The Great Pears Soap Disaster

The Great Pears Soap Disaster

It is one of those small comforts of the morning bath routine. The merest sniff has the power to transport me back to my childhood. A gentle, vaguely biscuity smell like the soft, warm aroma of the linen cupboard; the comforting concave oval shape with indents into which you can fit the old worn bar (waste not, want not!). Yes, I am talking about Pears Transparent Soap.

This particular brand is 200 years old, as the newly reworded carton reminds me. In fact the soap is 220 years old. First formulated in 1789, it was the world’s first registered brand and therefore is the world’s oldest continuously existing brand.

Transparent it still is. It used to claim to be hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic, natural and original. Don’t look for these strap-lines on the new carton. They have disappeared; discretely and without fanfare. It is surely a wise move for the owner of a 200 year brand not to trumpet the words, “new, improved formula” on a product that is not only much loved but is used by people whose skin does not respond well to harsher soaps.

The Great Pears Soap Disaster :: spot the imposter

Pears Transparent Soap :: Before and After

The list of ingredients, which once read like a cargo on John Masefield’s Quinquireme of Nineveh – a treasure house of exotic sounding ingredients sourced from the far reaches of the British Empire, now includes PEG 4, BHT, CI 12940 and CI 47005 (respectively a dispersant, antioxidant and colour additives). Then there’s the new smell. Biscuits and linen replaced with a whiff that to my untutored nose is just too strong, redolent of pine disinfectant and the hospital waiting room. Other noses might detect a herbal note – perhaps not unpleasant – but just not the proper familiar Pears smell.

My wife and I both suffer from sensitive skin. My wife is allergic to PEG8 and its close relatives, so PEG4 is a no-no. Ah well, that’s goodbye then to Pears Soap after 100 bath years of use in this household?

Not being one to take these things lying down, I called the 0800 customer service number on the box. Disconnected.  Undeterred, I googled the name on the box, CERT Brands in Rotherham and found a telephone number where, I reasoned, I might be able to talk to a brand manager. I spoke with a nice lady, the receptionist. No, she said, nobody else had complained so far. She made careful, precise notes of my comments. Yes, yes, somebody would call me back shortly.

A month later, I am still waiting.

Let’s face it, when you are a busy, important brand manager (I mean, the manager of an important brand), the last thing you want to do is talk to a disgruntled consumer. That’s what you have receptionists for.

Am I really the only consumer to have noticed? Not according to the author of Wikipedia’s entry on Pears Soap:  “In 2009 the formula was changed to take out the peanut oil that it contained and adding other ingredients like more glycerin. This unfortunately completely changed the smell and texture of the soap, making it unrecognizable from the original product.”

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the concave shape of the soap is [presumably, was] formed by shrinkage while the soap is drying, and is not due to deliberate moulding. To quote Wikipedia again, “Recent changes to quality of ingredients used in the manufacturing process have resulted in a noticeably different shape (flatter rather than concave) and difference in scent.”

So, is there a lesson in here for much loved 200 year old brand managers (I mean the managers of much loved 200 year old brands)? It should be that you tinker with your brand at your peril. My experience thus far tells me that there is little chance that this message is going to get through. The only real sanction we consumers have at our disposal is to vote with our feet (and hands and faces) and stop using it. If too many did that, it might finish what others have already started and kill off the brand completely.

After 200 years that would be much more than a great pity, it would be a disaster.

329 comments on “The Great Pears Soap Disaster
  1. I thought I would give you an update and some good news from the Britannia Transparent Soap front.

    Our new website is now online. It has a proper on-line shop where shipping costs have been integrated, so you can see the the complete order on-line. I have also added some of our other products and will be adding more from time to time.


    And comments or suggestions are of course most welcome.

    I also have good news on the shipping front. I have found a courier service that is not only quicker, but also substantially cheaper than the previous. As examples, shipping two bars of Britannia Transparent Soap to the UK, will cost €5.81, to Canada €4.72 and to Australia € 6.30.

    Orders can be placed in € or in £.

    To close, we want to thank you for your support and encouragement and wish you and your families a happy holiday season and may the new year bring you good health, happiness and prosperity.

  2. Ewan S Draper says:

    Britannia Transparent Soap

    And so, a soap that should, in all fairness to it, please all who are wholly dissatisfied with poor quality imitations of a much loved Georgian gem, has finally, thanks to the remarkable ingenuity of La Savonnerie de l’Alchemiste, floated back to the surface in the current, near genuine reincarnation as Britannia Transparent Soap. I purchased some time ago a tablet of this sublime amber nostalgia and thought I’d share my thoughts on it.
    It’s subtle fragrance, make up and method of production are reminiscent of centuries of dependable stability in quality manufacture and quality goods of this kind. It is as unique now as it’s defunct forbear ever was in its time.
    All who decide to treat themselves to a tablet will not find themselves left disappointed, and any criticism should be regulated with the knowledge that it is the product of some fairly intuitive nose work, skill and years of trials carried out by some very clever people. It’s the best thing to that which no one will ever see, or smell again, so have in mind that this venture surely deserves all the patience, praise and patronage it can get and is rightfully due.
    The price is fairly high compared with the average everyday tablet, so the soap is definitely a luxury item to be use respectfully, though it does last a good while (over a month with regular use) , – exactly what one would expect as one of its characteristics! Whether this will change as demand increases, I do not know. Also bear in mind that every tablet is handmade from some very select ingredients.
    All that I can say is treat yourself and try it, it’s worth it. It is a beautiful soap. Putting is bluntly, no one reasonable ought to be disappointed. My only sadness about this product is that it’s not available on every high street (by the truckload). The time has come to make all who have always appreciated soap of this fine calibre aware of Britannia Transparent Soap.’

