MRS BALLS CHUTNEY – THE TASTE OF HOME
A recent poll resulted in Mrs Balls Chutney being the product most missed by South Africans living abroad
There is nothing quite like a taste of the mother country to bring on a wave of home-sickness for South Africans living overseas. Mrs Balls Chutney is one of those tastes, (not forgetting Chappies, Bubble Gum, boerewors and biltong), just to mention a few others.
Mrs Balls Chutney has a long and interesting history dating back to 1852 when Henry James Adkins married Elizabeth Sarah Spalding and settled in the small village of Fort Jackson in King Williams Town, where they ran a small general dealership. In 1870 Sarah started making chutney, but was not very good at marketing or brand-building and burdened the product with the name of “Mrs Henry Adkins Senior, Colonial Chutney Manufacturer, Fort Jackson, Cape Colony.”
The Adkins’ had 11 children. Seven Sons and four Daughters, one of whom was named Amelia, and who went on to marry one Herbert Saddleton Ball, a superintendent on the railways. They had seven children. They moved to Johannesburg, and Amelia took her Mother’s chutney recipe with her. When Henry retired, they moved to the pretty Fish Hoek coastal town in Cape Town, and bought various properties for their children and their families, all in close proximity of each other. It was then that Amelia started producing her Mother’s chutney on a home-industry scale.
In the meantime, Sarah’s Sister Florence and her Brother Harold were already making and continued to make the tried and tested Adkins chutney, after inheriting the recipe from their Mother. This understandably caused a bit of a furore, as both Sisters and Brother were all making the same chutney recipe in direct opposition to each other.
On his daily trips to Cape Town, Amelia’s husband would take a few bottles with him to sell, and it was on one of these trips that he met Food Importer, Fred Metter. Fred started aggressively marketing the chutney, increasing sales so dramatically, that production could no longer continue from their Fish Hoek home. The factory moved three times, each time to bigger premises and when the youngest Son, Herbert Saddleton Junior sold his share to Metter, sales increased even more. They then moved to Retreat. It remained a family business with the three Brothers retaining their share.
Amelia’s Great Grandson, Desmond Ball, recalls going to the factory during the holidays and working for his Uncle Edward who was the Manager at the time.
In those days, there was only one original recipe. Desmond explains that his Uncle Harry liked flavours with a bit of a bite, and remembers him crushing a chilli and adding it to the original recipe. That is how Mrs Balls Hot Chutney came about. Then Fred Metter, who was still a partner in the business, decided that a milder, sweeter Peach Chutney would sell. It was also added to their line-up.
When the main shareholders reached retirement age, the business was sold to Brooke Bond Oxo, who later sold it to Unilever Foods, and who still own the brand today.
During this time Florence and Harold had sold Adkins Chutney to Warne Bros., who later sold it to Iona Products. It finally went out of production in the 1970’s.
It really all boiled down to clever marketing. The same recipe, the same chutney but different brands. Whilst Adkins Chutney is no longer even remembered, Mrs Balls Chutney is an International household product.
Amelia Ball passed away in 1962 at the age of 97. Her name continues to live on, as it appears on the millions of bottles of Mrs HS Balls Chutney which are sold world-wide.
Today, Mrs Balls Chutney is manufactured in Johannesburg and is exported to the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Germany.