A reproduction I have created of a custard powder can label. This was in use between 1938-1943 that I know of.
I’m just going to keep this story of Self Help brief , so I can do a longer, detailed one later in the year with more images. I’m going to focus on the Self Help brand of custard and jelly; I have recreated the box design of their 1936 jelly crystals from a newspaper ad, and also the label from the late 1930s-early 1940s custard powder tin.
This custard container came up on Trademe as part of a larger lot a few months ago and someone else got it. They probably only wanted the variety of Edmonds tins with it, and had no interest in this one or even knew what it was – however I’ve been able to reconstruct the design from the picture. I’ve never seen another one before since.
Evening Post , March 1942
I do own a couple of 1930s Self Help cook books which are fairly hard to get hold of. They are quite recent purchases of mine – and as such I haven’t really gone through them yet to see what’s in there regarding ads and stuff; Apart from that examples of the early packaging are amazingly far and few between, for what was once one of New Zealand’s biggest and longest running chain food Stores – and spanning nearly half a century. Occasionally a 1949 board game called “Rugger”, which they issued for the All Blacks tour of South Africa, pops up for auction – but they didn’t have a wide variety of promotional items to the extent of Four Square stores.
A reproduction I have created of a 1938 jelly crystal box. I have based the colours on the custard can label. The packaging was different in 1935, and had changed again in 1936.
Self Help was started in 1922 and by the early 1940s there were around 200 stores dotted about the country; but yet again it’s another brand that is unbelievably almost forgotten today. Apart from their own brand stores they had many more that didn’t go under the Self Help name such as Poplar Stores and Fuller-Fulton’s which I covered here mid- last year :
Self Help custard and De-Luxe fruit extract. De-Luxe was another Self Help brand of the 1930s-1940s which also included jelly crystals, culinary essences, coffee, biscuits, coffee essence, and chocolate bars. Evening Post, January 1941.
The business was founded by Ben Sutherland who attempted to create a food co-op for the workers at New Zealand Railways where he worked. After decades with the organisation he was near retirement and his concept was a bit of a gamble to say the least. He found there was little support for his idea and scant interest in the shares that were being offered.
Nine flavours of jelly crystals, Evening Post, January 1938.
Apparently in some sort of conflict with Railways management of over this issue, he ended up leaving not long after – and branched out on his own. In just over a year later he had seven stores and more on the way. The philosophy of the Self Help stores was to sell goods to the public for as little profit as possible, which sounds pretty ridiculous now in a world of corporate fat cats that only care for high margins. As a result the brand was embraced immediately, outside of his former organisation, and became hugely successful.
Self Help store on the west side of Main Street, Upper Hutt, circa 1950. Courtesy of Upper Hutt City Library collection ref P2-162-274
Eventually Self Help was one of the biggest chain stores in New Zealand, just behind Foodstuffs (NZ) Ltd’s Four Square stores. Not long after Woolworths launched their first dedicated food store at New Lynn’s Lynnmall in 1963 and were in the process of taking over the country, they purchased the Self Help chain in 1971 and quickly phased it out – replacing all the stores with their own brand.
Five flavours of Self Help Custard , Evening Post, September 1937.
The legacy lives on today in the Sutherland Trust which has distributed the equivalent of around sixty five million dollars to various charities. Although their endeavours quickly made the Sutherland family wealthy themselves – it’s a rare “feelgood story” of people that just wanted to help others have a better quality life. And it was successful in all respects and continues to be so. Thankfully every once in a while even today there are still people that have that idea in mind; instead of corporate profit margins- a better world for all.
Addendum mid-June 2012: I acquired two Self Help custard ads in the meantime, which I am adding here below. The colour ad dates from 1939, and clearly shows the packaging I recreated above, in use. The second one dates from 1932 and shows an older version of the can.