  3. Dear All,

    It has taken a bit longer than I had hoped, but now it is so far. Our new transparent soap is now ready. For a name, we have have settled on “Britannia Transparent Soap”:

    We are working on a new website for La Savonnerie de l’Alchimiste with a proper on-line shop, but until it is ready, the new soap can be ordered via the existing site by selecting the version in English and selecting Online sales in the menu on the left. Since the Online shop is a bit rudimentary, shipping costs are not shown on-line, but count on 11-20€ for a parcel up to 500 g, depending on where you are. If you order, you will receive an electronic invoice with the shipping costs included.

    I am quite pleased with the latest version. However, we will gladly hear any comments and if there is a consensus for change, I will tweak the recipe.

    In case you are interested, here is the ingredient list:

    Sodium Tallowate, Glycerin, Sodium Rosinate, Sodium Cocoate, Honey, Sodium Stearate, Sodium Castorate, Parfum, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme) Extract.

  4. greyhares says:

    Followers of the “Great Pears Soap Disaster” may like to read my 7 year anniversary reflection on all of this – The seven year itch..

  5. E S Draper says:

    Let’s face it, the memory of Pears soap, the original Pears soap is rapidly fading (or already completely faded) from the consciousness of the public, and any cause in favour of its resurrection appears to be quite dead in the water. The chances of having the real stuff within our grasp again are beyond slim. The general public who have regularly purchased Pears have successfully brainwashed.

    Admittedly, I also fell under the spell that the brand name is able to weave and that its current manufacturer readily exploit. I’ve regularly, but not always bought Pears, but when I have I was always subconsciously impressed at its quiet superiority to the majority of most other affordable everyday soaps, then suddenly, at some point it changed without really realising it too much. At the time I simply took it for granted, it appeared to look the same, – it was Pears soap, it said so on the box, and that was that! It has only been recently (months ago now) that I decided to have a poke around on the internet and read about Pears soap, only to find what an uproar has been caused, by the changes which I had suspected. I then knew that I didn’t give my own senses the benefit of the doubt.
    Many have got to have experienced the same, but the turbulence and of everyday living has seen to it that they just swallowed the differences and ever since have reached for the box with the nice picture of a Pears Soap cake plastered on it and just got on with life, and that’s how it’s been ever since.

    All that are interested in this brand, the original recipe and are appalled by its current misrepresentation know this and there has been plenty of singular opinions about it. 300+ on here, -‘The great Pears Soap disaster’ blog, 18 comments on, I’m sure there are more, and then there’s here, the Facebook group, ‘Bring Back Original Pears Soap!!!’ which has a unbelievably saddening number of 111 members.

    There appears to be no change of uniting the general opinion on the subject. The old and new versions of the soap become less clear, allowing the former version to dissolve even further into obsolescence, in every sense. I wonder how many surveys have been conducted about the products in order to compare them? – not many I’m sure. How much of the old soap is actually left now to compare anything with anyhow, and who would be willing now to kick up a fuss about an old bar of soap when we have it rammed down our throats each day how much the world is going to the dogs? Compared with other affairs it is less than significant.

    The current manufacturers don’t give a monkeys about the original product or that the general populace who used it would rather have it back, if the choice was offered, or the difference even highlighted! The brand alone is what’s making the money now. Those who acknowledge the current products inferior and very ‘cuckoo’ like nature are all but laughed at because in all honesty the most we can do, or have done, it seems, is squawk about it rather passively, while the masses keep buying it.

    Sadly and regrettably, a cause such as this lacks focus, magnitude and impetus to make any difference; I wish I was wrong but sadly (for both the globe and the soap) there are more pressing issues. I honestly think I would have rather the current product and the Pears name take a nose dive off the shelves altogether, and it would serve the self-absorbed corporate twonks at Unilever right for ballsing up a decent, natural, almost ‘heritage’ product, though it would be a mere blip on their corporate portfolio. It certainly appears like moronic idiocy to have changed it at all whilst there is a strong current craze to rave about products which are natural and have some kind of heritage (ignoring, of course, the racist heritage that a lot of soap brands have in tow somewhere along the line).

    The Pears brand is what could be referred to as an orphaned brand which Unilever has taken on and which constitutes for a small part of their turn over. The logistics and costs of manufacturing a soap which has a lengthy curing time have also been scrutinised, whittled down and cut out, naturally. One can’t but find it not too difficult to imagine that the original formula for the soap and its design could have so easily been sent in quite a different direction IF the marketing and the vision for the product had been right but no, that is not the case. It has been reduced in class and in value more so than in price. The only way the original Pears soap will ever be resurrected now will be if an independent soap manufacturer decided to go to the trouble, which I am delighted to see that some are! Good for you La Savonnerie-Alchimiste, I hope you hit the jackpot and sell masses of the stuff! I’d gladly try some of your samples.

    Recently I managed to track down some samples of the original stuff (WOW!), one lot from just before the formula was altered in 2009 and another lot which dates back to the early eighties! It was clear to me after I inspected them that Pears soap hasn’t smelled the same or as good as it ‘used to’ for some time. The old bars arrived first. They were in better condition than I thought they would be. The smell was not as strong naturally because of their age but assuredly it was the smell I remember, for certain. It’s a very natural smell, which does have ever so slight notes of coal tar coming through but not to an offensive degree, it was never offensive. It’s a very clean, crisp, honest fragrance. It smells spicy, but fairly simple. The fragrance has a warmth to it too which I have read some people reminds them of home baking or apple pie with cinnamon or something. I don’t know about any of that, but the smell does have a warm spicy factor. Those who do really remember the original will know what I’m talking about. Sadly wetting the soap didn’t do anything to release the smell as the lather only gave of rather a non-sort of smell. The box also has the Royal Warrant on it.

    When the more recent stuff arrived I expected to be bowled over by a more augmented version of the same old fragrance, seeing as they were much newer, but no, I wasn’t. Some sort of spice was present in the fragrance but there was no warmth to it which could be found in the former. The instant ‘original’ Pears fragrance was absent. It also smells more clinical and chemically and actually is, now that I’ve smelled it, not a million miles off from the scent of the bars that can be bought today! So there you have it, it appears that the faithful old soap has been crucified over time, under our noses, literally. It’s obvious that the original Pears’ soap, the one that has caused all the fuss has been dead for longer than is imagined. I just wish you could all smell these samples!

