Category Archives: Food

Rocky road: Fox’s Biscuits

Fox’s Biscuits employs 2,000 people. An extensive own-label producer, it is best known for the Rocky and Party Rings biscuits.

Party Rings, a leading Fox’s product

Michael Spedding establishes the business
Michael Spedding (1834 – 1927) was born to a humble family in Marsh, Huddersfield, Yorkshire. He received just three months of formal education, supplemented with some Sunday school teaching.

Spedding worked at a cotton mill in nearby Meltham by the age of 13. His grandfather encouraged him to relocate to Batley to find work. Spedding was poor, and made the 15-mile journey on foot. His economic position was such that on some nights he would sleep in barns.

Spedding married Susan Fox (1834 – 1895), the daughter of a bone-setter, in 1854.

Spedding established himself as a food seller from 1863. He began to concentrate on the confectionery trade, with an initial focus on brandy snap biscuits.

In addition to his confectionery business, Spedding took over the bone-setting business of his father-in-law from 1877.

Spedding had been joined in business by his daughter Hannah and his son-in-law Fred Ellis Fox (1871 – 1938) by 1891.

The firm began to trade as F E Fox & Co from 1897, and Spedding retired in 1900. Brandy snaps continued to be the major product.

F E Fox & Son
F E Fox was joined by his son, Michael Spedding Fox (1896 – 1963), and the firm began to trade as F E Fox & Son.

F E Fox & Son relocated to a new site at Batley from 1927.

Michael Spedding died as one of the oldest men in his district in 1927.

F E Fox & Son was best known for brandy snaps and ginger biscuits by 1929.

F E Fox & Son was incorporated as a private company in 1938. The business was still a regional concern at this time.

F E Fox died in 1938 and left an estate valued at £19,243. Michael Spedding Fox became managing director of the company.

Michael Spedding Fox expands the business
The Batley factory was expanded and modernised in the post-war period. F E Fox & Son Ltd had around 500 employees by 1955.

F E Fox & Son won a valuable contract to produce biscuits for Marks & Spencer in 1958. The contract accounted for half of all production.

F E Fox & Son required capital to fulfil its ambitions of becoming a nationally recognised company. The business went public in 1960 as Fox’s Biscuits with an authorised share capital of £400,000. There were around 950 employees.

The offices at Batley in 2007

Parkinson’s Biscuits of Kirkham, Preston was acquired in 1966.

J Lyons & Co acquired a 25 percent stake in Fox’s Biscuits in 1972.

Acquisition by Northern Foods
Fox’s Biscuits was acquired by Northern Foods in 1977. Following the merger of their interests, Northern Foods supplied Marks & Spencer with around 40 percent of its cake and biscuits.

Alfred Henry Fox died in 1977 with an estate valued at £124,375.

Fox’s Biscuits had emerged as one of the strongest brands at Northern Foods by the 1980s.

Fox’s Biscuits was one of the largest biscuit manufacturers in Britain by 1986. Around 2,500 people were employed.

Elkes Biscuits of Uttoxeter was acquired in 1987.

Northern Foods invested £20 million to increase production at Fox’s biscuits in 1987.

Fox’s Biscuits was best known for its Rocky and Party Rings biscuits by the 1990s.

2 Sisters Food Group
Northern Foods was acquired by 2 Sisters Food Group in 2011.

The non-core Fox’s Biscuits business was identified as a potential divestment for 2 Sisters in 2016, with an estimated sale price of £250 million.

There are three Fox’s Biscuits factories as of 2019, located at Uttoxeter, Batley and Kirkham near Preston. The division employs 2,000 people. The company has a large contract and own-label business, producing Farley’s Rusks for Heinz, for example.

The Elkes brand is still used by Fox’s to market its budget range of biscuits.

As of 2019, Fox’s ranks at fourth place in the British biscuit market, with a 3.7 percent share.

Biscuity history: William Crawford & Sons

Crawford’s was the fourth largest biscuit manufacturer in Britain, and the longest-established. The brand continues today as the economy sister brand to McVitie’s.

Origins and early growth
Ship biscuits were first produced at 31 Shore, a public house in Leith, Edinburgh, from 1813. Robert Mathie (1790 – 1863) took over the business from 1817, and employed five men by 1851.

Mathie retired and sold the business to William Crawford (1818 – 1889) in 1856. Crawford immediately opened an outlet on 14 Leith Street, Edinburgh to extend his customer base.

Crawford was a master baker employing six men and one boy by 1861. He relocated his Edinburgh outlet to 2 Princes Street from 1866.

Crawford employed five men and one boy in 1871.

Crawford established a custom-built factory at Elbe Street, Leith in 1879. The business traded as William Crawford & Sons from 1880. The wheat meal biscuit, similar to a digestive, had replaced the ship biscuit as the leading product by this time.

