Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies, as sold in the UK in 2015.
The original Fray Bentos trade mark,1881

The Fray Bentos food brand is associated with tinned processed meat products, originally corned beef and, latterly, meat pies. The brand has been sold in the United Kingdom, other European countries, and Australia. Created in the second half of the 19th century, the name is derived from the port of Fray Bentos in Uruguay where the products were originally processed and packaged until the 1960s. The brand is now owned in the UK by Baxters, which manufactures the product range in Scotland. Additionally, the Campbell Soup Company manufactures and sells Fray Bentos branded steak and kidney pies in Australia.

Current position

The Fray Bentos brand is known for the manufacture and sale in the United Kingdom of a range of tinned meat pies such as steak and kidney and minced beef and onion.[1][2] Since 2011, the brand in the UK has been owned by Baxters, who manufacture Fray Bentos products at their site at Fochabers in Scotland.[3] In addition to meat pies, the range includes tinned meat puddings and tinned meatballs as well as microwaveable meat-based pasta and rice dishes.[4]

The sales of Fray Bentos products, once a staple in the UK and some European countries,[1] have declined in recent decades and, in 2011, it was reported that sales had been flat at around £30 million per year for the previous ten years.[5] Tinned meat products, including Fray Bentos, now have a down-market image. According to the Financial Times, Fray Bentos products "may engender sneers" but they also have a "cult following" in the UK.[5] Baxters describes Fray Bentos as "an iconic British brand".[4]

Campbell's Soup Company manufactures and sells steak and kidney pies in Australia under the Fray Bentos brand name.[6][7][8]


Liebig: 1873–1924

Advertisement for Liebig's Extract of Meat Company, c. 1900
Advertisement for Liebig's Extract of Meat Company, c. 1900

In 1865, Liebig's Extract of Meat Company was founded in Britain by German chemist Justus von Liebig. The company established a factory in Uruguay to manufacture a beef extract product that would later be sold under the name Oxo.[9] In 1873, the factory began manufacturing tinned corned beef, which was sold in Britain under the name Fray Bentos, the town in Uruguay where the factory was located.[9]

Fray Bentos was trademarked by Liebig in 1881 for the purpose of marketing glue and "extract of meat", although, in practice, it was used principally for marketing corned beef.[10] In fact, Fray Bentos became synonymous with corned beef.[10]

Fray Bentos corned beef was targeted at a working-class market.[1] The tins were also ideally suited as army rations as they weighed just one pound and were easily transportable.[9] With the outbreak of the Boer War, the company's profits were significantly boosted from supplying corned beef to the British Army in South Africa.[9] Fray Bentos corned beef was also supplied to the troops in World War I.[11] Its popularity was such that the term "Fray Bentos" was used as slang by soldiers to mean "good".[1] One of the early British tanks that fought at the Battle of Passchendaele was given the nickname "Fray Bentos",[12] because the men inside felt like tinned meat.[1]

Vestey: 1924–1968

The tinned corned beef packaging plant at the Anglo factory in Fray Bentos
The tinned corned beef packaging plant at the Anglo factory in Fray Bentos

In 1924, Liebig Extract of Meat Company, together with the Fray Bentos brand, was acquired by the Vestey Group[13] which renamed the Uruguayan operation Frigorífico Anglo del Uruguay, also known as the "Anglo Meatpacking Company".[1]

Fray Bentos's peak was during World War II.[14] As a supplier of meat to the Allies,[14] Fray Bentos shipped more than 16 million cans of corned beef to Europe in 1943 alone.[15] British soldiers serving in North Africa during the desert campaign called it Desert Chicken. The Anglo factory in Fray Bentos, at its height, employed over 5,000 workers from more than 50 countries to process 400 cows an hour.[15] As a result of the demand for Fray Bentos products at this time the Uruguayan currency became more valuable than the US dollar.[15]

In the immediate post-war years, Fray Bentos products were a staple food in Britain.[5] The product range was expanded to include canned meat pies such as steak and kidney and minced beef and onion.[1][2] In 1958, Vestey began manufacturing Fray Bentos pies in England,[16] and production was moved to a plant in the London Borough of Hackney.[5]

In 1964, the use of the brand for corned beef was significantly damaged when an outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen, in which three people died, was traced to a tin of Fray Bentos corned beef imported from South America.[10][17] The corned beef had been contaminated as a result of the cooling process during manufacture, in which the untreated water used had come, according to BBC News, "from a river into which an estimated 66 tonnes of human excrement and 250,000 gallons of urine entered every day".[18]

At the end of the 1960s, Vestey disposed of the Anglo factory to the Uruguayan government[19][note 1] and, in 1968, sold Liebig to Brooke Bond to form the merged manufacturing business of Brooke Bond Liebig.[23][24]

The Anglo plant in Fray Bentos
The Anglo plant in Fray Bentos


Brooke Bond Liebig was acquired by Unilever in 1984.[16][23] In 1993, the Campbell Soup Company bought Fray Bentos from Unilever's Brooke Bond division.[25] The Hackney plant was closed in the same year and production moved to Campbell's own factory in King's Lynn.[25][26]