    Also, the problem is…who actually reads these blogs apart from the people bothered to take interest? The information to the general public about the nature of the changes to this product is completely obscure, and even if it was prominent I guarantee that the amount of concern would be minimal as well we all know the masses generally have to be told what to appreciate, and it appears they’ve been appreciating most things as long as it has Pears on it for a good while! Even people who knew what the original soap was like now say that the new stuff is ‘Okay’. What can you do with such resignation? Nothing. The new version of Pears Soap, compared with the original, is actually, poop; and a disgraceful pile at that, considering its origins and acclaim over the years, but annoyingly, its here to stay.
    It appears that all we can continue to bemoan the state of affairs on niche social media outlets such as this until the cows come home, to no avail. Sadly though, in spite of all the hand wringing (with a different soap haha) it is evidently clear that the original Pears Transparent Soap has definitely died a death at the hands of Unilever.

    Ewan S Draper.

    • Dear Evan,

      When a small brand/product is absorbed into a large corporation, it is often the kiss of death. I don’t know what the sales volume of Pears is today, but I guess that it is modest. Dove, another Unilever brand is a billion Euro brand and I can vividly imagine the two brand managers reporting results and plans to the top management at the annual results meeting!

      Another factor is cost. in 1886, a large bar of fragranced soap cost 1 shilling sixpence. That would be £5.80 in 2016 money. So it was not a cheap soap. The new Pears sells for around £1.50, so relatively speaking, the price has been reduced by a factor of four. Populations have grown, so some of that could be attributed to economy of scale, making larger numbers, but I could imagine that the recipe and manufacturing method has also been scrutinized with a view to reducing costs. How many people would pay £5.80 for a soap? So the question becomes whether to go for a mass market or a niche market. I think Unilever has prioritized the former.

      if “the original Pears Transparent Soap” to you means the product and the brand name, I think you are right; it will not come back. Unilever has undoubtedly heard the reactions and decided to maintain their course. However, if you mean a mild, transparent soap with rosin, rosemary and thyme, no chemicals and possibly a delicate fragrance that may trigger some memories, I wouldn’t despair; we are working on it.

      It is kind of you to wish me hitting the jackpot and selling masses of the stuff. However, i don’t think that will happen. I think it is a niche market. Hopefully not a dying niche market, but the brand manager for Dove doesn’t need to worried by my activities.

      While we are working on the fragrance, I have decided to launch a non-fragranced version of my soap with only rosemary and thyme as fragrance additives. I made the first batch recently. The blocks are now drying on the rack in the drying cupboard and there is a pleasant rosin/rosemary/thyme smell pervading my lab.

      It will not be ready for shipment for a while due to the long maturing, but if anyone is interested, please get in touch.

      • Roland says:

        Hi Martin,
        I will continue to monitor your progress and order some when you are ready!

        Ewan…..Sadly you are spot on with your assessment, it is all quite a depressing commentary on the absorption and crushing of unique products in general. Although the resurgence of small community markets give some hope.

        It is also worth noting that there are many people willing to pay for quality.

        • James says:

          Dear Ewan,

          as you have discovered for yourself, the pre-2009 version is not the original. I tested this version a few years ago and instantly knew that it wasn’t the same as the Pears that I had grown up with.

          I have researched this area as thoroughly as the archives will allow. Pears has been reformulated several times since it’s conception. There were at least five version, as follows:

          pre-1938 (approx.)
          pre-1920 (approx.)

          As far as the evidence suggests, the only difference between the pre-1920, pre-1938 and pre-1999 versions, is the fragrance formula (some additions and omissions but remaining largely the same).

          It’s really from this point that things started to go wrong. The pre-2009 version included not only significant changes to the fragrance formula but also a change to the type of rosin used (the latter also has a significant impact on the aroma).

          The post-2009 version (or versions to be exact) included changes too numerous to list; suffice to say that it bears little resemblance to any of the other versions.

          The pre-1999 version – which is almost identical to the pre-1938 version – is what most of us grew up with, so this is what Martin and I are attempting to re-create. Stay tuned for any further updates.

          Roland, it’s good to see that you’re still around. Keep the faith brother.


          • James says:

            Conception? I meant inception. There’s always at least one typo that falls through the net.

      • Susan says:

        Did you ever launch your non-fragranced version of Pears Soap re-incarnated with rosin/rosemary/thyme? I have looked at your
        website and see the version with perfume added. If you did lauch the non-fragranced with perfume version and have any left I would like to purchase a bar. I reside in the USA and have missed Pears Soap, the only soap I ever used my entire life until Unilever sold the brand and outsourced to India.

  6. Dear Valerie, Rick and all you other Pears enthusiasts,

    A while back, I made a post to tell you that we are a couple of people who are trying to come up with a product close to the original and requested volunteer testers.

    I am a small manufacturer of craft soaps, located in France and Pears was part of my childhood memories, hence the quest.

    I haven’t made any new posts for a while, partly because I have been working on the project, partly because urgent family affairs left me stranded in Copenhagen last quarter of last years.

    However, the despairing note in some recent posts made me conclude that I should share an update before you all lose hope.

    We are now into our third trial version. I have about ten testers and they have all reacted very positively, saying that we are very close, so I hope that within some months, I can start producing in modest quantities.

    Up until now, I have made small test batches of 250 g that I have cut into samples for the testers. However, I am optimistic and I have just ordered equipment to make somewhat larger batches.

    Pears originally existed in a non-fragranced and a fragranced version, but the former was taken off the market. While work continues on the fragranced version, I have decided to start producing the non-fragranced version. The ingredient list is simple and you will probably recognize it: Coconut oil, beef tallow, castor oil, rosin, stearic acid, rosemary extract, thyme extract. The result is an amber transparent bar with a pleasing woody smell and the distinct note of rosemary and thyme. I observe that the bars develop a concave form upon drying which indeed takes some months.

