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.

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 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.

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 in 1906 Mackintosh opened a factory in Germany, outside of Dusseldorf.

In 1908 a factory was opened at Brockville, Ontario in Canada. 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. John Mackintosh Ltd employed some 1,000 people by 1914. By 1914 a factory had been established in Australia.

John Mackintosh died from a heart attack in 1920. He left over £150,000, and his company had assets of £350,000. In 1921 the company went public in order to pay estate duty.

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.

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 was now able to combine 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.

By the early 1950s, Quality Street had overtaken Mackintosh’s toffee to be regarded by the company as its premier product. Rolo was perceived as an adequate rival to the foremost Cadbury and Rowntree lines. The company employed 4,000 people by 1953.

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

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

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

Later in 1969, Mackintosh underwent a friendly merger with Rowntree of York to form Rowntree Mackintosh. 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 UK 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. The Halifax factory continues to manufacture Quality Street, as well as Easter eggs and After Eights.

Toffo was discontinued in Britain in 2012.

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

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