Back to the Future – ‘Mrs H S Ball’s Chutney’

A short story and a lesson in Marketing, Advertising and Design by Claudia Folgore-McLellan creative consultant at visual 8.

This is one of those stories that’s worth sharing for the sheer delight of the embellished rumour that the recipe survived the SS Quanza shipwreck, off the coast of East London, but this isn’t true an most likely crept in as some sort of marketing spin, somewhere along the way. 

As marvellous as it would be to start this story with such a dramatic intro – we begin with Mr Henry James Adkins who was said to have been the captain of the SS Quanza. Again this turns out to be another fib – he had a more understated profession as a Gonubie retailer who actually purchased the shipwreck for recycling (fancy that!). He married Sarah Adkins and together they settled in King William’s Town – this was where they had their daughter Amelia.

Amelia grew up and went on to marry Mr H S Ball (we’re getting closer to the crux of the story here, enter the brand name). She was gifted the ‘secret chutney recipe’ as a gift from her mother. This precious recipe is believed to have been passed down from mother to daughter for generations in their family. It turns out that this was an invaluable gift in the hands of the now Mrs H S Ball who certainly put it to good use for generations in future to enjoy. Together, Mr & Mrs Ball moved to their new home in Fish Hoek, where the story takes a brilliant turn.

Images from @MrsBallsChutneySA

It was during WW1 that Mrs Ball, in between raising seven children, started making the chutney on a relatively small scale and regularly gifting it to friends and sold it at church bazaars (seven children?! Now if that doesn’t show us her entrepreneurial tenacity in the midst of raising a family, then I don’t know what). Quickly, word spread of how delicious the chutney was and the ‘blatjang’ condiment soon enough, was in high demand (good old fashioned word-of-mouth advertising created a demand for a quality product).

Amelia’s kitchen became the hub of production, she cooked up the piquant, fruity flavoured chutney and her husband filled jars that he salvaged from friends and neighbours.

Amelia was ready for the next step, together with her husband they approached a businessman in Cape Town called Fred Metter. He brought marketing insight to this young brand. He did have a good chuckle though, when he learned that the popular chutney was being bottled in second-hand jars (small mistakes will inevitably happen in order to help you learn throughout your business journey). He advised that they should rather invest in a steady supply of bottles for the product.

So it was here that the iconic eight-sided bottle was designed (brilliant packaging design decision that remains a distinctive element of the brand, over 100 years later!) Amelia didn’t hesitate in coming up with a worthy name for the brand she took pride and ownership of. When asked what it should be called, “Why Mrs H S Ball’s Chutney, of course!” she replied without hesitation. This name is boldly displayed on the oval label that is also still being used on the product today.

“Why Mrs H S Ball’s Chutney, of course!”

With Metter and Company marketing the newly packaged ‘Mrs H S Ball’s Chutney’ throughout the country – orders started rolling in (we all know what that means, great return on investment or ROI).  It worked a dream and the dream just grew bigger from there. Production moved from her kitchen, to a shed out in the back yard of their home and shortly after that, to a proper factory.

In 1932 the chutney received a special acknowledgment by a well-known physician and dietician, Dr C Louis Leipoldt. He wrote, “We have confidence in recommending Mrs Ball’s Chutney as a locally-made foodstuff of great and undoubted excellence.” – in The South African Medical Journal, no less (Reviews and endorsements of your product(s) or service(s) for part of your PR and are an absolutely essential part of the sales process, encouraging new and prospective clients to try your brand).

Some delicious collaborations with Mrs Ball’s Chutney have come about in recent years. Images from @MrsBallsChutneySA

The brilliant Amelia Ball died at age 97 in 1962 and only ever shared the family recipe with her son and grandson – the brand was bought and the chutney was produced from the original recipe by the Brooke Bond Oxo food group in Pretoria. It is now owned by Tiger Brands and still the recipe remains a guarded secret. (Guard your unique selling point or USP, it’s yours, you own it so don’t share it with any likely competitors. In this case the method of how the chutney is produced was the key)

Kudos to you Mrs Amelia Ball for producing a product that people wanted to buy, over a century later, nogal!


If you are a solopreneur, entrepreneur or owner of a retail or corporate business and would like to know more about how you can leverage your brands’ potential, get in touch with me. I am able to offer retainers for clients who have a need for ongoing design, branding or advertising requirements at accessible pricing with payment terms suitable to your budget.

Email me at hello@visual8.co.za and visit my website at www.visual8.co.za

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Safrea or its members.

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8 Responses

  1. And still a product in demand worldwide. Especially by South African expatriates. Wherever one travels you will find Mrs. Ball’s Chutney in the SA Shop or even local supermarkets. When I was researching this very topic I found it interesting that Fred Metter brought “seichel” to the table. That’s a Yiddish word for “common sense brilliance”. This Jewish Genius had a “head for business”, and designed the eight-sided bottle. Combine a great product, brilliant marketing, Metter’s mass production facility, and BANG! I hope that readers appreciate your little recording of important history, Claudia while continuing to enjoy the chutney.

    1. I believe so, Peter – I often see Mrs. Ball’s Chutney listed as one of the most ‘wanted’ products on the shopping lists of my expat friends. ‘Seichel’, now there’s a special word, our world could certainly do with a side portion (or main meal) of that at the moment.

  2. I get ragged for wanting Mrs. Ball’s Chutney on every food I eat. It just adds that extra flavor to any meal . Thank you Claudia now I can tell everyone that it is not just a chutney , but it came from a women with an entrepreneurial spirit .

  3. I put Mrs. Ball’s Chutney in every sauce I make. It also adds an amazing flavour to my mince meat 🙂 I enjoyed reading this, it’s good to know where it originally started. Thanks, Claudia.

  4. Claudia, loved your article! I am a huge Mrs Balls fan, it is only on some desserts that I would not add a dropping of Mrs Balls. I often get bombarded over dinners, lunches, breakfasts and brunches with exclamations of shock for using Mrs Balls on everything – especially from purist foodies. My stock answer: “I would not dare waste Mrs Balls on sub-standard food – it is actually a compliment to your culinary endeavour.”

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