Archive for the ‘Cereal’ Category

The Bugle Boy of Company F: Creamoata and Sergeant Dan

In Bluebird Foods Ltd, breakfast, Cereal, Champion Flour, Chandler & Co, Charlotte Lilian Lawlor, Cream O' Groats, Creamoata, Doctor's Cream O' Groats, Fleming & Co, Fleming & Gilkinson, Fleming and Company Limited, Fleming Gray and Company, Goodman Fielder, Milk Oaties, Nestlé, Northern Roller Mills (NRM), Oatie-Nuts, Sergeant Dan, Sergeant Dan's Stockfoods Ltd, Snowball Flour, Sweet Heart O' Wheat, Thistle Oatmeal, Thomas Fleming, Uncle Toby's on July 25, 2012 at 10.46

I purchased these scraps of a disintegrating Fleming & Co “Milk Oaties” box from one of my favourite dealers . He always comes with the most incredible stuff – I have no idea where he finds it (and I wouldn’t dare to ask). I have only seen one before in the last five years that I can recall – it was whole but faded. Any of the original Fleming boxes usually sell for a competitive price since the chances anyone would keep one for decades is highly unlikely – and means they are rare and desirable examples of early New Zealand packaging.
Anyway, nobody else looking at this would bother, but I could see the potential to patch it back together digitally and restore it and so it was won for a nominal price with no interest at all from other parties. According to my database this design was definitely in production between the years 1938 to 1941 – probably a little earlier, as well as later.

Thomas Fleming (1848-1930) is now considered the major pioneer of the milling industry in New Zealand. His parents arrived to New Zealand from Scotland in 1862 with several children and another on the way.
Although he initially had jobs in other fields, such as gardener and cowboy, – around 1870 whilst visiting his brother in Oamaru on the lower west coast of the South Island, he got a job harvesting, in the wheat industry in nearby Totara.

Late 1950s- early 1960s interpretation of Sergeant Dan from a Happy Families card game set issued by Four Square.  


Quickly progressing to working in the company’s Kakanui Mill (another source says it was Maheno Valley flourmill, now a well-known heritage building standing as Clark’s Mill ), he had the foresight of great opportunity and had subsequently roped his brother in before the year was out to learn the milling trade with plans for great future success.
His vision was true – within three years he had been promoted to manager. In 1875 he left to manage another mill owned by a certain John Murdoch situated in Invercargill, and no more than a year later he found himself – with his new partners, the freshly formed Fleming Gray and Company – the owner of it. Not long passed before not only were they bringing some serious competition to the local industry – but they were also buying up smaller mills for their market share.

Advert from a Self Help Co-op cookbook 1939, showcasing the range of Fleming & Co products of that time.


By 1879 they had purchased their first major mill which was to become the original landmark of the brand. Now known as the “Former Fleming & Co Flour Mill“- it is situated on the corner of Conon and Tyne Streets. His brother in law (Peter Lindsay Gilkison, 1846-1924)  joined him in 1882 to form Fleming & Gilkinson. When the mostly wooden structure burned down in 1889 it was rebuilt as a four story brick building with improved technology, such as its own electrical generator to run the more efficient new machinery – while their other major mills in Gore, Winton and Mataura kept up the production load until things were back in order. This building still stands today:


Fleming & Co Creamoata Oat Mill in Gore, the Fletcher Trust Archive, 9204P-94.


Like the story of many phenomenal industry successes, the entrepreneurial Fleming had a keen interest in innovative technology and marketing – and took many lengthy trips abroad to investigate these aspects. With the completely modernised plant the company was now producing the whitest, finest flour on the market – not mention the most. The combined wood of the building, the heat of the machinery and production as well as the flour dust were a combustible recipe for disaster but out of the flames was borne the cement of Fleming’s empire.
By this time, having wiped out all competition – they were the only operating flour mill in the area, having eventually bought out all the others, and shut down many of the smaller ones; and oat production was relegated to Gore where it remained hereon for well over the next century.
In 1902 Fleming bought out Gilkinson who went on to establish Southland Frozen Meat Company – and became Fleming and Company Limited. , consisting of himself, his son-in-law John Rennie, who in his own right was a serious player in the industry as manager of the local branch of the New Zealand Flour Millers’ Association; and also William Fleming, (1881-1927), one of his sons.

Fleming’s advertisement for the Thistle brand oat products, September 1936.


In 1912 Fleming retired and sold his shares in the firm to his sons Andrew, William (and possibly another son Herbert) Fleming as well as partner and relative Rennie. Because the brand was by now a household name subsequent owners over time wisely kept the Fleming name.
However it’s the later, much-photographed lemon-coloured Creamoata Mill that gained iconic status with its mascot emblazoned on the side for all to see. Although the earliest parts of the Gore oat-focussed mill had their foundations in 1893, Fleming extensively rebuilt the newer building emblazoned with the Sergeant Dan character in 1919, probably in relation to their hugely successful new invention Creamoata being released the year previously, and the structure, now known as the “Creamoata Mill Complex”, still stands today with a Category I heritage listing.


Fleming promotion included secreting illustrated, collectible recipe cards in the boxes of Milk Oaties and Sweet Heart O’ Wheat, 1933


Creamoata was of course the most famous and successful of all their products, and seems to make its first appearance 1909 – it was a finely ground rolled oats product which produced a creamier variety of porridge – an instant hit for the morning meal. It was supposedly considered the “national breakfast” as claimed on their packaging for decades (debatable – many may say that title is owned by Weet-Bix which was around in Aotearoa almost as long) however over the years Fleming produced and marketed many brands including self-named Fleming wholemeal and white flours, Thistle brand rolled Oats and Oatmeal, Breakfast foods and cereals such as Cream O’ Groats, Milk Oaties, Oatie-Nuts and Sweet Heart O’ Wheat (a semolina product also popular for desserts), and the Snowball brand wheatmeal and white flours. Doctor’s Cream O’ Groats was another that was likely a short-lived product of the 1940s.

Creamoata advertisement, Evening Post, March 1933


The origin of Sergeant Dan is apparently well documented. By the early 1900s New Zealand writer Charlotte Lilian Lawlor was working in advertising copy and design. It wasn’t until around 1913 when she moved to Auckland to work for agency Chandler & Co, that she was eventually in a position to be handed the Fleming & Co Creamoata account – and seemingly in the very early 1920s came up with the idea of the little character to bolster sales of the product. However  as early as 1915 he appears in a newspaper advertisement with one of his signature chirpy poems, so from then on the boy soldier with a big appetite for porridge became the mascot, and was plastered on various merchandise from board games to bowls – of which there is a series of him participating in different types of sports – now highly collectable and the rarer ones going for quite high prices amongst collectors:
“Breakfast tables throughout the nation were presided over by Sergeant Dan, the Creamoata Man. With his digger’s hat, he was the picture of what a plate of porridge could do for a kid. And when you got to the bottom, if you had one of the special plates, there was Dan himself, grinning all over.”

Front of a Creamoata box circa 1950s with the more human version of Sergeant Dan as a boy scout.


According to the Historic Places Trust, Sergeant Dan is “as well-known an image in popular culture as Buzzy Bee or an Edmonds Baking Powder tin”. I don’t know if that is true. I don’t recall him at all to be honest – and he may possibly be up there in Kiwiana Icons for Baby Boomers but I doubt that generally he would rank into the top ten amongst thongs, pavlovas, fern leaves and the odd brand name food items that would make it in like Tip-Top, for example. However Creamoata per se was well enough known that it was issued as an eighty cent stamp by NZ Post within their “Millenium Series” under a sub-category of six “Food Nostalgia” designs.

The Creamoata  Mill Complex today is owned by a new company making stockfoods under the Sergeant Dan mascot.


The last Fleming family members disposed of their interests in the company in 1953 and the business was sold to Northern Roller Mills (NRM) which later became part of Champion, another older mill company going back to at least the 1890s which had become a subsidiary of Wattie’s.

An early version of Sergeant Dan, probably in the 1920s not long after Charlotte Lilian Lawlor created him. 


I certainly remember Fleming products in the kitchen cupboards at home into at least the late 1970s for morning porridge; in particular packets of Thistle rolled oats – with a Highlander emblazoned on it – I think it was a blue, green, pink and white print on clear cellophane wrapper.

