Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever has said it is to remove the beef ingredient from its hot drink brand Bovril in an effort to boost sales.

"It wasn't an easy decision," a spokesman for Unilever Foods was quoted by The Guardian as saying. "There is strong affection for the Bovril brand."

Sales of Bovril have been declining amid increased vegetarianism and concerns about BSE. The spokesman added that the company expects to be able improve sales by having a beefless Bovril, particularly in Asia.

"In Malaysia they stir it into porridge and coffee, but the government there has been becoming quite restrictive on non-halal meat. Overall, our export market used to account for 20% of sales but it has dropped to 7%," he was quoted as saying.

The beef extract will be replaced by yeast extract - the company said that in a blind taste test, 10% of participants could not tell the difference between the two versions, while more than half preferred the non-beef version.
 
According to the company website, Bovril's invention stems from the defeat by the Germans of the French in the war of 1870-71, after which the French military authorities felt their troops would have held out longer if they had had more substantial food to eat. A 35-year-old Scot, John Lawson Johnston, was awarded a French government contract to supply one million cans of beef to its army over a period of three years.

Beef supplies in Britain weren't sufficient to fill the tins required by the French and so in 1873 Johnston formed a company and built a factory in Quebec, Canada. He worked on his invention, then known as Johnson's Fluid Beef, which he was to launch on the civilian market.

The name Bovril derives from a name Johnston found in a book. Vril was 'an electric fluid' which according to the book 'cured diseases and established, equilibrium of natural powers'. The Latin word for beef was 'Bos' and thus Bovril was formed

In 1884 Johnston returned to London and set up a small factory; by March 1888 there were over 3,000 bars and public houses serving hot Bovril. The Bovril Company was formed in 1889.