    As an aside, I have developed a similar product, but in liquid form and started selling it here in France where I live. So far, customer reactions have been uniformly positive. Most of them have never heard of Pears, but they love the woody/rosemary/thyme smell.

    I think I have enough testers for now, but if you want to be kept informed of the developments, please drop me a note via my site:

    • Jane says:

      Dear Martin,
      I for one don’t think much of liquid soaps – because of all the unnecessary plastic packaging they generate. So I hope you continue with trying to create a bar soap. Not keen on the beef tallow either! I hope there’s a veggie alternative. But thank you for continuing your efforts.

      • Dear Jane,

        Thanks for your comments.

        I am a bar soap person myself. And the primary aim is to make bars. However, here in France, people want liquid soaps or shower gels.

        Regarding the beef tallow, I did indeed expect some people to react negatively to it and I fully respect their views.

        To make a hard bar, one needs either beef tallow or palm oil. My guess is that the original product was made with beef tallow, but I could use either. But from a sustainability viewpoint, I selected tallow. As a non-vegetarian, it seems silly to me to throw away beef tallow and chop down palm trees. I have seen suppliers offer palm oil that they label as produced in a sustainable manner, but when I have queried them, the basis for the claim became a bit vague. I suspect that it is mostly a paper exercise. But if the demand for a palm oil based product justifies it, I can certainly make it.

        • Jane says:

          Thank you for the explanation re. the beef tallow. Point taken, Martin.

        • greyhares says:

          This all sounds a bit like where we were with the product that had evolved prior to 2009 – the one that was advertised as non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic and the one that most of us were happy with – but which contained peanut oil…. The reformulation was in part justified by a desire to remove peanut oil I recall. A retired friend who worked for Unilever in the sixties recalls that there was a big problem with the bars turning black during the ‘curing’ process and this was resolved by chemistry – I.e. adding a preservative – so maybe we shouldn’t get too hung up on authenticity!

          • Pete Finch says:

            How many people have been injured or poisoned using the original Pears? People need to smarten up, look at the ingredients on a (any) product, and make their choice. Seek medical advice. Now can I have my Pears Original Transparent back please?

          • I agree that authenticity shouldn’t necessarily by a goal in its own right. But when it comes to avoiding undesirable reactions, simplicity has a lot going for it. In my opaque bar soaps, I use neither perfumes, nor coloring agents for that reason.

            As far as I know, the original components were tallow, coconut oil, rosin, glycerine, water, thyme extract, rosemary extract and Pears fragrance. I have had no difficulty in making fully functional, hard wearing and deep amber transparent bars staying within that ingredient list. So the need for CI 12490 (red colouring agent) and CI 47005 (Quinoline Yellow) puzzles me. The rosin alone gives a beautiful deep amber colour.

            According to Wikepedia, peanut oil was introduced in 2003 at the same time as the move to Hindustan. Peanut oil is much more prone to oxidation than the hard fats coconut oil and tallow, so that could explain the arrival of tetrasodium EDTA, an antioxidant. Why one would introduce peanut oil in the first place escapes me, except that it is cheap. The peanut oil disappeared again in 2009, but the EDTA stayed.

            Anyway, with the many posts describing adverse reactions, I remain convinced that my minimalistic approach is sound and the original ingredient list was as simple as it gets.

          • Richard says:

            Count me in. Currently buying Savin de marsaille but would love pears again

      • Pete Finch says:

        Oh Jane, you are in the wrong place. This forum is for those who yearn for the original and real Pears Transparent Soap. Beef tallow was originally used in making all soaps and to remove this ingredient would remove originality. If you seek bio-degradable, lactose-free, sustainable, decaffeinated copies of the real thing then consider looking elsewhere. We just want our Pears back, and not from the Hindustan Soap Corporation either.

    • James says:

      Dear Greyhares,

      as Martin mentioned, we have been working on the formula for some time. It has been a very slow process partly because each test batch needs to age before we can assess if anything needs changing. There is still some tweaking to do on the fragrance, but we’re slowly getting there.

      With regard to some of your recent comments, I may be able to clear a couple of things up. In the 19th century, Pears contained both tallow and crude palm oil. Crude palm oil has an orange-red colour due to the presence of carotenes, and it was often used in rosin soaps to help brighten the colour. However, it’s not really needed if the rosin contains the right amount of colour bodies to begin with. At some point, probably in the mid to late 20th century, the tallow was omitted from the formula and palm oil became the primary ingredient. The crude variety tends to stain skin and washcloths if too much is used, so any additional palm oil in the formula must have been of the bleached variety.

      The addition of colourants in the >2009 version was probably a result of them having decreased the crude palm oil and rosin content. Anyhow, I hope that this answered a couple of questions.

      Kind regards,


    • Alan West says:

      I remembered your mention of the unfragranced version of Pears when I happened to come across a Pears Soap charm (i.e. for a charm bracelet) for sale on eBay. This example is missing its ‘bale’ (hook) and is made of amber glass and is 2.5 x 1.5 x 0.7 cm. The seller described it as dating from 1910, but the same charm is described elsewhere as being of ‘Czech glass, 1920s’ which seems more likely.

      It is inscribed on one side Made by Pears in Great Britain and on other side Pears Unscented 6d Transparent Soap

      This equal emphasis of both transparent and unscented sort of suggests that the unscented version was perhaps the ‘standard’ version, at least in some markets?

      Needless to say Martin, I wish you well in your efforts. My wife (whose reaction to the reformulated soap in November 2009, caused me to write this blog in the first place), would be delighted to sample and review the new soap for you!

      • Hello Alan,

        If you send me a mail via my website, I’ll be happy to include your wife and yourself on the tester list.

      • James says:

        Hi Alan,

        I searched the newspaper archives several months back and the last advertisement for Pears Unscented that I could find, dated to 1940.

        I was fortunate enough to buy two bars of Pears from the 1980s, on Ebay, and there was a distinct smell of spices when I first opened the carton. Rest assured that Martin or I will inform Greyhares when work on the scented version is complete.