William Crawford died as a well-respected figure in Leith and Edinburgh in 1889. He was succeeded as principal of the firm by his son, William Crawford (1858 – 1926), a man of a retiring disposition. It would be due to the efforts of the son that the family firm would grow to national scale.

The Elbe Street factory was described as “large” by 1891.

Establishment of a Liverpool factory
William Crawford sent two of his brothers, Archibald Inglis Crawford (1869 – 1940) and James Shields Russell Crawford (1863 – 1927), to establish a subsidiary in Australia in 1897. The brothers were due to set sail from Liverpool, but instead decided to stay put, and established the Fairfield Works on Binns Road in the city.

The Fairfield Works, Binns Road, Liverpool (2013)

Crawford products around this time included wheat meal, shortbread, currant and rich tea biscuits, as well as cream crackers.

William Crawford & Sons had established national distribution by 1900.

William Crawford & Sons of Leith was registered as a limited liability company with a capital of £251,000 in 1906. The Crawford family controlled the company.

The Leith factory was largely rebuilt in 1906, and covered a quarter of an acre. The factory employed 150 men and boys by 1911.

Alexander Hunter Crawford (1865 – 1945), a leading Edinburgh architect, joined the company from around 1920.

William Crawford & Sons employed hundreds of people at its factories at Leith and Liverpool by 1923. By this time the company claimed to be “the oldest of the biscuit manufacturers”.

Company capital was increased to £700,000 in 1924.

William Crawford died with an estate valued at £876,211 in 1926.

William Crawford & Sons ranked among the largest British biscuit manufacturers by 1929. It was the fourth largest biscuit manufacturer in Britain in 1939, with a market share by volume of 14 percent.

Archibald Inglis Crawford died in 1940 with an estate valued at £1,015,886.

Douglas Inglis Crawford (1904 – 1981), son of Archibald, became company chairman from 1946. His father had instilled in him the values of honesty and integrity.

Douglas Inglis Crawford (1904 – 1981)

Takeover by United Biscuits
William Crawford & Sons was the largest privately-owned biscuit manufacturer in Britain by 1962. Its best known product was shortbread. The business employed 3,000 people in Liverpool, and 1,000 in Leith.

The company was still largely in Crawford family hands when it was acquired in a friendly takeover by United Biscuits for £6.25 million in 1962. Douglas Crawford was appointed vice chairman of United Biscuits.

United Biscuits closed the Leith factory in 1970, with the loss of 703 jobs. Meanwhile an investment of £2 million saw production increased by 50 percent at the Liverpool plant.

The McVitie’s, Crawford and Macfarlane sales teams were merged in the 1970s.

Douglas Crawford retired in 1974.

The Crawford factory in Liverpool was the longest-established and largest of all United Biscuits factories. It was also the most progressive in terms of employee relations. The site covered seventeen acres and employed 4,000 people by 1977. The Tuc biscuit and Tartan shortbread were its leading products.

Douglas Crawford died with a net estate of £252,431 in 1981.

United Biscuits wound-down manufacturing operations at Liverpool between 1984 and 1987. 934 full time and over 1,000 part time jobs were lost. Some administrative functions are maintained at the site.

The Crawford name was repositioned as an economy brand from 2014. The Crawford’s (formerly Peek Frean) Family Circle was rebranded under the McVitie’s name.

The Salt King: John Corbett

John Corbett was by far the largest producer of salt in Britain.

The early life of John Corbett
John Corbett (1817 – 1901) was the son of Joseph Corbett, a Shropshire farmer. Joseph Corbett relocated to Birmingham, where he established a successful canal freight business.

John Corbett (1817-1901) by Henry Tanworth Wells. Image used with the kind permission of The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust

John Corbett left school at the age of ten, and began to drive one of his father’s canal boats. He was eventually promoted to canal boat captain. During this period Corbett observed that salt was one of the major freight goods.

In his spare time, as well as on canal boats, Corbett would read mechanical books, with the aim of becoming an engineer. He served a five year apprenticeship at the Leys Ironworks in Stourbridge from 1840.

John Corbett was taken into partnership by his father in 1846. However the business was suffering with increased competition from the railways, and was sold to the Grand Junction Canal Company in 1849.

Corbett acquires the Stoke Prior Salt Works
John Corbett went to work at the Stoke Prior Salt Works near Droitwich. He began as an engine driver, before working as an outrider, and finally as a cashier. Corbett was learning the salt business at all levels.

Corbett acquired the lease of the Stoke Prior Salt Works in 1852. The works had an annual production of 26,000 tons. Two successive companies had failed to make a success of business. Corbett studied the previous failures and endeavoured to make a success of it.

The Stoke Prior Salt Works produced salt from springwater. Underground springs passed through a salt bed, which gave the water a salt content of 38.4 percent, a higher level than even the Dead Sea.

