H J Packer was the largest low-cost chocolate manufacturer in the world.
Edward Packer (1848 – 1887) was a Quaker who worked for J S Fry & Sons of Bristol, a chocolate manufacturer, in the 1870s.
Edward Packer left Fry to commence chocolate manufacture for himself in 1881. He worked from his house at 11 Armory Square, and was assisted by his wife. Soon he employed eight people.
Packer entered into partnership with Henry John Burrows (born 1853). Unfortunately, trade immediately declined, and all employees other than members of the Packer family had to be laid off. The partnership was dissolved leaving Burrows as sole proprietor from 1884. Burrows added his own initials to the company name, and began trading as H J Packer & Co.
Caleb Bruce Cole (1862 -1912) was a confectionery salesman in Bristol. His contact with H J Packer & Co impressed him, and his father lent him £1,000 to buy the business in 1886. Around nine people were employed.
Cole identified a gap in the market, and began to manufacture high quality chocolate at an affordable price. The chocolates found a keen market among children.
Cole subverted the notion that low-cost food production need sacrifice standards of cleanliness or provision for the workforce.
In 1896 Cole was joined by his brother Horace, and William John Mansfield (1846 -1912) was employed as general manager.
A new factory was opened at Greenbank, Bristol in 1903. It covered four acres and was the largest low-cost chocolate factory in the world. Greenbank was situated on a major railway line, which allowed for convenient distribution. Two large dining halls, each with a capacity of 400 people were erected, and food was available to workers at cost price.
H J Packer & Co became a limited company from 1908.
Carsons Ltd of Glasgow, with a share capital of £50,000, was acquired in January 1912. A high quality manufacturer, Carsons had been the first company to introduce tray chocolates.
Charles Bruce Cole died in June 1912. A progressive man, he was described as quiet and likeable. He left an estate valued at £259,937.
H J Packer & Co had a capital of £750,000 and employed 1,000 people by 1912.
A dedicated Carsons chocolate factory was opened in Bristol in 1913.
Packers was the fourth largest chocolate manufacturer in Britain by 1922, and the largest manufacturer of low-cost chocolate in the world.
The company struggled during the Great Depression.
Suffering from overcapacity, the Carsons factory was divested in 1960.
The company name was changed to Carsons Ltd from 1962. The Carsons brand had become well known as Britain’s largest producer of chocolate liqueurs, filled with some of the leading spirits, liqueur and fortified wine brands in the world.
Until 1961 liqueur chocolates could only be sold from licensed premises. This opening up of the market provided an opportunity.
Cavenham Foods, managed by James Goldsmith (1933 – 1997), gained control of Carsons in 1964.
Goldsmith modernised the Carsons plant. He then retired all of the Carsons chocolate lines except for liqueurs, the only sector of the market which was experiencing a growth in sales. The liqueur chocolate market was largely dominated by imported brands such as Lindt, Ringer, Rademaker and Trumpf.
Carsons held over 29 percent of the liqueur chocolate market by 1966. This was achieved with minimal advertising. Instead Carson’s benefited from the advertising campaigns of spirits brands that were inside their chocolates; names such as Harvey’s Bristol Cream and Hennessey cognac.
Carsons liqueurs were being marketed under the Famous Names brand by 1966.
Elizabeth Shaw, an upmarket chocolate manufacturer, was acquired in 1968.
Carsons held over 40 percent of the British chocolate liqueur market by the late 1970s.
Cavenham Confectionery was subject to a management buyout in 1981, and the company was renamed Famous Names Ltd. It was acquired by Imperial Tobacco in 1985.
Management bought control of Famous Names Ltd in 1988, and the company was renamed Elizabeth Shaw Ltd. Elizabeth Shaw Ltd was acquired by Leaf of Finland in 1990.
Elizabeth Shaw closed its outdated Greenbank factory in 2006. Production was relocated to factories across Britain and Europe.