfactorily and freed from all impurities or fatty acids, they are tasteless and odourless; in this state they are introduced to a certain quantity of specially prepared and pasteurized milk in order to produce the creamy emulsion, which is next cooled on the drums mentioned above.

This process completed, and the making of margarine from this stage resembles butter-making, except that under factory conditions the mechanized operations of large machinery units replace the small-scale hand methods of the farm.

Standing in the midst of all these processes, with the oils being pumped through conduits from the refining section to the mixers, with margarine passing, semi- manufactured, on trollies or conveyers to the next group of machinery, it is not possible to detect any odour beyond that of a dairy on butter-making day. Such, at any rate, are the conditions at the Western Margarine factories.

Manufacture takes place under the cleanliest of hygienic conditions, and as every ingredient has an important nutritive value, the final product is in every respect worthy of a place in our daily diet.

The best margarine is neither brittle in winter nor oily in summer. Its consistency, even to the majority of experts, is identical with that of butter, whilst its taste cannot be distinguished from butter of the highest grade.

Western Margarine Limited prepares special lines for cooking and for export. Its overseas connections sprang up almost simultaneously with the beginning of manufacture for the English home market. Consignments made to the special demands of all markets are packed and sealed to withstand tropical conditions of storage and use, and form a weekly export with this enterprising firm.

It should be remembered that in the case of the majority of the Far Eastern and tropical peoples, representing over one-half of the population of the world, the ingredients of margarine have formed part of their staple food down the centuries. It is only with Europeans and Americans of European stock that butter has occupied this position. The prejudices of the greater number of the inhabitants of the world are consequently predisposed to favour the modernization of a considerable portion of their food in the form of margarine.

The potentialities of a vast export trade in margarine should therefore be almost limitless, and it is only by the application of European chemical and engineering technique to bulk manufacture that these vast populations can be served.

An industry that has established itself since 1870, and faced all the criticisms and prejudices of a highly critical public in Europe, and particularly in England, has an undoubted future. With the unremitting study of food values by specialists, we are departing from much of our traditional diet, and in this evolutionary movement the quality of margarine has been raised to conform more and more with the public taste.

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