Main MenuSainsbury's Our Future History Main Logo

Living Archive

Social Menu
View Asset
Easter egg display at North End, Croydon branch, c.1920

An Eggstraordinary Journey

While most of us will recognise it as an edible chocolate treat synonymous with Springtime, the Easter Egg has, quite literally, had a surprisingly colourful past.

Many cultures around the globe have used eggs to symbolise fertility and growth, often decorating and gifting them to one another to celebrate new beginnings. Painted Ostrich eggs from over 60,000 years ago have been found in Africa although it’s often suggested that ancient China was the first to gift eggs during Spring festivals.

The British Easter has always coincided with longer days, warmer weather and an explosion of new life. These traits were well suited to the symbolic nature of the egg and so the concept of the Easter Egg was born. The earliest documented mention of eggs being gifted at Easter came from a notation in the household accounts of King Edward I in 1307. The entry read:

“18 pence for 459 eggs to be boiled and dyed or covered with gold leaf and distributed to the royal household.”

It wasn’t until the early 19th century that the idea of making eggs out of chocolate came to the fore. It was then that chocolatiers in Germany developed a blend suitable for shaping, leading to the first solid chocolate Easter Egg. In Britain, John Cadbury made his first solid eggs in 1942 but it was JS Fry of Bristol who made Britain’s first official chocolate Easter Egg in 1873. A new style of press had been developed that could separate the cocoa butter from the bean making the chocolate Easter Egg process much easier.

View Asset
“Easter Holidays” advert for Sainsbury’s Norwich, 1914

Sainsbury’s Gives You Eggs-tra

Easter celebrations are, of course, about far more than just Easter Eggs. Since the first store opened in 1869, Sainsbury’s has provided Britain with a wealth of traditional seasonal options. This has included fowls, lambs, hams and cheeses amongst other things, all of which can be seen, as advertised, in the slideshow below.

It has long been a British tradition to eat roast lamb on Easter Sunday and this would usually have been presented alongside the finest spring vegetables such as cabbage, carrots and new potatoes. In the early to mid nineteenth century, lamb, like many other products was rationed due to a lack of availability. Less than a third of the food available in Britain at the start of World War II was produced at home. This meant unrationed items and meats such as chicken became a popular Easter choice.

Although not part of the roast, eggs were also heavily rationed. Initially, people were limited to just one egg per week – quite a shock to many. Not even the chocolate egg could escape rationing. In fact, it wasn’t until 1953, eight years after the war had ended, that sugar became readily available again. This meant that chocolate Easter Eggs were a low priority for purveyors of foods like Sainsbury’s until years later.

This didn’t stop Sainsbury’s from providing customers with plenty of useful hints, tips and recipes to see them through the Easter holidays. One example from the slideshow below is taken from “More Ways With Eggs” article from Family, Sainsbury’s Magazine For Every Woman, Spring 1962 and outlines six seasonal dishes that could be made using eggs. This was a prime example of Sainsbury’s commitment to providing customers with added value beyond just quality products.

As the economy recovered and austerity subsided, lamb firmly re-established itself as Britain’s favourite Easter meat. It also became increasingly common for families to indulge in Easter treats like chocolate cakes and Easter puddings and by the 1960s, gifting chocolate Easter Eggs to family members and friends was the norm.

Sainsbury’s modern Easter Egg offering has certainly changed over time, but its values have not. Sainsbury’s sells Easter Eggs in just about every size, shape and style you can imagine and remains committed to ensuring they are ethically sourced. In fact, all Taste The Difference Belgian Easter Eggs are now Fairtrade.

Sainsbury’s aims to bolster its Easter offerings year on year, making sure families are fully equipped to enjoy the festivities. From hot cross buns and Easter Bunny cakes, to ideas on keeping the kids entertained, Sainsbury’s continues to cater for all aspects of a traditional British family Easter. The slideshow below shows some of these more modern Sainsbury’s initiatives.

  • Easter recipes from JS Journal, 1947

  • Easter recipes from JS Journal, 1947

  • JS Journal, 1951

  • JS Journal, May 1951

  • “Large Chocolate Easter Eggs”, promotional gift handbill

  • “Hams for Easter” advert

  • “Sainsbury’s Easter values” advert, 1914

  • “Lamb and Mint Sauce For Easter” advert, 1914

  • “Grand Easter Display”, at High Street Watford advert, 1914

  • “Easter, 1910” free gift with a purchase over five shillings handbill, 1910

  • “Easter Holidays” advert for Sainsbury’s Norwich, 1914

  • “The Best Easter Eggs” handbill

  • “Lamb for Easter" price list, 1939

  • Easter Fun with Eggs and Cress, 2014

  • Happy Bunny Cake, 2014

  • Sainsbury's Easter Egg Hunt Ideas, 2014

  • Sainsbury's Easter Egg Hunt, 2014

  • Sainsbury's Roast Lamb, 2014

  • Sainsbury's Easter Ideas: Hot Cross Potatoes, 2014

  • "Eggs -symbols of Easter" article from Family Sainsbury's Magazine For Every Woman, Spring 1963