Corbett used his engineering ability to introduce improved salt refining techniques. Identifying distribution as the most profitable area of the salt industry, he acquired his own canal boats, and later trains, to transport his product. To increase export sales he established agents overseas.

Corbett also hired the best people he could afford, and looked after his employees. He was a model employer, and built a village for his workers including a school, church and social clubs. Corbett was also a dedicated philanthropist, establishing a 40 bed hospital in Stourbridge, as well as gifting Salters Hall to Droitwich.

Throughout his career, Corbett remained a hands-on proprietor, deeply engaged in the management of his business. He was an incredibly keen businessman, and a hard worker, beginning his working day at 6am, and often sleeping above his work offices.

By character Corbett was a quiet, likeable man. He was thoughtful, intelligent and interested in the arts and travel. Despite his immense wealth he lived a plain life, and drank in moderation.

Corbett was probably the largest salt manufacturer in Britain by 1876.

Salt was the largest manufacture by tonnage in Britain after coal and iron in 1879. Between one and two million tons were produced each year, and thousands of people were employed in the industry.

Corbett was producing 200,000 to 300,000 tons of salt every year by 1886. The works covered around 30 acres. High quality table salt was the main product, sold under the “Black Horse” brand.

Men were limited to an eight hour day, and women to seven. Corbett paid his workers a premium of around 15 percent against the industry average. In his entire career, Corbett never suffered a strike that lasted 48 hours or more.

According to an industry estimate, John Corbett held nearly 50 percent of the British salt producing industry by 1888 and the Stoke Prior Salt Works was the most valuable enterprise of its kind in Britain.

The Salt Union
The Salt Union Ltd was formed in 1888 as a merger of various salt interests across the country, including the Stoke Prior Salt Works, which were acquired at the cost of £660,000. Salt Union had a capital of £3 million and produced two million tons of salt every year.

Corbett became deputy chairman, a managing director, and by far the largest shareholder in the concern.

The Salt Union was immediately accused of attempting to rig the market and raise prices. It was alleged in The Standard that salt prices to the strategically important alkali industry had increased by 80 percent.

As a consequence of the price increase, exports slumped by 20 percent, and many people were placed out of work. Corbett initially defended the company, arguing that producers had been operating at an unsustainable loss for a considerable period of time, and that the price adjustment merely reflected a correction of the market.

Corbett was to regret joining the Salt Union. After selling out to the company, he realised that it had entered into a number of imprudent contracts. The company had a lack of focus and direction, and his recommendations for the business were ignored. As a result, Corbett resigned his post as deputy chairman and managing director in 1890.

The Salt Union rapidly lost market share. Its attempt to exploit its monopoly position simply allowed its competitors to undercut it. Furthermore, an improved table salt was introduced by rival Cerebos in 1894.

Corbett died in 1901 due to complications from Alzheimer’s. His gross estate was valued at £412,972. An obituary in the Daily Telegraph heralded him as the “Salt King”.

The Salt Union was acquired by ICI in 1937. The works were closed due to the impact of lower-cost foreign imports in 1972.

Ice to meat you: T Wall & Sons

T Wall & Sons was the largest ice cream manufacturer in the world.

Wall’s is appointed butcher to royalty
Richard Wall (1777/8 – 1838), pork butcher, was apprenticed to Edmund Cotterill, a pork butcher in St James’ Market, London. Wall became a partner, and was the sole proprietor from 1807.

Richard Wall received his first Royal Appointment as “pork butcher to the Prince of Wales” in 1812. This was renewed when the prince succeeded as George IV in 1820, and by William IV in 1830.

Richard Wall leased larger premises at 113 Jermyn Street from 1834.

Wall died in 1838 and was succeeded by his widow, and then his son, Thomas Wall (1817 – 1884).

T Wall & Sons enters into mass production
Thomas Wall Jr (1846 – 1930) became partner from 1870. He was joined by his brother Frederick C Wall (1855 – 1924) from 1878 and the firm became known as Thomas Wall & Sons.

Thomas and Frederick Wall transformed the firm into the best-known sausage business in Britain. Queen Victoria was supplied with sausages on a weekly basis from the Jermyn Street shop. The sausages for the monarch had a special recipe including freshly-laid eggs and hand-chopped mince.

The firm was beginning to wholesale across Britain by 1900. Increasing demand saw a factory opened at Battersea in 1903.

The business was registered as T Wall & Sons Ltd in 1905, when it acquired an Acton rival.

The six acre Friary House and grounds in Acton was acquired in 1919, and a large sausage factory was built there.

T Wall & Sons is absorbed into Unilever, and enters into ice cream production
William Hesketh Lever (1851 – 1925) acquired the company in 1920. He sold the business to Lever Brothers in 1922, which from 1929 became a part of Unilever. At Lever’s request, the company began to produce ice cream during the summer months, when sausage sales slacked off. Production began in 1922 at a rate of 150 gallons a week.