    • Susan says:

      I have followed your blog and read all comments and have been hoping and praying that you would be successful in your quest to re-create the original Pears Soap that I used my entire life (I am 67). FYI I just purchased a Pears Transparent Soap Tablet dated 1906 still sealed in original wrapper. I am awaiting delivery. If you are interested, I am willing to slice a piece off and mail to you to test the ingredient formulation.

      • Peter Finch says:

        It will never return, one just has to face the facts. There will be no more Pears Transparent as we knew it. While there is admiration for the new Britannia soap cleverly hand crafted by dedicated Pears devotees, it would be a financial investment to get this product down to Australia.

        As I refuse to purchase the inferior Hindustani replica I will continue to use Imperial Leather as my bathroom soap, although this is not the original product either. It’s smaller, doesn’t smell the same and when half used the lather begins diminishing.

        Shall we start another thread? I think not, but I thank you all for the scintillating tales in the search for the ultimate cleanse.

        Be clean!

        • Dear Peter,
          This has become a long answer, but you touch on some key issues.
          If by “There will be no more Pears Transparent as we knew it”, you mean The Pears of the fifties at the price of today, you are right.
          Personally, my first key question is whether the Britannia pleases the people who liked the old Pears. Thereafter, it becomes a matter of economic considerations.
          James and I set out to create a soap that gave us the same sensations as the Pears we remember from many years back. And very early on, it became obvious that seeking simplicity, but trying to stay faithful to the ingredients at the time carried a very substantial cost in ingredients. We have taken a rather uncompromising approach. We did experiment with cheaper substitutes, but in most cases the result was inferior, so we dropped them. After three and a half years experiments and tester trials, we felt that the result was good enough to launch. We may still tweak the formula. Not to make it cheaper, but to make it better.
          When we did launch, I knew that the market potential was limited, due to the cost. There is no way that I can manufacture an acceptable soap at a price to match the retail price of Gentle Care. And it is not a question of scale of production, it is a hard consequence of the cost of raw ingredients. That does not bother me. The purpose was to create a really nice soap to please some people, not to sell millions. The Britannia Transparent Soap has received a good response and I am pleased that a number of people across the world have re-found the pleasure they knew.
          I have been thinking about the history and this is my private take on it.
          Consumers have become used to cheap manufactured goods. In the western world, over time, the balance has shifted and labour has become expensive and manufactured goods cheap.
          It is worth noting that Pears at the time was expensive. If I correct the 1886 price (1 shilling) for the consumer index since then, I arrive at around 6 £/bar excluding VAT.
          At the time, a carpenter earned 5 shillings per day, so he needed to work 1.5 hours to buy a bar. In 1960, a manual worker had to work 12 minutes to pay for a bar, in 1980, 10 minutes and in 2018, 3 minutes. So in terms of minutes worked, the price of the “original” has come down by a factor of 30 between 1886 and today and by a factor of three between 1980 and today.
          As another illustration: The average US worker had to work 160 hours to pay for a colour TV in 1970 and only 66 hours in 1990.
          I think it is partially psychological: If the prices in a shop go up, we react and seek cheaper alternatives. But we consider our wage increases as justified (by a.o. the increasing prices).
          With that consumer behaviour, manufacturers and retailers have tried to keep prices constant in money of the day. Partially by more efficient manufacturing and delocalisation, but partially by using cheaper raw material, sometimes at the expense of quality. So, I think the culprit isn’t Unilever. It is us, shopping by price comparison before anything else. And Unilever has merely given the public what they want: A soap that retails in the same price bracket as mass brands. With the consequences we have seen.
          When you talk about a financial investment, it is not clear if you mean the soap itself or shipping to Australia. But if you start the purchase process of two bars of Britannia on the site, you will see that shipping to Australia will cost about 10 AUD. Shipping the same parcel from Sydney to Melbourne will cost 7.95 AUD with the Australian Postal Service.

          • Peter Finch says:

            Hello Martin, and thank you for your reply.

            I admire the work and effort you and James have gone to in order to satisfy a somewhat unique and finicky clientele.

            I was surprised to learn that freight is so inexpensive however Britannia, at $A14 per bar, would be a little extravagant at the moment as I am studying at university full-time until the end of the year. It would be more practical to buy six bars at a time and that is what I shall strive for when the time arises.

            Skin cancer is a serious problem here and it has been recommended that I use a sun screen daily and only gentle soap to avoid further damage to my skin. Britiannia seems to be the product made for me.

            I look forward to placing my first order martin, and I thank you for the information you have provided.

            My best wishes.

            Peter Finch

  7. Valerie Martin says:

    I was born in the UK but have lived in NZ for many years. I am appalled that my beloved Pears soap is no longer available. I am nearly 80 years old and have washed my face in Pears soap for all of my years as did my mother and my grandmother . People always tell me I have beautiful skin with no wrinkles at all.

    PEARS soap manufacturers how can you do this to us?

    Valerie Martin

    • Rich says:

      Despite great efforts for someone on this site trying to recreate the smell and original ingredients of this beloved soap brand, it seems unlikely to change anytime soon. I cannot use the modern soap as it now creates horrid skin irritation. I share your dismay.

    • Don’t give up yet, there is hope!

      Dear Valerie, Rick and all you other Pears enthusiasts,

      A while back, I made a post to tell you that we are a couple of people who are trying to come up with a product close to the original and requested volunteer testers.

      I am a small manufacturer of craft soaps, located in France and Pears was part of my childhood memories, hence the quest.

      I haven’t made any new posts for a while, partly because I have been working on the project, partly because urgent family affairs left me stranded in Copenhagen last quarter of last year.

      However, the despairing note in some recent posts made me conclude that I should share an update before you all lose hope.

      We are now into our third trial version. I have about ten testers and they have all reacted very positively, saying that we are very close, so I hope that within some months, I can start producing in modest quantities.

