Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Jif lemon

When was the last time you saw a Jif lemon for sale in the supermarket? Not the brand’s lemon juice sold in a 250ml glass bottle. Not the modern, yellow, texturised, 100ml plastic bottle with the flat bottom to aid stability. I’m talking about the instantly recognisable container that realistically resembles an actual lemon: a great example of a product which can be identified from the packaging alone.

Image ref: AIBDC : 005918
Image credit: MoDiP

Edward Hack is widely credited as having developed the original idea to package lemon juice in a lemon-shaped container in the early 1950s. He approached Cascelloid Ltd to produce the bottle and presented them with what he considered to be the perfect shaped lemon, on which to base their design. Apparently, he had spent a significant amount of time searching for this elusive fruit, exhausting the supplies of Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason as well as the Convent Garden market!

The model was made by Cascelloid’s Chief Plastics Designer, Bill Pugh, who in 1954 hand-carved it in wood, covered with fresh lemon peel. The Edward Hack Ltd. ‘Hax’ lemon juice bottle was one of the earliest applications for blow moulded polyethylene in the food industry.

Image ref: Edward Hack’s Hax lemon juice went on sale in 1954.
Image credit:

However, as is often the case with new designs and inventions, another plastics lemon container was being developed simultaneously by Stanley Wagner for his company Coldcrops Ltd. Manufactured by Shipton Plastics, it was released to the market a year later in 1955 under the Realemon brand (later ReaLem). Although legal action was taken, the case never reached court due to the fact that both companies were subsequently bought out by Reckitt and Colman in 1956, who launched their Jif lemon juice brand using the packaging originally developed by Hack and Pugh.

Image ref: Jif lemon was sold at chemists, grocers and fishmongers for one shilling.
Image credit:

Achieving huge success in the UK by linking their product to Shrove Tuesday with the memorable slogan 'Don't forget the pancakes on Jif Lemon day!' (see 1980s TV advert below), Reckitt and Colman also became forever linked to the Jif lemon through a 1990 court case that set the precedent for the law of ‘passing off’ when a competitor tried to sell their lemon juice in very similar packaging. Despite being associated with the product for almost forty years, the business was sold to Unilever in 1995 for $250million. 

Image ref: 'Don't forget the pancakes on Jif Lemon day!', devised by the advertising agency 
Foote, Cone and Belding Ltd.
Image credit: 

By the year 2000, 80,000 lemons were being manufactured every day in the five weeks leading up to Shrove Tuesday, sold at a cost of just 39p each. At some point between 1995 – 2005 the design was altered, resulting in the modern version being slightly smaller with less surface texture, having a flip-top (instead of screw) lid and a slimmer logo that now includes the wording ‘real lemon juice’ beneath. It also includes the LDPE plastics identification code on the opposite side.

MoDiP has examples of both designs in the collection but unfortunately, our two early screw-top lemons are both unwell and currently reside in the hospital cupboard. As you can see from the image below, there is significant discolouration which we assume has been caused by lemon juice residue. We are going to tentatively ‘clean’ this away to see if the actual plastics material has deteriorated as well.

Image ref: MoDiP’s ‘poorly’ lemons.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

In the meantime, our 2015 example is currently on display in the museum and Stuart Bartholomew, one of our MyPlastic exhibition interviewees, evokes nostalgia for this cultural icon during his childhood when fresh lemons were not as widely available as they are today. Reversely, it would now appear that the plastics lemons are becoming scarce as Unilever have confirmed to MoDiP their intention to phase out production.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer


1 comment: