Chewing it over: Mackintosh toffee

Mackintosh was the largest manufacturer of toffee in the world. The company introduced iconic brands such as Quality Street, Rolo and Toffee Crisp.

Violet Mackintosh creates a new toffee
John Mackintosh (1868 – 1920) and his wife Violet (1866 – 1932) opened a pastry shop in Halifax, Yorkshire, in 1890. The couple were lifelong members of the Methodist New Connexion denomination (United Methodist Church from 1907).

Business was to prove slow, so Violet Mackintosh invented a new product: a unique chewy toffee which blended the qualities of Yorkshire butterscotch and American caramel. Previously English toffee had referred to a hard boiled sweet.

The product was to prove a great success, and soon the product began to be distributed across Britain.

Mackintosh becomes the largest manufacturer of toffee in the world
John Mackintosh was the largest toffee manufacturer in the world by 1905. He sold an average of one hundred tons of toffee every week in England. He claimed to be the largest consumer of butter in the world.

Export sales proved promising, and Mackintosh established a factory in Germany, outside of Dusseldorf, from 1906.

A factory was opened at Brockville, Ontario in Canada in 1908. It had a manufacturing capacity of seven tons of toffee a day.

Over 8,000 tons of toffee were sold in Britain every year by 1910.

The German business was closed shortly before the First World War.

John Mackintosh Ltd employed some 1,000 people by 1914.

A factory had been established in Australia by 1914.

John Mackintosh died from a heart attack in 1920. He left an estate valued at over £150,000, and his company had assets of £350,000.

Control of the business passed to Harold Mackintosh (1891 – 1964), the eldest son of the founder.

Company shares were first offered to the public in 1921 in order to fund the duty on John Mackintosh’s estate.

Mackintosh could produce seven million pieces of toffee every day by 1921. The company employed 2,000 people in factories in Britain and overseas by 1932.

Acquisition of A J Caley and new product launches
A J Caley, the Norwich chocolate manufacturer, was acquired from Unilever for £138,000 in 1933. The loss-making operation had a capital of £1 million and employed 1,000 people.

Mackintosh overhauled the business, repositioning it into the premium quality sector. Mackintosh combined its expertise in toffee with Caley’s expertise in chocolate. As a result, the Quality Street sweet tin was launched in 1936. This was quickly followed by the Rolo in 1937. The Rolo was designed to fit easily inside a pocket, and was an immediate success. A J Caley sales grew eightfold between 1933 and 1938.

Mackintosh supplied over 10,000 tons of confectionery to the British armed forces during the Second World War, principally toffee and butterscotch.

Quality Street had overtaken Mackintosh’s toffee to be regarded by the company as its premier product by the early 1950s. Rolo was perceived as an adequate rival to the foremost Cadbury and Rowntree lines.

Further product launches included Munchies (1957), Caramac (1959), Tooty Frooties and Toffee Crisp (both 1963) and Toffo (1964).

Mackintosh employed 5,000 people, including 2,000 at Norwich, by 1962. The company opened a new factory in Halifax, Yorkshire, in 1964.

Mackintosh became one of the “Big Five” of British chocolate manufacturers, alongside Cadbury, Rowntree, Mars and Nestle.

Fox’s of Leicester, manufacturer of Glacier Mints, was acquired for £1 million in cash in 1969.

Mackintosh merges with Rowntree
Mackintosh underwent a friendly merger with Rowntree of York to form Rowntree Mackintosh in 1969. At the time, Mackintosh shares were still majority held by family interests. Rowntree dominated the merger, which was seen as a defensive move following a £49 million bid for Rowntree from General Food of America. The merged company held 25 percent of the British confectionery market.

Quality Street had the largest sale of any confectionery assortment in the world by 1972.

Rowntree was acquired by Nestle of Switzerland in 1988. The Norwich factory was closed in 1994.

Toffo was discontinued in Britain in 2012. It continues to be manufactured and sold in the Middle East.

The Halifax factory continues to manufacture Quality Street, as well as Easter eggs and After Eights.

Mackintosh toffee is still sold in Canada and Australasia. It is also available in Britain as a variety within the Quality Street assortment.