Ovaltine: A history
Every now and then, a product arrives on our shelves and stays with us for generations. Sometimes literally (reminder: clean out your pantry), but also in our hearts, minds and memories. Ovaltine is one of those products.
This iconic family favourite has been a part of our lives seemingly forever, but where exactly did it come from? And what has changed since that first tin was produced?
Let’s find out.
Chemist George Wander is investigating the nutritional benefits of malt extract, a thick molasses-like syrup derived from brewers barley, in the hopes of creating a vitamin-rich dietary supplement.
By the time he adds vitamin D, phosphorus, milk, eggs and cocoa to the mix, Wander knows he has a nutritional powerhouse on his hands. Ovomaltine hits the shelves in 1904, winning fans everywhere from the family home all the way to the Alps, where shivering skiers warm up with a cup of this delicious blend.
Ovomaltine is exported to Britain for the first time, and a fateful error on trademark paperwork transforms Ovomaltine to Ovaltine. Whoops. Nevertheless, this landmark moment signals an exciting new era for the product. A manufacturing facility is built in Kings Langley (about 35 kms outside London) and local production begins.
As Ovaltine evolves, the blend is improved again and again, making it tastier and more nutritious. Pretty soon, a cup of Ovaltine boasts Zinc, Iron, Niacin, Calcium, Vitamins A, B1, B2, D and E.
Ovaltine is a pioneer of early advertising, debuting a family radio show called The League of Ovaltineys on Radio Luxembourg in 1935, and writing one of the most memorable jingles of all time (The Ovaltineys, sung by the Beverley Sisters) in the process. At its peak, the show’s fan club The Ovaltiney League boasts a staggering 5 million members.
Ovaltine also sponsors American radio series Little Orphan Annie and Captain Midnight, and fans of the shows clamour for merchandise like decoder rings, badges and magazines.
1939, Wartime Europe
The Second World War sees the closure of Radio Luxembourg, but Ovaltine continues to play an important role in the lives of millions, especially for British soldiers whose ration packs include Ovaltine tablets.
Singer Harry “The Hipster” Gibson asks Who put the benzedrine in Mrs Murphy’s Ovaltine? in his popular (if problematic) song. The song is understandably blacklisted. Whoops.
Ovaltine becomes the official drink of the 1948 summer Olympics in London.
Climber Sir Edmund Hillary packs Ovaltine for his ascent to Mount Everest.
The post-war boom sees the reemergence of the Ovaltineys, both on radio and television. In 1955, Captain Midnight promotes Ovaltine in one of the first advertisements on commercial television. New products also begin to emerge, including PDQ-branded drinking mixes in chocolate, eggnog and strawberry flavours, as well as teething rusks and food products.
Ovaltine fan and spokesperson, Mohammed Ali, greets fans at the Ovaltine factory. The boxing legend charms locals throughout England, using his trademark wit to drop tongue-in-cheek zingers like:
“If I lose this fight,
I’ll be the worst fighter you’ve ever seen,
I’ll blame it all on Ovaltine”
In the film A Christmas Story, character Ralphie is depicted as an avid Ovalteeny, listening eagerly to the Little Orphan Annie radio show and decoding a secret message about Ovaltine.
In lunch boxes across the country, one itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny snack towers above the rest. Ovalteenies, with their tasty flavour, satisfying crunch and iconic character-led advertising, becomes a beloved treat that still gets people talking today.
1996, Los Angeles
In an episode of Seinfeld, Jerry tries out some new material.
“Why do they call it Ovaltine? The mug is round; the jar is round... they should call it Roundtine.”
Ovaltine proudly becomes a Twinings brand.
By now, Ovaltine is not only at home in Britain, the USA, Switzerland, Canada and Australia, but also in China, Thailand, Brazil, the Philippines and Malaysia, with products ranging from powders to ready-made drinks, ice creams, biscuits, chocolate bars and spreads.
Today, here and now
In its 157 year history, the humble mug of Ovaltine has remained a comforting constant in an ever-changing world. We think it’s time for the next chapter in its story.
So, Ovaltine is back in a big way. In addition to new designs for our tins, we have exciting new products alongside classic favourites. Here’s to another 157 years.