Wall’s ice creams were sold from “stop me and buy one” tricycles (1938)

Thomas Wall Jr was devoted to charities dedicated to the education of young people. The capital released from the sale of his company allowed him to established the Thomas Wall Trust, with capital of £233,000, to fund students at schools and universities. Wall died in 1930 with an estate valued at £288,116. The bulk of his estate went to the Thomas Wall Trust.

Seven million tons of ice cream were produced in 1945.

T Wall & Sons was the largest manufacturer of sausages and meat pies in Britain by 1954. They had a factory at Willesden.

A new sausage factory was opened at Godley, Cheshire in 1955. It had a weekly output of 350 tons.

Much of the meat business was relocated to Atlas Road, Park Royal, London from 1956, with Acton left to concentrate on ice cream production. The Acton factory employed 4,000 people by 1960.

20 million tons of ice cream were produced every year by 1960, and Wall’s was the largest manufacturer of ice cream in the world.

Mattessons, a processed meat manufacturer, was acquired in 1965.

Robert Lawson & Sons of Aberdeen was acquired for £2.6 million in 1965. Lawson had the largest bacon factory in Scotland, and had a valuable contract to supply Marks & Spencer.

Embed from Getty Images

Wall’s employed a total of 4,000 people during peak periods by 1969.

113 Jermyn Street remained as a Wall’s shop, where all Wall’s products could be purchased, as late as 1970.

The Atlas Road site was closed around 1978.

Wall’s was one of the largest processors of meat in Britain by 1980.

Viennetta, the first branded ice cream dessert, was introduced from 1982.

The Acton ice cream plant was closed in 1988.

The Cornetto was established as the highest-selling Wall’s product line by 1990.

The meat business was sold to Kerry Group of Ireland in 1994. The Wall’s ice cream business remains a subsidiary of Unilever.

A sporting chance: C & E Morton

C & E Morton was a large packaged foods producer. Workers from C & E Morton established Millwall Football Club.

J T Morton
John Thomas Morton (1830 – 1897) was born at Oxford Street, London. He established a small factory producing preserved foods at Clayhills, Aberdeen from 1849. Morton supplied sailing ships with preserved foods.

Morton had established a base in London by 1851.

Almost all production by J T Morton was destined for the export market. A major early product was tinned sardines.

Morton was a dedicated Puritan, and devoutly observed the Sabbath. He was a reserved man, with very few close associates, and his only known sentiment was towards his mother. He was emotionally cool, but just and honest.

The head office and factory in London were based at Leadenhall Street by 1858. The site was located nearby to one of the largest meat markets in the world.

The London premises were relocated to a larger site on Leadenhall Street from 1866.

Expanding sales saw Clayhills production relocated to a new factory on Mount Street in the Rosemount area of Aberdeen from 1870.

A manufacturing facility was established at Millwall from around 1872, in a former oil factory belong to Price & Co.

Millwall Football Club was established by J T Morton tinsmiths in 1885.

The Aberdeen factory employed hundreds of workers by the 1880s. It was one of the largest and best-equipped canneries in Britain by 1892.

The success of J T Morton was based on a quality product, slim profit margins, and a firm focus on export markets.

An additional factory had been established at Falmouth, Cornwall by 1897.

John Thomas Morton died as a highly wealthy man in 1897. He left an estate valued at £714,186. He dedicated over half of his wealth to churches and charities. His manager, who had been with the company for nearly 40 years, and helped to build his fortune, received nothing.

C & E Morton
The business was inherited by his two sons, Charles Douglas Morton (1861 – 1944) and Edward Donald Morton (1866 – 1940). The two men had previously worked as underwriters for Lloyd’s, the insurance business. A curious codicil of their father’s will was that the two sons were not allowed to trade under the J T Morton name, so the firm became known as C & E Morton.

C D Morton was an energetic and generous man. The two brothers established agents in overseas markets, which increased sales. They travelled the world extensively to attend to their overseas trade.

C & E Morton was a substantial supplier of food to the military during the Boer War.

C & E Morton was registered as a public company with a capital of £650,000 in 1912. There were premises at Leadenhall Street, Millwall, Lowestoft, Aberdeen and Mevagissey, Polruan and West Looe in Cornwall.

1,500 workers at the Millwall factory went on strike in March 1914, in protest against girls under the age of 18 being hired, which they argued threatened to undercut their wages. The strike resulted in a victory for the workforce.

Morton was singular among preserved provisions manufacturers in normally refusing to hire under 18 year olds. They claimed that they had been driven to do so because of difficulties in sourcing sufficient labour. They also asserted that their factory workers were among the most highly-paid in London.

During the First World War the company continued to pay half-wages to its staff who were serving in the armed forces.

Crosse & Blackwell planned to acquire C & E Morton in 1926, but the proposed deal fell through due to an uncertain economic climate.

Increasing import tariffs overseas hurt the business during the 1930s. Factories were established in foreign markets in order to circumvent such charges.

R S Murray & Co, a confectionery manufacturer, was acquired in 1936.

There were three large factories at Millwall, Cubitt Town and Lowestoft in 1939. Thousands of people were employed. The Lowestoft site was the largest herring cannery in Britain.

E D Morton died in 1940 and left an estate valued at £213,295.

Sale to Beecham and Hillsdown Holdings
Beecham, a large consumer goods group, acquired the struggling C & E Morton for £180,000 in 1945. Beecham concentrated production at Lowestoft, where the principal manufacture was tinned vegetables.

The tinned vegetables market had become stagnant by the early 1980s, as supermarket own-label offerings had taken significant market share. Morton Brands was sold to Hillsdown Holdings for £8.5 million in 1986.

The Lowestoft factory, which employed 160 people, was closed down in 1988, and the Morton brand name was phased out.

The Morton brand name is still used for tinned goods in India, although the former subsidiary has been independent since 1947.

Curry favour: J A Sharwood

Sharwood’s is the leading Asian food brand in Britain.

James Allen Sharwood
James Allen Sharwood (1859 – 1941) was born in Islington, London. He was named for his grandfather, a prosperous Fenchurch Street wholesale druggist.

Sharwood’s mother was a Scottish-born schoolmistress, who instilled in him the importance of paying attention to details.

Sharwood’s father was an excellent chemist, but a spoiled man. He spent extravagantly, and was sent to debtor’s prison after he was declared bankrupt in 1864. His marriage ended in divorce. J A Sharwood was to meet his father only once, in 1890, before he died in the workhouse in 1894.

J A Sharwood attended the Heath Mount School in Hampstead, and then went on to work in the City of London. He initially worked in insurance, and was then employed as a manager for a wine and spirits distributor.

Sharwood establishes a grocery business
J A Sharwood established himself as a wholesale grocer on Carter Lane from 1888. Green Label mango chutney was introduced a year later.

Sharwood was intelligent, hard-working, and innovative. He had a keen interest in overseas travel and was fluent in French and German.

A family friend introduced Sharwood to Lord Dufferin (1826 – 1902), the Viceroy of India. Dufferin asked Sharwood to bring his French chef some supplies from Europe.

Lord Dufferin (1826 – 1902) as Viceory of India

Legend has it that the grateful chef recommended that Sharwood visit P Vencatachellum at No. 1 Popham’s Broadway in Madras. Vencatachellum made a famed curry powder, which blended stone-ground turmeric from Chittagong, coriander from Kerala, chillis from Orissa, and four secret ingredients. The product impressed Sharwood, and he arranged to distribute “Vencat” curry powder in Britain from 1893.

J A Sharwood is incorporated as a limited company
J A Sharwood was incorporated as a limited company with capital of £50,000 in 1899.  A factory, the Offley Works, was established at Vauxhall.

White Label Worcestershire Sauce was the main product by 1900. It was aged for five years.

F A Bovill & Co of City Road, London, a preserve manufacturer, was acquired in 1900.

J A Sharwood supplied the prestigious Cunard ocean liners with foodstuffs from 1902.

Sharwood had entered into retirement by 1927, and he settled in Cape Town, South Africa.

J A Sharwood advertised itself as “the largest dealers in Indian condiments in the world” by 1933.

Sharwood died in 1941 and his effects in England were valued at £7,296.

Sale of J A Sharwood and subsequent growth
Cerebos, a British foods company, acquired J A Sharwood for £982,047 in 1962. The Offley Works were divested and production was relocated to the Cerebos factory in Greatham, Hartlepool.

Cerebos was acquired by Rank Hovis McDougall in 1968.

Sharwood’s dominated the British chutney market by the 1970s.

Sharwood’s held a Royal Warrant from Queen Elizabeth II, to supply chutney and curry powder, by 1975.

Sharwood’s sales doubled between 1989 and 1994, as the British market for Indian groceries grew. Sharwood’s held 74 percent of the mango chutney market by 1991.

Company headquarters were relocated from London to Egham in Surrey from 1991.

The Greatham factory was closed in 2001, and Sharwood’s production was relocated to Wythenshawe, Manchester.

RHM was acquired by Premier Foods for £1.2 billion in 2007. The Wythenshawe factory was closed in 2009, and Sharwood’s production was relocated to Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

Note
According to information from Premier Foods, the Sharwood company archive was accidentally disposed of by a novice marketer, and no longer exists.

How the cookie crumbles: United Biscuits (Part II)

Part I of this history of United Biscuits.

