Goodbye to our big red Rosella
How much do you love tomato sauce? Do you squirt it on a sausage, pop it on a pie or save it for your sav?
Most Aussies see tomato sauce – or “dead horse” - as a food group all of its own, perched at the very top of a food pyramid composed of meat pies, sausage rolls, lamingtons and pavlova.
In this country it’s a cultural symbol to rival thongs (the footwear, not the undies), Vegemite, and Iced VoVos.
In The Castle, the tomato sauce takes takes pride of place on the kitchen table (“What do you call this, darl?”), in Puberty Blues the surfie chicks guard their boyfriends’ pies ‘n sauce while they’re surfing, and in Looking for Alibrandi, families come together once a year for a sauce-making celebration.
And so the recent news that one of Australia’s great tomato sauce brands, Rosella, has gone into receivership is nothing short of a national tragedy.
(In a sign of fine industrial mateship, on the same day 100 pie workers from Sargent’s in Sydney also walked off the job.)
We’re all left wondering how a company that has produced one of the great symbols of Aussie culture since 1895 could go under.
After all, the company boasted earlier this year that it sells more than 2.6 million litres of the red stuff annually - enough to make a meal of 160 million meat pies or fill an Olympic swimming pool.
So what’s gone wrong? I rang the receivers, but the Ferrier Hodgson spokesman would only reveal that it’s “too early to say”.
Searching for an answer, I looked in my fridge. One Aldi-brand bottle of tomato sauce. One Dick Smith OzESauce.
No Rosella. Perhaps that’s the problem.
I found further insights in my local Coles. The shelf space was dominated by Heinz and Masterfoods.
Rosella just doesn’t seem to be in the same league as these big boys anymore.
At this stage it’s too early to say what has caused the company to go under. It could be poor sales.
It could be the lack of viability of Australian-made food products, given our refusal to pay school-age children $5 a month to produce our goods.
Or Rosella could be an innocent casualty of its parent company collapse.
Either way, it goes to show how vulnerable even iconic Australian brands are these days.
It’s a sign of the times that in February Heinz announced it was moving its tomato sauce factory offshore due to rising labour costs.
At that time Rosella crowed that it was celebrating “more than 100 years of sauce making … and it’s still going strong”. Well, not for long.
Tomato growers are having the same problems. Except for Dick Smiths, not one brand in Coles was made in Australia with all Australian tomatoes.
Interestingly, Masterfoods boasted its sauce was made with “100% Australian tomatoes”, but the small print on the back revealed it was made from “local and imported ingredients”.
It goes to show that Australian brands can’t survive on nostalgia alone: they need people to buy them.
We’d like to think Rosella wouldn’t be the same if it was produced overseas, but of course few people take the time to read the fine print on the back of the label.
So as we wait for the future of this great Australian company to be secured (fingers crossed), think about your favourite tomato sauce moment.
Mine goes back to my school days, when we would gently lift the top off a meat pie, squirt sauce inside, and then replace the flaky little pastry lid.
We’d then devour our pie, sitting with a large round metal garbage bin between our knees to catch the overflow – a river of squelching, steaming hot sauce and beef (of course, I use the latter term loosely).
This was in the days before the hygienic single-serve plastic pouches when you’d have no choice but to stick the communal mould-encrusted sauce spout deep into your pie and give it a good long squeeze.
It was a deeply satisfying feeling as the pie gently swelled as it filled with sauce.
You never knew what was in a pie, but when it came to the tomato sauce, you knew you couldn’t go wrong.
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