      Up until now, I have made small test batches of 250 g that I have cut into samples for the testers. However, I am optimistic and I have just ordered equipment to make somewhat larger batches.

      Pears originally existed in a non-fragranced and a fragranced version, but the former was taken off the market. While work continues on the fragranced version, I have decided to start producing the non-fragranced version. The ingredient list is simple and you will probably recognize it: Coconut oil, beef tallow, castor oil, rosin, stearic acid, rosemary extract, thyme extract. The result is an amber transparent bar with a pleasing woody smell and the distinct note of rosemary and thyme. I observe that the bars develop a concave form upon drying which indeed takes some months.

      As an aside, I have developed a similar product, but in liquid form and started selling it here in France where I live. So far, customer reactions have been uniformly positive. Most of them have never heard of Pears, but they love the woody/rosemary/thyme smell.

      I think I have enough testers for now, but if you want to be kept informed of the developments, please drop me a note via my site:


    I use the mint extract version called germshield but I did use the gentle care but had no reaction to it though I grew up with the soap in the ’90s it has changed since way back then .

  9. Ashish says:

    I was searching if I was the only one with burnt skin and I found this page. I have been using Pears soap since my childhood and loved the soap. I found the Soap in the Dollar Tree and after shower the corner of my eyes were severely burned (you could see curved black line around both of my eyes. I ignored it and started using another soap brand. I recently bought Pears again and it did exactly the same. This time it not only burned skin around my eyes but also both sides of the skin on my Nostrils – Black spots right away.

    What the heck is this? I am thinking of reporting them to be reported. What have they changed?

    • Pete Finch says:

      You found this product in a discount store? Tree for a dollar? It looks like it may have disappeared from supermarkets in my part of Australia but now that people are getting skin irritations it could be “the end.”

  10. Rod says:

    No, you are not the only one!!

    My eye was caught by a new green Pears soap in Superdrug today which I bought without studying the box (no specs…) I recalled that Pears was gentle and didn’t have SLS in its make-up.

    Completely shocked when I got home, unpackaged said soap to find a list of chemistry set ingredients including the dreaded SLS, soap looks v synthetic green, and not made in England – but India.

    Later saw in Morrison’s they are selling this at a reduced price….surprise surprise.

    Tried to find a customer support centre for Pears and all there seems to be is a facebook page.

    Pears – not impressed….

    • Pete Finch says:

      How long can this brand last? It’s just a disaster now isn’t it.

      In Queensland (Australia) last month the 3 pack of transparent was half price at one of the major supermarket chains, so $A3 instead of $A6.29. A month later, a single cake is $A2.99 while the 3 pack is $A6.29.

      I would still be buying the product because I like people guessing what my aroma is, but when a single cake lasts less than a fortnight, it’s just not good value when production costs in India are considered. I will happily pay the retail price for a product that truly reflects a recognised and established brand but Pears is now just a fraudulent misrepresentation.

  11. rich says:

    Used to use this as a child in the 80’s growing up with my Grandmother. There was a bar on the bath tub and sink. Very recently had a nasty skin reaction after using a bar in the shower (I ran out of shower gel) skin rash on face and under arms was the result. Have heard some of the additives now incorporated are the cause. Such a shame I that this is now just a hand soap for me

  12. Amanda Andrews says:

    I have a question if somebody could help. I am positive Pears made a herbal soap 20 to 30 years ago called Pears Herbal Soap. It was yellow in colour & not translucent. I would like someone to confirm I am not going crazy and this product actually existed. If anyone can help I would be most appreciative.

    • Hello Amanda,

      Unilever Sri Lanka makes a “Pears Herbal Soap”. If you search “Unilever” and “Sri Lanka” in your search engine, the home page has a “Brands” tab and thereunder “Pears”.

      Martin Suenson

  13. Pete Finch says:

    Jim, it’s the “tradition” that’s kept the brand around for 200 years. There was one product and that was the brand.

    Progress is finding ways to extend the product range and grow the brand, not tamper with the core product until it barely resembles its heritage and the reason for the existence of the brand.

    It’s pretty basic marketing that whoever makes the stuff now have ignored.

    I tried the green or is it blue option (only one colour variant in Australia) and it’s nothing special at all. Even less of the “Pearsaroma” and useful life seems even less than the amber.

    Tinkering with the product is not progress.

  14. Jim says:

    I like the new formula. Just because something is 200 years old does not make it better. This new formula still has solid positive reviews. It’s called progress!

    • Roland says:

      You are right Jim, the age of the formula does not make better.

      The old formula is just better in every way……..except perhaps, profitability!

      I can’t imagine anyone trying both formulas, side by side, would say otherwise.

      My wife has a severe reaction to the new formula and develops flu like symptoms. My brother-in-law used it to control his eczema, the new formula makes his skin condition worse!

      Now that’s progress!

      • The great sadness for me is that like with everything British, Pears is disappearing and I mean literally!!

        Shame on everyone responsible, it is no longer clear or translucent, it no longer is the same size as it has been for hundreds of years, but it is a lot more expensive!!!!!

        I rest content that as the changes roll in even great names like this will disappear in the changes that are coming,and many a person will wish and pray for the days gone by, but I fear it will be too late for the soap and for us too.

    • Rich says:

      How can copious amounts of skin irritations posted here possibly be construed as progress?

  15. Pete Finch says:

    I’ve bought some of this product recently as it’s been discounted in some supermarkets and pharmacy chains however it’s not widely available anymore. (It was around $A6 but when it’s available it’s $A4.95 for the box of 3.)

    It’s the same “new” smell and it does use up much more quickly too, about three times faster than a boring bar of Palmolive.

    • NABA says:

      Thank you for your answer 🙂

    • Susan says:

      Agree with previous comments – the current Pears is lighter colour, lighter scent, smaller and does not last as long….almost totally walmartized.

    • Pete Finch says:

      Something may be happening! Will it be good or bad news? I bought a box of 3 Psuedo Pears Transparent made by the people of Unilever Hindustan but the pack was a long one with the soaps packed standing up side by side. Stilll priced at $A4.99 too.

