The very first Bisto product, in 1908, was a meat-flavoured gravy powder, which rapidly became a bestseller in the UK. It was added to customers' own gravies to give a richer taste and aroma. Invented by Messrs Roberts & Patterson, it was named "Bisto" because it "Browns, Seasons and Thickens in One".
Bisto Granules were introduced in 1979. The granules dissolve in hot water to form a gravy substitute. This product capitalised on the growing preference among British consumers for foods (or food substitutes) that can be quickly and conveniently prepared. As of 2005, Bisto Gravy Granules dominate the British market, with a share in excess of 70%. Every UK grocery outlet is likely to have a Bisto product on its shelves.
In 1991, Bisto launched a new, more expensive, beef-like granule. Packaged in a glass jar, it offered a fuller flavour than the standard granule. Fuller flavour chicken and onion variants were added in 1993, and the whole range was relaunched as Bisto Best.
More recently, a ready-made Bisto "Heat And Pour" gravy has been available in beef and chicken flavours. This comes in plastic pouches suitable for heating.
In 2004, Bisto diversified into chilled and frozen products by introducing Bisto Roast Potatoes, Bisto Crispies, Bisto Yorkshire Puddings and Bisto Frozen Mashed Topped Pies.
In 1919, the Bisto Kids (created by cartoonist Wilf Owen), appeared in newspapers and soon became popular. Bisto is notable both for the age of its brand and for the advertising campaigns it has used. Although the Bisto Kids have not been included in Bisto advertising for many years, many people still recognise them; the Bisto Kids, a boy and girl in ragged clothes, would catch the odour of Bisto on the breeze and exhale longingly, "Aah, Bisto!" This clever gambit was intended to capture the all-important "Oliver Twist" (or "urchin") segment of the working-class market. The Bisto Kids were also part of more elaborate advertising campaigns in later years.
During the 1980s, the company released a series of commercials in the UK which featured a song that included the recurring phrase, "Never in a month of Sundays".
The latest campaign for Bisto, encourages families to sit up at the table for one night a week to eat proper food. This advertising campaign has seen support from unlikely sources such as Vicars and Politicians. Its rare for an advertising campaign to have a social message, as well as encouraging more sales of a product.
Bisto has had several owners since its creation. It is currently owned by Premier Foods, which acquired Bisto when it bought Rank Hovis McDougall in March 2007 to form the largest UK foods manufacturing company. At the time of the acquisition, a Premier Foods director was quoted as saying, "When we acquired RHM, I don't think any of us realised that that old warhorse, Bisto, was part of the mix. To us, it's just gravy."