Champions of Design: Lyle's Golden Syrup

The brand, which began as a chance discovery, has used the same design for its tins for almost 130 years.

Champions of Design: Lyle's Golden Syrup

In 1881, Abram Lyle, a successful Scottish businessman, set about constructing a sugar refinery on the banks of the River Thames. His three sons assisted him, and when the project was completed, it was named Abram Lyle & Sons.

The refinery was soon in full operation, and produced an unexpected golden treat. A by-product of the sugar refining process, it was a thickish syrup, which the Lyles discovered could be further refined to create a delicious product that could be used as a preserve or sweetener for cooking. At the time, in 1883, this substance was given the name 'Goldie'.

By the following year, word of Lyle's golden syrup had spread, and the company was soon selling more than a tonne of it per week in the UK. In this same year, the company designed the recognisable tin that has carried the product for more than a century, with its trademark 'lion and bees' emblem proudly stamped on the centre of the container.

Little has been altered on the golden syrup cans since, apart from when cardboard rather than tin was used to make the can during in World War I. Indeed, it was confirmed in 2007 by Guinness World Records that Lyle's Golden Syrup was the world's oldest brand, with both tin and product practically unchanged since 1885.

Change did occur to the make-up of the business, however. In 1921 a merger took place between Henry Tate & Sons and Abram Lyle & Sons, which led to the company being renamed Tate & Lyle.

It was a good match, as both companies owned refineries, even though the respective founders, Henry Tate and Abram Lyle, probably never met.

Today the brand is part of Tate & Lyle Sugars, owned by American Sugar Refining, which bought the sugar side of Tate & Lyle plc in 2010.

Although the golden syrup product has undoubtedly been the star brand of the Tate & Lyle stable over the years, the company has also manufactured other confectionery goods.

Lyle's black treacle was launched in 1950, and is noted for its stronger taste and darker colour. By 1996 an alternative squeezy bottle was designed to enable easier application of golden syrup for consumers. In 2005, the company launched a range of flavoured Squeezy Syrup intended to accompany various desserts.

More than 1m tins of Lyle's Golden Syrup leave its Thames-side factory each month. The brand has a global reach, with syrup and treacle lovers, as the company puts it, 'from the UK to China, South Africa to Australia, and the USA to the Yemen' among its customers.



By James Joyce, client director, JKR

'So, we are going to use a lion to represent the brand,' the agency explains to the client, who nods in approval. 'We believe the lion should be lying down. Dead in fact, and surrounded by a swarm of bees.'

It's a pretty bizarre image when you think about it. Perhaps that's the point: we don't really think about it. Design isn't something we tend to scrutinise, especially not while grocery shopping.

Instead, we see design more holistically - as a symbol that triggers our brand associations. In the case of Lyle's, feelings of comfort are evoked by the familiarity of the brand.

That's not to say that the ingredients of a brand's design should not carry individual meaning. They signify a brand's authenticity. In this case, they represent Abram Lyle's religious belief.

The image references an Old Testament story, in which Samson killed a lion, then saw that bees had formed a honeycomb in its carcass. The design includes Samson's words, 'Out of the strong came forth sweetness.'

While we might not have taken the time to understand the significance of the lion, we assumed it meant something, and that's enough. So, perhaps the parable of Lyle's syrup is that design is never more sticky than when it beguiles with the metaphorical instead of the literal. As Picasso said: 'The artist rules the audience by involving them in the creation.'


1881: Abram Lyle, with the help of his three sons, set about constructing a sugar refinery on the banks of the River Thames.

1883: A golden syrup was produced from the sugar-refining process. Lyle began selling 'Goldie' to employees and local customers.

1884: Word spread about the delicious 'Goldie': the company was selling about a tonne a week. It soon appeared in London's grocery stores and the brand began to use the famous tin that has survived to the present day.

1904: The 'lion and bees' tin was registered as a trademark.

1914: During World War I cardboard was used instead of tin as a container.

1921: Henry Tate & Sons and Abram Lyle & Sons merged to form a single company, Tate & Lyle.

1950: Lyle's Black Treacle Syrup was launched.

2005: A range of squeezy syrups was rolled out.

2007: Tate & Lyle was confirmed by Guinness World Records as the world's oldest brand.

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