      But why the new box? Could this mean a relaunch, maybe “all new and improved the way it used to be Pears?” Pity I can’t post the image here but fingers crossed, we Pears diehards may be rewarded for our patience, persistence and pedantics for Pears.

  16. NABA says:


    I have to write a marketing assignment, and I would like to focus on Pears’ soap disaster. I would like to ask you whether the formula is still unchanged (they use the new formula). The comments here are rather old, so it’s why I am asking. The internet also gives old articles about the soap.

    Thank you for your help.

    • Jane says:

      Yep, despite all the flack they’ve basically gone on making the new formula, though they seem to have toned the “perfume” down slightly (others may beg to differ). I’m not certain.

    • greyhares says:

      As Jane suggests, they may have adjusted the perfume a little but nothing else has changed as far as I can tell from the packaging.

      I don’t know if you have a title for your assignment Narba but suggest something along the lines of “If Multinationals are beyond the reach of most governments (ref the tax arrangements of Google, Apple, Starbucks, etc…. ) should we be surprised when they are utterly impervious the views of their consumers?

    • James says:

      Hi NABA,

      you may want to mention the marketing history of Pears, as the brand was largely built on advertising. You may find the section on Pears soap in the book ‘Brand Failures’ of interest (ignore the date of 1789; the date that Andrew Pears moved to London. Pears transparent soap was first produced in 1807):

      “Failing to hit the present taste

      “Pear’s Soap was not, by most accounts, a conventional brand failure. Indeed, it was one of the longest-running brands in marketing history.

      “The soap was named after London hairdresser Andrew Pears, who patented its transparent design in 1789. During the reign of Queen Victoria, Pear’s Soap became one of the first products in the UK to gain a coherent brand identity through intensive advertising. Indeed, the man behind Pear’s Soap’s early promotional efforts, Thomas J Barratt, has often been referred to as ‘the father of modern advertising.’

      “Endorsements were used to promote the brand. For instance, Sir ErasmusWilson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, guaranteed that Pear’s Soap possessed ‘the properties of an efficient yet mild detergent without any of the objectionable properties of ordinary soaps.’ Barrat also helped Pear’s Soap break into the US market by getting the hugely influencial religious leader Henry Ward Beecher to equate cleanliness, and Pear’s particularly, with Godliness. Once this had been achieved Barratt bought the entire front page of the New York Herald in order to show off this incredible testimonial.

      “The ‘Bubbles’ campaign, featuring an illustration of a baby boy bathed in bubbles, was particularly successful and established Pear’s as a part of everyday life on both sides of the Atlantic. However, Barratt recognized the ever changing nature of marketing. ‘Tastes change, fashions change, and the advertiser has to change with them,’ the Pear’s advertising man said in a 1907 interview. ‘An idea that was effective a generation ago would fall flat, stale, and unprofitable if presented to the public today. Not that the idea of today is always better than the older idea, but it is different – it hits the present taste.’

      “Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Pear’s remained the leading soap brand in the UK. However, towards the end of the century the market was starting to radically evolve.

      “In an October 2001 article in the Guardian, Madeleine Bunting charted our love affair with soap:

      “Over the past 100 years, soap has reflected the development of consumer culture. Some of the earliest brand names were given to soap; it was one of the first mass-produced goods to be packaged and the subject of some of the earliest ad campaigns. Its manufacturers pioneered market research; the first TV ads were for soap; soap operas, tales of domestic melodrama, were so named because they were often sponsored by soap companies. Soap made men rich – William Hesketh Lever, the 33-year-old who built Port Sunlight [where Pear’s was produced], for one – and it is no coincidence that two of the world’s oldest and biggest multinationals, Unilever and Procter & Gamble, rose to power on the back of soap.
      Recently though, Bunting argued, a change has emerged. The mass-produced block has been abandoned for its liquid versions – shower gels, body washes and liquid soap dispensers. ‘In pursuit of our ideal of cleanliness, the soap bar has been deemed unhygienic,’ she claimed.

      “Of course, this was troubling news for the Pear’s Soap brand and, by the end of the last century, its market share of the soap market had dropped to a low of 3 per cent. Marketing fell to almost zero. Then came the fatal blow.

      “On 22 February 2000 parent company Unilever announced it was to discontinue the Pear’s brand. The cost-saving decision was part of a broader strategy by Unilever to concentrate on 400 ‘power’ brands and to terminate the other 1,200. Other brands for the chop included Radion washing powder and Harmony hairspray.

      “So why had Pear’s lost its power? Well, the shift towards liquid soaps and shower gels was certainly a factor. But Unilever held onto Dove, another soap bar brand, which still fares exceptionally well. Ultimately, Pear’s was a brand built on advertising and when that advertising support was taken away, the brand identity gradually became irrelevant. After years of staying ahead, Pear’s Soap had failed to ‘hit the present taste’ as Thomas J Barratt might have put it.

      “Lessons from Pear’s

      “Every brand has its time. Pear’s Soap was a historical success, but the product became incompatible with contemporary trends and tastes.

      “Advertising can help build a brand. But brands built on advertising generally need advertising to sustain them.”

