Rowntree Mackintosh – Made In Yorkshire | Volume 6

What is Rowntree Mackintosh?

Rowntree Mackintosh is a British confectionery company in York. Find out how a grocer from York gave us some of our favourite confectionery.

The former Rowntree factory (now owned by Nestle) before a large part of it was demolished to make way for modern buildings. (photo credit: http://news.bbc.co.uk)
The former Rowntree factory (now owned by Nestle) before a large part of it was demolished to make way for modern buildings. (photo credit: http://news.bbc.co.uk)

The Beginning

Similar to other successful confectionary companies, Rowntree has roots in the Quaker movement. In 1725, Mary Tuke started a grocers shop in York. Her grandfather was among the 4,000 imprisoned for their beliefs in 1660.

Mary took on an apprentice, her nephew William, in 1746. When she died in 1750 (some sources say 1755), William took over the business.

By 1785, the shop was trading under the name William Tuke & Sons.

The business ran as two strands. The first trading in tea and coffee, later gained by Twinings after World War 2. The second in manufacturing chocolate.

In 1862, Henry Isaac Rowntree (also a Quaker) bought the chocolate business. He set up shop in Coppergate, York.

Two years later he extended his business and erected a new factory at Tanner’s Moat. Also, Henry was involved with editing and printing the Yorkshire Weekly Press.

In 1869, he took on his brother Joseph as a partner. The business was renames H I Rowntree & Co.

Becoming what it is today

The company was restricted to coca powder and chocolate drops. Their breakthrough came in 1881.

They produced fruit pastilles. Previously they had only been imported from France.

Their business ballooned thanks to these new sweets. The following year they bought and converted an old flour mill.

In 1890, they expanded further. The company purchased 140 acres of land where their factory still stands today. By 1906 they employed over 4,000 workers.

The company announced schemes to benefit their employees. These included a widow’s fund, workers’ dining room, gym, company optician and a weeks paid holiday. They also reduced hours to just 44 per week.

Like other Yorkshire philanthropists, such as Sir Titus Salt in Saltaire, Rowntree developed a purpose built model village. This housed the factory workers to keep them away from industrial slums which had evolved in parts of York.

They called this new settlement New Earswick. It was built in a green space at the side of the River Foss between 1902 – 1904.

Each house had its own garden complete with two fruit trees. The Rowntree family were one of the largest employers in York and at the forefront of social reform for its workers.

Joseph Rowntree stayed true to his Quaker upbringing and philanthropic ideals. He set up several charitable trusts to aid social reform.

The Rowntree Trusts still exist today. In 1942, they built the Joseph Rowntree School in the city. Joseph also opened a park in 1921 which was named after him.

In the early twentieth century, their business declined. This was because tastes changed and their cocoa products became less popular.

The marketing director and future chairman George Harris turned the business around. He introduced his knowledge of American promotional methods – focus on the brand.

In the 1930’s, Rowntree introduced their most famous and lasting brands. This included Kit Kat (called Chocolate Crisp), Aero, Smarties, Dairy Box and Black Magic.

They wanted to ensure they had ‘the perfect chocolate assortment’ for Black Magic. This led to them interviewing over 7,000 typical consumers.

In 1948, they added Polo mints to their roster. This was followed by ‘After Eights’ in 1962.

Creamola Food Products and Sunpat Products Ltd became part of Rowntree’s in the 1960’s. The year 1969 saw the company merge with another company, known as Mackintosh.

John Mackintosh and his bride Violet married in 1890 and bought a pastry shop in Halifax. They combined their savings of £100.

Violet had worked as a confectioner’s assistant. She ran the business while John worked at a local cotton mill.

To attract customers, Violet developed Mackintosh’s Celebrated Toffee. This was a blend of brittle British Butterscotch and American caramel.

They created an advert for the local newspaper. It was an invitation to the public to try a free sample of the new toffee.

The toffee sold out on the first day.

A week later, they created a second advert. This read “On Saturday last you were eating Mackintosh’s toffee at our expense; next Saturday pay us another visit and eat it at your own expense”.

People came from all over the country to the ‘Toffee Shop’ in Halifax. Their product changed the definition of toffee forever.

Before it was used as a description for any sugar or boiled sweet.

This success saw them move from retail to large scale manufacturer. They rented a small warehouse in Bond Street.

By 1895, they needed to expand. The business moved to a larger premises in Hope Street.

In 1899, they converted the business into a limited company called John Mackintosh Ltd. They raised £11,000, along with a £4,000 bank loan, to build a new factory on Queen’s Road.

This factory burnt down in 1909. The insurance payout was enough for them to rebuild.

The company also bought the vacant Albion Mills. This later became their permanent headquarters.

The Mackintosh’s realised the power of advertising. This led to John Mackintosh declaring himself the ‘Toffee King’ in 1902.

After John died in 1920, his son Harold commissioned the cartoonist Heath Robinson. Harold wanted to created a full page of cartoon advertisements. Part of this was depicting Halifax as ‘Toffee Town’ which it had become known for.

In 1932, Mackintosh purchased the Caley chocolate company from Unilever. This gave them access to chocolate production.

The world’s first twist-wrapping machine was invented. This allowed them to sell individually wrapped chocolate covered toffees.

In 1936, they introduced their most famous brand Quality Street. They named it after a play of the same name by Peter Pan creator J. M. Barrie.

Other well known names followed. This included Rolo in 1937, Caramac in 1959 and then Tooty Fruity and Toffee Crisp in 1963.

Rowntree and Mackintosh merged in 1969. They struck a deal with companies around the world to produce some of their more famous brands under license.

This included American chocolate manufacturers Hershey. They introduced Kit Kat and Rolo to the US market.

In 1987, the company went public. The following year Nestle took over for £2.5 billion.

Much of the company’s production still takes place in the York factory. They continue to create new products under the Rowntree name.

This include ‘Rowntree’s Randoms’ in 2009 and ‘Rowntree’s Fruit Bottles’ three years later.

Nestle have also made York the centre of their research and development. Chocolate production in the city is set to continue into the future.