Argentina - Oxo and Bovril pioneered beef industry

25 Oct 2009



In 1840 concentrated meat extract was invented in London, by  a German chemist named Justis von Liebig.

However as it required 30 kilos of beef to make one kilo of extract, with the price of beef in Europe it was a non starter.

In Uruguay at the time, a young railway engineer also with German origins called George Christian Giebert, read about the work of Liebig and wrote to him.

Giebert was given the license to produce the beef extract at Fray Bentos, on the banks of the River Plate in Uruguay.

A company was set up in London in 1865  named the Liebeg Extract of Meat Company, with a share issue of 150,000 pounds to build a purpose designed  meat plant..

Prior to this, the cattle in Argentina and Uruguay were slaughtered only for the skins, as there was no refrigeration to transport the beef.

From 800 kilos per month initially, the company was producing 500 tons a month by 1878.

The meat was being thrown out for the making of Tallow until in 1878 the first corned beef was produced. This corned beef  which later  became known world wide as Fray Bentos CornedBeef.

The staff at each plant was over 5,000 killing 1200 cattle a day on the ground, in teams of 5 men, on a kill floor the size of two football fields.

Each team has to dress 60 cattle a day, split them with a clever and clean up their area when finished.

The beef extract was sold in glass bottles in the same manner as Bovril today, until 1908 when the first Oxo cubes were manufactured.

The Oxo cube was so successful, they sponsored the 1908 Olympic Games in London, with all the athletes given Oxo drinks for energy. The very first sponsored Olympic Games.

The Liebig Extract company was killing 5000 cattle per week, in Fray Bentos and another 5000 cattle per week in Entre Rios Argentina, all for Oxo and corned beef..

The beef extract company was taken over  the Lord Vestey, beef empire in 1924.

In 1968 the company was again taken over by Brooke Bond Tea company.

 With the sale of the company, came over 2-3 million hectares of farm land and  herds of cattle in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Rhodesia, Kenya and South Africa.

Unilever took over the company in 1984, followed by Campbells Soup, who sold the UK operation to Premier Food in 2006

The Oxo brand is still produced in South Africa  today by the Mars Group.

The name Oxo has been used for children’s games ( similar to naught’s and crosses) and even a racehorse that won the English Grand National.

There was an Oxo family on television every night in England, for nearly 40 years until 1999 suggesting meat recipe’s utilizing the Oxo cube.

Most of all Oxo opened the doors of the South American beef industry, to the rest of the world.

A little cube in a red box captivated  the interest of  every major food company in the world, the previous owners of the brand is like a corporate who’s who.

Happy birthday Oxo.



Bovril used to have the largest neon sign, in Piccadilly Circus London just one word saying Bovril, the sign took pride of place for over 70 years.

They also advertised on over 500 London Double Decker red buses.

In 1888 Bovril was sold in over 3000 pubs and shops in England,  today is sold all over the world.

The beef extract was first commissioned by Napoleon 111  in 1870, as he claimed his men could not march on empty stomachs.

He commission a Scottish chemist named John Lawson Johnson, to come up with a recipe, giving him an advance order and cash for one million tins of the product.

Lawson could not get sufficient cattle in England  so went to Argentina, where the Liebig family were already involved in beef extract business with Oxo and Fray Bentos.

Lawson teamed up with  one Eustaquio de la Riestra, who had a beef plant and was killing cattle for the hides and salting the beef, in Entre Rios.

This was the start of the Argentine Bovril Estates Ltd, who were slaughtering 10,000 cattle per week at the end of the nineteenth century.

In  1910 they had farms that were half the size of England and a herd of 1..5 million cattle.

They opened La Plata Cold Storage Company in 1910, which sold out to Swifts in 1916, however the family retained the trade mark of Bovril and continued with the extract.

Bovril today is distributed by Unilever and produced in Burton on Trent in England. 

Since 2004  they  have used no beef in the extract, after the problems with BSE, the Moslem world wanting Halal beef, while the Jewish world want Kosher beef.

So Bovril today, is made from yeast extract the same as Vegemite in Australia and Marmite in the UK.

Bovril when it was  a beef extract, held the distinction of having Papal approval from the Vatican.

 There was an advertising campaign in the early 20 th Century, run in Great Britain, that depicted the Pope seated on his throne, bearing a mug of Bovril and the campaign slogan ran “The Two Infallible Powers-The Pope and Bovril” its hard to imagine what a coup that was.

Today the town of Bovril, still exists in Argentina, in the province of Entre Rios and has a population of 9,000.Alas the beef plant is no longer there.

 When John Lawson Johnson died, the business of extract was taken over by his son George Lawson Johnson, who in 1929  became Lord Luke.

Source: newsroom -

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