United Biscuits produces McVitie’s Digestives, Jaffa Cakes, Jacob’s cream crackers and Carr’s water biscuits.

United Biscuits is formed and becomes the largest biscuit manufacturer in Britain
Two Scottish biscuit manufacturers, McVitie & Price and Macfarlane Lang merged in 1948 to form United Biscuits, with a capital of £3.5 million. The businesses continued to trade under their respective names.

The Harlesden, North London, facility became the first fully-automated biscuit factory in the world in 1948, increasing output by 1000 percent.

United Biscuits produced 384 biscuit varieties in 1955. In order to cut costs, this had been streamlined to around 30 high-selling product lines by 1965.

United Biscuits held nearly 70 percent of the digestive biscuit market by 1959. It was also a leader in the sale of Rich Tea biscuits.

United Biscuits was the largest biscuit manufacturer in Britain by 1962.

William Crawford & Sons, the largest privately-owned biscuit manufacturer in the United Kingdom, was acquired in 1962 in a mostly share-based transaction which valued the company at £5.9 million.

United Biscuits increased its capital from £9 million to £13 million in 1963.

Hector Laing drives growth at United Biscuits
Hector Laing (1923 -2010) became managing director of United Biscuits from 1964. He would oversee a period of continued growth at the company.

United Biscuits entered the packaged cake market in 1964. The company had taken a 14 percent share of the market by 1968, winning market share from J Lyons.

United Biscuits held around 30 percent of the British biscuit market by 1965. The Harlesden site was probably the largest and best-equipped biscuit and cake factory in Europe by the mid-1960s.

William Macdonald & Sons of Glasgow was subject to a friendly takeover for £2.8 million in cash and shares in 1965. The firm had introduced the Penguin chocolate-coated biscuit in 1932. It was experiencing strong growth, and held almost 20 percent of British chocolate biscuit exports.

The United Biscuits subsidiaries were absorbed into a single operating company in 1965. This lowered costs, and increased competitivity.

The company announced plans to close four of its nine factories, and to greatly increase production at Glasgow and Liverpool in 1966.

The McVitie & Price factory in Edinburgh was closed in 1967 with the loss of 541 jobs. The Macdonald factory at North Cardonald, Glasgow was closed with the loss of 497 jobs. The Crawford factory in Leith was closed in 1970 with the loss of 703 jobs, and the Macdonald factory at Hillington, Glasgow was closed with the loss of 497 jobs. The factories that were closed had no room for expansion, and it made economic sense to rationalise production at a smaller number of larger sites.

The Macfarlane Lang factory at Tollcross, Glasgow was doubled in size at a cost of £2.3 million in 1969. The labour force was increased from 250 to 1,350. The factory would supply the Scotland, Northern Ireland and North of England markets.

The Crawford factory at Liverpool increased capacity by 50 percent following a £2 million investment in the 1970.

Sales of the McVitie’s brand doubled between 1962 and 1967, and McVitie’s had by far the most brand recognition in its category. The McVitie’s Chocolate Home Wheat (a chocolate digestive) was its highest seller.

Meredith & Drew was acquired in 1967. Following the acquisition, United Biscuits produced over one third of all biscuits consumed in Britain.

Kenyon, Son & Craven, with the KP salted peanuts brand, was acquired in 1968 in a share exchange which valued the private company at £3.5 million.

United Biscuits was the largest biscuit manufacturing company in Europe by 1969.

Hector Laing was appointed company chairman from 1972. That year, United Biscuits took over the biscuit interests of Cavenham, which included Carr’s of Carlisle and Wright’s of South Shields, for £4 million in cash.

The South Shields factory was closed with the loss of 823 jobs in 1973.

A total of four factories and four offices were closed in the early 1970s in a spate of rationalisation. The McVitie, Crawford and Macfarlane sales teams were merged in the early 1970s.

United Biscuits acquired Keebler, the second largest biscuit manufacturer in the United States, for £23 million ($55 million) in 1974.

United Biscuits employed 36,000 people in 1976. Its products were sold in 92 countries. The company controlled 41.6 percent of the British biscuit market, and boasted eight out of the ten highest selling products.

Not every venture was a success however, and United Biscuits was prepared to admit defeat when appropriate; the company withdrew from the packaged cakes market in 1977.

United Biscuits sold 75 million biscuits every day by 1978.

The former Macfarlane Lang factory at Osterley, West London, was closed with the loss of 2,000 jobs in 1980.

The Hobnob biscuit was introduced from 1985.

Hector Laing retired as company chairman in 1990.

Recent history
After initial success, United Biscuits began to struggle in the United States, amidst strong competition from larger rivals Nabisco, as well as lower-cost supermarket own-label products. Keebler was sold to Flowers Industries, a breadmaker, for $500 million in 1995.

United Biscuits employed 22,500 people in 22 countries in 1999.

