Wrigley’s pioneered sales of chewing gum in Britain. The business held 93 percent of the British gum market in 2016.
William Wrigley Jr (1861 – 1932) established a British subsidiary in 1911 with a capital of £2,000. Wrigley (Sales) Ltd had a warehouse on Lambeth Palace Road, London and an office at 164 Piccadilly. The first sales of Wrigley’s chewing gum were at Heppell’s, a Piccadilly chemist.
It was difficult to convince Edwardian Britain to chew gum, at a time when even sucking on a boiled sweet in public was against the social norm. The big change came with the First World War; British soldiers picked up the habit of chewing gum as a relief from boredom.
Previously engaged in sales, Stanley Lorimer Murison (1881 – 1932) was appointed managing director from 1921. A quiet and determined man, he invested heavily on advertising, and the company grew under his leadership.
Murison relocated the warehouse and office operations to Tottenham Court Road.
Wrigley advertised that their chewing gum was manufactured using only refined chicle, pure sugar and flavouring. The main two flavour varieties sold were Spearmint and “P.K.” (triple-distilled peppermint).
Sales grew sufficiently that it was decided to establish a manufacturing base in Britain. Eleven acres of former British Empire Exhibition land at Wembley were acquired to establish a factory in 1925. The site was chosen due to its strong transport links. Build, land and equipment costs totalled £200,000. The factory was opened in 1927 with 350 employees. A large proportion of Wembley production was exported overseas; to Europe, India, Egypt and South Africa.
Over 109 million packets of Wrigley gum were sold in Great Britain in 1929. Wrigley’s was the only sugar-coated chewing gum produced in Britain.
Company capital was reduced from £200,000 to £150,000 in 1930. Wrigley claimed that due to high sales of its product, it required less capital than previously.
Wrigley produced several tons of chewing gum in Britain every day by 1933. Its factory had a capacity of 300,000 sticks of gum a day.
The Second World War saw production levels soar, largely fuelled by British and Empire military consumption. Britain was the second largest exporter of chewing gum in the world by 1940, largely due to the Wrigley factory.
American GIs stationed in Britain also helped to promote the habit of chewing gum. Coupled with extensive advertising, sales reached the mass market level in the post-war period.
Expanding sales saw the company outgrow the Wembley facility. The factory and head office were relocated to a 39 acre site outside Plymouth in 1970. 25 percent of Wembley employees relocated to Plymouth.
Orbit, Britain’s first sugar-free gum, was launched in 1977. Wrigley’s Extra was introduced from 1989. Airwaves was launched in 1997. Extra Mints were launched in 2004.
Wrigley was acquired by Mars, the chocolate manufacturer, in 2008.
Wrigley employed nearly 500 people in Britain and Ireland in 2015, including 230 people at the Plymouth factory. Around 25 percent of Plymouth production is exported overseas. Wrigley held 90 percent of the British chewing gum market in 2017.