The surprising Scottish link to Tate & Lyle Golden Syrup - and why a dead lion featured on the tin

The iconic Lyle's golden syrup packaging is getting a redesign. Here we take a look at the brand's links to Scotland and why the lion on the branding has had a makeover.

Published 21st Feb 2024
Updated 21 st Feb 2024

The famous green tin of golden syrup has graced supermarkets shelves and homes for years, but did you know the company has links to Scotland?

Tate & Lyle is a brand name synonymous with baking thanks to their sugars, golden syrup and treacle. But they started as two rival companies, based in London.

Abram Lyle was brown in 1820 in Greenock and, after becoming an apprentice at his father's law firm at 12, then cooperage, he developed a shipping business with his friend John Kerr. The Lyle fleet became one of the largest in Greenock, and was involved in the sugar trade in the West Indies.

This was so successful that he, along with four partners, bought the defunct Greenock Sugar Refining Company in 1865 and formed the Glebe Sugar Refinery Company. When John Kerr, the principal partner, died in 1872, Lyle sold his shares and began the search for a site for a new refinery.

It was at this point the Lyle moved his operations to London, where he bought two wharves at Plaistow in East London in 1881. This was relatively close to his sugar refinery rival, Henry Tate.

The companies merged in 1921, after Abram's death, to become the Tate & Lyle brand that we know today.

Golden syrup tin lion

According to a relative of Abram Lyle, the golden syrup tin design was Lyle's idea and its creation saved the company from ruin.

Golden syrup is a by-product of the sugar refining process, and, up until this year, the tin featured a deceased lion, with bees swarming its lifeless body, on the front.

The packaging, which debuted in 1883, had a phrase “out of the strong came forth sweetness” on it, which is taken almost verbatim from the Judges 14:14 passage from the King James Version of the Old Testament and is regarded as Samson’s Riddle.

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The full passage from the bible reads: “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.” This quote is in regards to Samson passing by a lion he had recently killed, seeing inside the carcass of the beast bees starting to create honey.

2024 rebrand

Scottish link to Tate & Lyle golden syrup
Picture: Lyle's Golden Syrup/PA Wire

The iconic green tin adorned with a golden lion has held the Guinness World Record for the longest-standing unchanged brand packaging.

But now it's set for a rebrand across the full product range, excluding the classic tin, which will retain the original illustration.

The new logo shows a live lion alongside a solitary bee. Lyle’s said the branding has been “revitalised for the modern UK family” in a move to “refresh the brand’s legacy to appeal to a 21st century audience”.

James Whiteley, brand director for Lyle’s Golden Syrup, said: “We’re excited to unveil a fresh redesign for the Lyle’s Golden Syrup brand.

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"While we’ll continue to honour our original branding with the heritage tin, consumers need to see brands moving with the times and meeting their current needs.

"Our fresh, contemporary design brings Lyle’s into the modern day, appealing to the everyday British household while still feeling nostalgic and authentically Lyle’s."

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne, whisky and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind is the Food and Drink Editor and whisky writer for The Scotsman, as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.
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