An Australian version of Creamoata signage. Apparently this one in Carlton, Melbourne was painted owner by the new owners of the building not long after this photo was taken.


Production was shifted overseas under the Uncle Toby’s brand when Goodman Fielder stepped into the picture and took over from Nestlé in 2006 – up until this time the products had continued to be manufactured domestically in Gore. In late 2008 they confirmed that Creamoata was going to be off the shelves by early 2009 when stock ran down.

Fleming’s “Stirring Times” recipe booklet, 1927. Alexander Turnbull Library collection, B-K 879.


The only remnants of the Fleming brand remaining today, besides the mill buildings, is a line of health snack bars under the name which have been marketed since the 1980s – and at this time under the auspices of the Bluebird company.

The tennis version of another well-known Creamoata promotional  campaign – there were several Sergeant Dan sports activity plates to collect.


”“Now he is a full grown man, But there’s still a Sergeant Dan!
Just like Dan in years gone by – Quick of wit, alert and spry!
“I advise,” he loves to say, “Some Cweamoata every day!

 Creamoata  advertisement, probably circa early 1960s, shows Sergeant Dan has disappeared. Ref Eph-C-THORP-03, Alexander Turnbull Library collection.


I’m not sure what era this jingle was from – but the indication of “growing up” probably interprets the period when Sergeant Dan morphed into a more adult, realistic boy scout in the fifties and, then slipped off the packages for good probably sometime by the mid 1960s to be relegated to history. Not entirely though – Sergeant Dan’s Stockfoods Ltd now occupies the later factory and make horse and calf food under the branding of the character.

Creamoata eighty cent stamp by NZ Post within their “Millenium Series ” under a sub-category of six “Food Nostalgia” designs, issued in 1999.



Healthy Curiosity

In Betta Peanut Butter, Cereal, Grain Products Ltd, Granose, Health Food, Instant Drinks, Kwic-Bru, Marmite, Sanitarium Health Foods, Spreads, Weet-Bix on November 26, 2011 at 10.46

Sanitarium was founded in 1898 in Melbourne with its background in the Seventh Day Adventist health food movement from the U.S.A’s Battle Creek Sanatorium where the Kellogg brothers (yes, those ones) were creating the first specifically vegetarian “health” products.
The company claims that its “flagship product Weet-Bix is a top seller in the Australian and New Zealand breakfast cereal market”. The sales figures may well speak for themselves, however this is not an accurate statement since Sanitarium did not buy the Weet-Bix brand until 1928 from Leichardt, Sydney company Grain Products Limited. They claim that their early product Granose is a forerunner to it, but the truth is that they developed quite separately – even if they do have their roots in the same religious movement.

Sanitarium’s Betta and Marmite competition, Evening Post, September, 1938 

The Weet-Bix story is in fact so complicated it’s going to have to be its own separate post at some point further down the track. It’s a convoluted history that still doesn’t seem entirely clarified; with a great deal of confusion surrounding the origins and history of their most famous product , and who was actually responsible for supposedly “inventing” it. It also doesn’t help that Sanitarium is another one of those “crossover” trans-Tasman brands I’ve written about in the past like Woolworths and Frosty Boy; same brands, fairly separate histories for the most part – in this case although they have the same parent company Sanitarium is split into two – the Australian Health and Nutrition Association Ltd and New Zealand Health Association Ltd.

The Betta jar full of buttons is ‘from the collection of Owaka Museum, Wahi Kahuika, The Meeting Place “a rest on your journey”‘ Object number CT81.1554f.  The jar lid below was up for auction a while back.

The  actual proponent of Sanitarium products was a man named Edward Halsley who started making Granola, Granose and Caramel Cereal (a coffee substitute). He had learned his trade under the Kelloggs. The company was officially registered as a trademark in 1898 – however by 1900 Sanitarium had transferred him to New Zealand to begin manufacturing its products in a wood shed in Papanui, outside of Christchurch.
From the 1920s Sanitarium opened a chain of Health Food shops in both countries selling their products exclusively – these closed down in the 1980s. Looking at the products over the years it’s really interesting to discover how early Sanitarium started manufacturing Products like vegetarian sausages and burgers and the like – much earlier than you would think, in the mid 1950s in fact – and products like nut meat were being manufactured in the 1920s onwards – I believe Nutolene is still available, amongst others that have been around for nearly 90 years!