      You may also find the key points below of some interest:


      “Unilever’s Market Capitalization of about £ 51 Billion (~ $ 82 Billion) in
      June 1999 shrank to £ 20 Billion by January 2000 (Stock prices

      “Company’s Existing brand structure had lost its Focus (Too many

      “Unilever was criticized for spending large amounts of funds due to
      frequent restructuring over the years

      “Unilever’s market share was taking a big time hit (Dip)

      “There was no fit between the company’s organizational structure and
      its strategies (Persil Power shook the giant to its foundations)

      “It was believed that every big organization that is running into trouble
      needs a crisis to convince it of the necessity for fundamental change,
      and that for Unilever this situation had already arrived long ago

      “2000 TO 2004


      “In February 2000, the company announced a € 5 Billion Five –
      Year Growth Strategy

      “Unilever was “Shrinking to Grow”

      “Laying off over 25,000 employees (~10% of the employee

      “Unilever was split into two, separate global units : Foods and
      Home & Personal Care (HPC), headed by two executive
      Directors separately

      “Unilever reorganized its 300 operating companies into 10
      Regional Groups

      “Unilever Further Decentralized its Control over its subsidiaries

      “Unilever Shut down more than 100 manufacturing units for
      cost reduction

      “More than half of its Top Executives were replaced with young

      “Brand Portfolio of 1,600 was pruned to 400 (For better focus
      on leading brands)

      “Company came up with a Brand Focus Strategy “Nourishing the

      “Unilever started to exploit brands within the existing product
      categories but outside their scope”

      Of course, the moving of production to India, and the subsequent reformulating of the product certainly didn’t endear the company, or it’s subsidiary Hindustan Unilever to the public. Pears may still exist as a brand, but the product is no longer something that Andrew Pears would have been happy to lend his name to:

      “Like many Victorian small businesses, it catered to a particular class of customer, whom it respected and wished to please. Andrew Pears was a cautious man, and he cared more for the quality of the products that bore his name than the number of people who bought them. Dogged by inferior imitations, at one stage he even went so far as to sign personally every package he sold.”

      Anyhow, I hope that this is of some use to you. Good luck with your assignment.


      • NABA says:

        Thank you very much for your long and detailed answer! I can use a great deal from it!
        Just one more question: if the production of Pears’ was to be stopped, than why bother to change the formula and even move the production to India?

        Best regards,

        • James says:

          You’re welcome, NABA. The aforementioned book states that Unilever had announced that it was to discontinue the Pears brand. However, I suspect that the author may have misinterpreted the newspaper reports, if they were indeed his sources of information. If we look at the newspaper reports, they do not mention anything about the brand being discontinued, only that Unilever was ditching, or washing it’s hands of the it:

          The Guardian, Wednesday 23 February 2000

          “Yesterday Unilever washed its hands of Pears saying it was not one of its 400 “power” brands on which the future of the group will be built.”

          The Guardian, Wednesday 23 February 2000

          “Unilever is to chop 25,000 jobs and shut 100 factories worldwide as part of a huge restructuring to improve competitiveness.

          “Most of the jobs will go in Europe and North America alongside the ditching of 1,200 of its 1,600 brands, including household names such as Pear’s soap, Radion washing powder and Jif lemons.”

          It isn’t made clear in the articles what the “ditching” of Pears entailed. Pears soap continued to be produced after 2000, suggesting that the brand was sold to another company, namely Hindustan Unilever, a subsidiary of Unilever which now owns Pears. The source below also suggests that the unwanted brands and businesses were sold off:

          “In 2000, company’s biggest acquisition by far was Bestfoods

          “It took total company sales to $52 billion a year

          “Bestfoods brought some leading brands into the fold like Knorr and Hellman’s

          “40% of Unilever sales is from outside North America, an ideal fit with the globalized Unilever

          “1,000 of the brands delivered only 8% of total company sales

          “The collateral damage was that 100 of the 350 factories would go along with 25,000 employees

          “Only a year later the company portfolio was down to 900 brands as 87 businesses were sold off


          “Twelve brands had sales in excess of €1 billion

          “Approximately two-thirds of total sales derived from brands larger than €0.5 billion

          “That is no mean feat given a starting point of 1,600 brands

          “Knorr, the company’s largest brand, was sold in over 100 countries

          “Dove, Signal and Pepsodent were all relaunched

          “The Pro-Activ cholesterol-lowering spread was extended into other dairy categories

          “The ever-reliable Sunsilk grew by double digits

          “The €1 billion+ R&D programme had been realigned behind the new Vitality agenda

          “It registered 370 patents in the year

          “The Latin American region had an underlying sales growth in the year

          “All the unwanted brands and businesses were being sold off

          “For the first time since its formation, Unilever would have one chairman, one board, one CEO with one executive team.

          “There would be two category presidents, one each for Foods, and for Home and Personal care (HPC), responsible for R&D, brand development and category development.

          “Alongside would be three regional presidents (Europe, The Americas, Asia/Africa, Middle East and Turkey)”

          I hope that this answered your question.


          • James says:

            You might also want to mention that it was around this time (2003 to be precise) that Cert Brands Ltd were awarded the distributorship of Pears soap for the UK and Europe. Various other sources state that it is also responsible for the marketing of Pears. To quote from their site:

            “The fascinating story continues; In 2003 Cert Brands Ltd are awarded the distributorship of Pears soap for the UK and Europe. Despite a loyal consumer following, Pears Soap had fallen out of favor during the eighties and nineties, with new dynamic brands dominating retailer’s shelves. Cert Brands realized that “heritage” brands such as Pears could still deliver volume and value for the brand owner by increasing their market presence without impacting on the market leader’s position.

            “Although some levels of investment are required, focus is the key element in extracting value from “heritage” brands. By concentrating on the iconic Amber bar, Cert Brand’s were able to focus limited support spend, and over an 18 month period re – establish listings with all the UK’s major retail chains. Volumes grew significantly and additional sales channels established. Amber Bar became the fastest growing tablet soap brand in the UK.

            “With sales increasing significantly, both consumers and the trade were demanding new Pears products – a very different story from a few years prior. In a very short time, a liquid Hand Wash was introduced. This product gained 100% distribution within the major grocery retailers and was followed by Shower Gel which has also been a great success.

            “Over the next few years a rolling program of new product launches will add to the Pears family and help ensure that the Pears Story continues for future generations.”


            The brand continues to be a success, due to the use of strategies such as product diversification and cost cutting, but largely at the expense of the continuity of the product that helped to build the brand in the first place. Pears Transparent Soap may still exist in name, but the product is virtually unrecognisable from the original. Hindustan Unilever are essentially selling a poor imitation of the original Pears; something which the father of the brand had gone to great lengths to avoid.

            Hopefully you now have plenty of material to use for your assignment.


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