Campbell's subsequently transferred its rights to the brand in the UK to Premier Foods as part of the sale of Campbell's UK operations in 2006.[5] However, Campbell's continues to manufacture and sell steak and kidney pies in Australia under the Fray Bentos brand name.[6][7][8] Premier Foods closed the King's Lynn factory in 2007[27] and moved its Fray Bentos production to its factory in Long Sutton, Lincolnshire.[2]

In 2011, the Premier Foods canning division, including Fray Bentos, was bought by Princes Group, but, following an Office of Fair Trading investigation, Princes were required to immediately sell off Fray Bentos on competition grounds.[5][28] It was bought by Baxters, the current owners,[2] who announced that production would transfer to its site at Fochabers in Scotland.[11] The move was completed in 2013.[3]

Baxters since 2013

Baxters extended the Fray Bentos range to include "deep fill" pies (discontinued by 2022) and microwaveable bowl products.[29] As a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns in the United Kingdom sales of canned goods experienced considerable growth, including Fray Bentos which increased sales by 29% in 2020.[30]


  1. ^ The Uruguayan government closed the factory down in 1979.[1] The Brazilian food manufacturer Marfrig re-opened the site in 2008 to produce corned beef, but without the rights to the Fray Bentos brand.[20][21] In 2015, the factory was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Uruguay serves up slice of history". BBC News. 28 October 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d "Fray Bentos acquired by Baxters". BBC News. 18 November 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Fray Bentos production starts at Baxters site". 3 April 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Fray Bentos".
  5. ^ a b c d e f Louise Lucas (31 July 2011). "Fray Bentos slice of history for sale". Financial Times.
  6. ^ a b "Fray Bentos". Cambell's Australia.
  7. ^ a b "The Grocery Guide – Online Directory of Australian Supermarket Suppliers". Retail World.
  8. ^ a b "Steak & Kidney Pie with Puff Pastry". Coles Online.
  9. ^ a b c d John Hartley (28 February 2015). Bully Beef and Biscuits: Food in the Great War. Pen and Sword. pp. 86–87. ISBN 978-1-4738-5490-1.
  10. ^ a b c David Newton (1 May 2013). Trademarked: A History of Well-Known Brands, from Airtex to Wright's Coal Tar. History Press Limited. pp. 218–219. ISBN 978-0-7524-9612-2.
  11. ^ a b "Baxters Food Group acquires Fray Bentos". The Herald. Glasgow. 19 November 2011.
  12. ^ "WW1: The siege of Fray Bentos at the Battle of Passchendaele". The Telegraph. 6 October 2013. Archived from the original on 6 October 2013.
  13. ^ Will Kaufman; Heidi Slettedahl Macpherson (2005). Britain and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History : a Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 1017. ISBN 978-1-85109-431-8.
  14. ^ a b Mark Rowe (17 September 2011). "Uruguay: Who made all the pies? Welcome to Fray Bentos". The Independent.
  15. ^ a b c "How a pie factory in South America is taking on the world". The Telegraph. 4 July 2015.
  16. ^ a b "Liebig Extract of Meat Co". Graces Guide.
  17. ^ "Famous British food scandals". The Telegraph. 14 August 2013.
  18. ^ "Typhoid left city 'under siege'". BBC News. 26 June 2008.
  19. ^ Will Kaufman; Heidi Slettedahl Macpherson (2005). Britain and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History : a Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 1018. ISBN 978-1-85109-431-8.
  20. ^ "Brazilian group reopens Fray Bentos corned beef plant". MercoPress. 4 September 2008.
  21. ^ Tim Burford (9 January 2014). Uruguay. Bradt Travel Guides. p. 311. ISBN 978-1-84162-477-8.
  22. ^ "Why has a Fray Bentos factory been given World Heritage status?". The Telegraph. 6 July 2015.
  23. ^ a b William H. Brock (20 June 2002). Justus Von Liebig: The Chemical Gatekeeper. Cambridge University Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-521-52473-5.
  24. ^ Alan Davidson (11 August 2014). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. p. 507. ISBN 978-0-19-967733-7.
  25. ^ a b "Campbell buying British food concern from Unilever". The New York Times. 11 March 1993.
  26. ^ "Early day motion 1598". UK Parliament. 15 March 1993.
  27. ^ Harry Wallop (20 January 2007). "Premier in the soup over closure". The Telegraph.
  28. ^ "Go-ahead for Premier Foods disposal". Financial Times. 22 June 2011.
  29. ^ Riley, Lisa (26 January 2014). "Fray Bentos gets 'deep fill' range of meat pies". The Grocer. Retrieved 30 January 2022.
  30. ^ Woolfson, Daniel (18 December 2020). "Canned goods: Top Products 2020". The Grocer. Retrieved 30 January 2022.