This guy’s fourhead scares me. Maybe this is what too many health products do to you. It reminds me of that early 90s movie about the alien family “The Coneheads”. 

Products besides Weet-Bix are too numerous to list here, but in New Zealand Marmite (imported until the 1970s, first from Britain then Australia), as well as peanut butter are notable, in particular the “Betta” brand which was introduced in the 1930s and lasted well into the 1960s before reverting to just “Sanitarium” branding . Bottles intact with labels, although usually pretty shabby, come up for auction on a regular basis.
Coffee substitute Kwic-Bru is likely a descendant of one of the very original Sanitarium products mentioned above – “Caramel Cereal”. It appeared in the early 1920s and seemed to be still on sale up until sometime in the 1960s. Both these colour ads are from “Health” magazine in 1940 and were an Ebay Australia purchase.
I’ll come back to Weet-Bix next year with a detailed post.



Addendum Late Nov 2012: This Kwic-Bru container turned up on Ebay Australia a few months back. The seller claims it dates from the 1940s, although I think it’s more likely from the 1950s. It’s likely the design was exactly the same in New Zealand. 

Jungle Book

In Cereal, cereal premiums, Hansell's, Instant Drinks, Jungle Juice on May 1, 2011 at 10.46

A few months back I found photos of a 1970’s Hansell’s Jungle Juice jar I remembered from childhood, online in a Flickr collection of Kiwiana. I was beavering away trying to recreate the label design from the samples of it I’d downloaded, but having a lot of problems getting it right.

One problem with trying to revive the images on cans and jars, is that no matter how you try to reverse the angles and far-shortening that are created by the curvature of the object it is adhered to, it’s never very good and a lot of objectivity is required to straighten it back out when re-drawing it. The other problem was, that something that hardly ever happens occurred – the file corrupted and kept crashing my software as well as my computer so I had to abandon it after getting halfway through the painstaking work – and after trying everything I could think of to remedy it. Annoying not to mention tedious!


When I left a comment explaining what I was attempting to do, the author of the images said “I can do better than that!” and very kindly e-mailed me four different shots he had taken especially for me to work with, showing the whole design from different views. Brilliant! After that I started from scratch and my job was much easier, and here it is recreated in perfect detail.

new april CROPPED 150 dpi smaller WATERM copy

Note: Due to repetitive theft by those who take my intellectual property from this blog without my permission, and reproduce it as merchandise for sale on sites such as Ebay, Redbubble and Trade Me,  I have now watermarked this image. If you are interested in purchasing merch of this image you can head to my personal Redbubble store.


One thing about starting this blog is that it has immediately brought me in touch with a variety of really interesting people from collectors to historians. I guess it is still quite a niche area and I have no idea who is out there and what their areas of interest are (apart from the same couple of people on Trademe that I seem to be constantly doing battle with – and often losing to – over certain items).

Stephen is an expert in Kiwi cereal premiums (free gifts – often collectable plastic toys) and specialises in collecting not only that genre, but also Hansell’s memorabilia. In 2006 he published “New Zealand Cereal Toys, 1950 – 2000” with Peter Fisher to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first accurately recorded New Zealand cereal toy.


Richard Wolfe’s many more general Kiwiana books aside, This particular book was the first of its kind for New Zealand – spurred by an explosion in the area of premium collecting in Australasia as people self-indulgently wallow in the rosy glow of a distant childhood. Not many luxuries are cheap, but this is one (but rapidly becoming more costly by the year I’m finding).
The full colour book sold out quite a while back, but Stephen has two remaining copies for sale, of the black and white edition – available for NZ $49.95 + $6.00 PP. But these are the last two.

There’s a synopsis here   http://www.wheelers.co.nz/books/9780473113629-new-zealand-cereal-toys-1950-2000/#desc ,

and you can see stephen’s collection on-line here.   http://www.flickr.com/photos/48502235@N08/collections/72157623667541858/

I’ll cover Hansells with more depth later in the year when I have time to revisit it.