Jacob’s, a Liverpool biscuit manufacturer, was acquired from Danone of France for £200 million in 2004.

United Biscuits was acquired by private equity firms Blackstone and PAI Partners for £1.6 billion in 2006.

The snacks division of United Biscuits, including Hula Hoops crisps and KP nuts, was sold to Intersnack of Germany, manufacturer of Pom-Bear crisps and Penn State pretzels, for £504 million in 2012.

United Biscuits was sold to Yildiz Holding of Istanbul for over £2 billion to create the third largest biscuit manufacturer in the world, behind Mondelez and Kellogg, in 2013.

United Biscuits rebranded all of its sweet biscuits under the McVitie’s name, and all of its savoury biscuits under the Jacob’s name from 2014. McVitie’s gained the Club, Fig Rolls, BN and Iced Gems products from Jacob’s, whilst Jacob’s gained the Cheddars snacks products. The Crawford’s name was repositioned as a value brand, and products such as Family Circle were rebranded as McVitie’s.

The Harlesden site remains the largest biscuit factory in Europe as of 2017. The facility employs 580 workers. 22 different lines are produced, including Digestives, Hob Nobs and Mini Cheddars.

A history of KP Snacks

KP is the second largest snack foods manufacturer in Britain.

Charles Kenyon establishes the business
Charles Kenyon (1832 – 1893) was born at Brierley in South Yorkshire. He served an apprenticeship to a confectioner in Barnsley.

Kenyon established a confectionery business on College Street, Rotherham, from 1853. His main manufacture was jam.

Kenyon relocated production to a larger site at Morpeth Street in Rotherham in order to meet increasing demand for his products. He was joined by his only son, Harry Kenyon (1862 – 1932), a warm and jovial man.

Harry Kenyon (1862 – 1932), date unknown

Charles Kenyon employed 27 people (five men, five boys, eight women and nine girls) by 1881.

Charles Kenyon was a conscientious, kind and generous man. He became an alderman in 1889, representing the Liberal party.

Kenyon, Son & Craven
Charles Kenyon was a keen Wesleyan Methodist, and it was through the church that he met Matthew Smith Craven (1845 – 1923), who produced jam at a large factory on Scarborough Street, Hull.

Kenyon and Craven merged their interests in 1891, and the business was incorporated as Kenyon, Son & Craven. Pickles, sauces and confectionery were produced, as well as jam.

All production was centralised at Rotherham from 1930, and the Hull factory was divested. The reduced overheads allowed the company to reduce its capital from £50,000 to £25,000.

Harry Kenyon died in 1932, and left a net personalty of £829.

Simon Heller acquires the business
Simon Heller (1906 – 1989) was born in Lithuania, and emigrated to Britain with his family as a child. He was proprietor of the Leeds-based Hercules Nut Company. Heller was appointed chairman of Kenyon, Son & Craven from 1943.

A new 40,000 sq ft factory was established at Eastwood in Rotherham from 1947.

Heller acquired Kenyon, Son & Craven in 1948, after his own factory in Leeds burned down. He began to produce roasted and salted hazelnuts.

KP salted peanuts were introduced from 1953, and soon achieved nationwide distribution.

Heller possessed a keen mathematical mind. He became a leading authority on nuts.

Kenyon, Son & Craven virtually created the salted peanut category in Britain, and achieved national dominance of KP Nuts with very little advertising. Production of jams and pickles were discontinued in order to focus on nut processing.

Kenyon, Son & Craven employed over 1,500 people by 1965.

Acquisition by United Biscuits
Kenyon, Son & Craven was acquired by United Biscuits for £3.5 million in 1968. Kenyon, Son & Craven was merged into Meredith & Drew, a United Biscuits subsidiary that it already supplied.

Kenyon Son & Craven was the largest nut processor in Europe by 1970. The peanuts were generally sourced from Malawi in Southeast Africa.

The following decades saw a number of important crisp launches, including Hula Hoops (1973), Skips (1974), Discos (1979), McCoy’s thick-ridged crisps (1985), budget-brand Space Raiders (1987), Frisps (1989) and Roysters bubble crisps (1992). Additionally, the Choc Dip product was introduced from 1982.

Simon Heller died in 1989 and left an estate valued at £3.8 million.

KP Foods acquired the Nik Naks and Wheat Crunchies brands in 2006.

KP Snacks was sold to Intersnack of Germany for around £500 million in 2012. The business employed around 1,500 people across factories in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Rotherham, and Billingham and Consett in County Durham.

H J Packer of Bristol

H J Packer was the largest low-cost chocolate manufacturer in the world.

Packer and Burrows
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 & Sons to commence chocolate manufacture for himself from 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 dismissed.

Burrows acquired full control of the business from 1884. Burrows added his own initials to the company name, and began trading as H J Packer & Co.

Caleb Bruce Cole
Caleb Bruce Cole (1862 -1912) was a confectionery salesman in Bristol. He was impressed with his contact with H J Packer & Co, and borrowed £1,000 from his father to acquire the business in 1886. Around nine people were employed.

The business began to grow from around 1889. 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. 450 people were employed. Greenbank was situated on a major railway line, which allowed for convenient distribution.

H J Packer & Co became a limited company from 1908.

Carsons of Glasgow, with a share capital of £50,000, was acquired in January 1912. Carsons had been the first business to introduce chocolate assortment trays, and traded at the premium end of the market.

Caleb Bruce Cole died in June 1912. A progressive man, he was described as quiet and likeable. He died a wealthy man, with 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 established at Shortwood, Bristol, in order to supply the South and West of England markets, from 1914.

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.

The Carsons factory was divested in 1960 due to overcapacity.

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.

Acquisition by Cavenham
Cavenham Foods, managed by James Goldsmith (1933 – 1997), gained control of Carsons in 1964.

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Goldsmith rebuilt and 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 Hennessy 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.

Recent history
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.

Comfort for the table: Epps Cocoa

Epps was the leading brand of cocoa in Victorian Britain.

Dr John Epps invents an instant cocoa
Dr John Epps (1805 – 1869) was the son of a Calvinist London merchant.

Dr Epps became one of the pioneers of homeopathy in Britain. He established premises at Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury. He was joined by his brother, James Epps (1821 – 1907), from 1837.

Dr John Epps (1805 – 1869) inventor of Epps’ Cocoa Powder

The almost prohibitive duty on cocoa was greatly reduced in 1832, allowing the market to grow exponentially. Easily prepared cocoa had been difficult to procure, and the fat in the raw material was unpalatable for many. Dr John Epps discovered a way to make it more appetising, mixing the cocoa with 20 percent West Indies arrowroot and 13 percent sugar.

Epps’ cocoa was first sold in 1839 for the use of patients for whom tea and coffee were restricted. It was an instant cocoa powder, made by adding hot water or milk.

Dr John Epps was not the first person to invent soluble cocoa powder, but James Epps was largely responsible for introducing the product to the mass market. He heavily advertised Epps’ Cocoa, and had introduced a distinctive slogan, “grateful and comforting” by 1855.

Epps’ Cocoa was initially produced under contract by Daniel Dunn of Pentonville Road, who had invented instant cocoa powder in 1819.

James Epps begins to manufacture cocoa independently
James Epps had established his own factory at 398 Euston Road, London by 1863. He installed his nephew, Hahnemann Epps (1843 – 1916), as manager.

Epps & Co had grown to become the largest cocoa powder producer in Britain by 1878, with an output of nearly five million pounds (2.3 million kg) a year. To accommodate increasing production, a new steam-powered works was established at Holland Street, Blackfriars from 1878. At its peak the firm processed half of all cocoa imports into Britain.

Steam Cocoa Mills, Holland Street, London
Steam Cocoa Mills, Holland Street, London

A short and slight man, James Epps kept a low public profile, unlike his gregarious brother John. He was known only for his work in business, and had few outside interests. He allowed his portrait to be taken only once, and he never granted an interview or issued a public statement. He was a hard worker, keen on a bargain, and somewhat controlling. Despite his massive wealth he lived in an unfashionable area of London.

Epps & Co is converted into a private company; sale to Rowntree
The business was converted into a private joint stock limited company known as James Epps & Co in 1893. The directors were James Epps, Hahnemann Epps and James Epps Jr (1856 – 1905), and the company had a capital of £200,000. No shares were offered to the public, and the company remained under family control.

Epps’ Cocoa had been overtaken in sales by Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa and Rowntree by 1898.

James Epps Jr (also known as Willie James Epps), the only son of James Epps, died of a heart attack in Jamaica in 1905. His gross estate was valued at £162,422.

James Epps (1821 – 1907), date unknown

James Epps died in 1907 and his gross estate was valued at £735,387. This was a larger estate than contemporaries in the food industry such as the mustard magnate Jeremiah James Colman (1830 – 1898), instant custard producer Alfred Bird (1849 – 1922) or James Horlick (1844 – 1921).

The estate was inherited by his nieces and nephews, principally James Washington Epps (1874 -1955). Hahnemann Epps became chairman and James W Epps became managing director of James Epps & Co.

Taylor Brothers Ltd, a London cocoa manufacturer, was acquired in 1907.

Epps’ Cocoa powder had been reformulated to include 44 percent sugar, 40 percent cocoa and 16 percent West Indies arrowroot by 1924.

Rowntree of York acquired James Epps & Co for £70,000 in 1926.

The Epps factory was closed in 1930, and the manufacture of Epps products was transferred to Whitefields Ltd of Plaistow.