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A breath of fresh air: Callard & Bowser

Callard & Bowser was an English confectioner that specialised in butterscotch and toffee.

Daniel James Callard (1824 – 1903) was born to a family of prosperous non-conformist London bakers. Members of the Callard family had been bakers in the metropolis since the seventeenth century.

Callard became a master baker himself, and had entered into partnership with his brother-in-law, John Carrick Bowser (1828 – 1912) by 1855.

The two men established a wholesale grocery business at St John’s Wood. The firm initially manufactured infant formula, before concentrating on confectionery from 1861.

Callard bought out Bowser in 1872, but continued to trade under the by now established brand name of “Callard & Bowser”. The firm grew through strong branding and a dedication to product quality and purity, at a time when standards were often low.

Callard & Bowser had “agents in all parts of the world” and their butterscotch was “sold by most confectioners” according to an 1872 advertisement. Daniel Callard received the 80th trademark issued in Britain in 1876. The thistle logo would adorn his butterscotch into the twentieth century.

Callard employed five men, one boys and 35 girls by 1881.

Daniel Callard had passed control of the business to his son, James Percival Callard (1859 – 1940), by 1891.

Expansion had seen the business move to Euston by 1894.

Daniel James Callard died in 1903 with an estate valued at £99,570 (around £11 million in 2015).

A 1907 analysis for the British Medical Journal highly recommended the company’s butterscotch, which it found to consist of 11.7 percent butter fat and 79.3 percent sugar.

Production was relocated to Western Avenue at Park Royal, adjacent to the Guinness brewery, in the 1930s. The high-selling “Cream Line” toffee was introduced in 1937.

Callard & Bowser was acquired by Guinness, who wanted to build a confectionery subsidiary, in 1951. Guinness also acquired William Nuttall of Doncaster, best known for its Mintoes boiled sweet, Rileys of Halifax (best known for their Toffee Rolls) and Lavells, a confectionery store chain. The confectionery subsidiary took on the Callard & Bowser name but had its headquarters in Halifax.

Guinness acquired a factory on Silverdale Road at Hayes, Middlesex in 1956. Rolls Confectionery of Greenford, Middlesex was purchased from J Lyons & Co in 1961.

Through investment in machinery and increased exports, sales grew significantly following the Guinness takeover.

Edward Sharp & Sons, J A & P Holland, Callard & Bowser and Mackintosh controlled over half of the British toffee market by the early 1960s. Callard & Bowser was not an extensive advertiser, and instead concentrated on developing strong relationships with wholesalers and retailers.

The Park Royal factory closed in the 1970s. The Nuttall factory in Doncaster was closed down in 1981 and production was transferred to Halifax.

Callard & Bowser employed 1,186 people and had annual sales of £17 million by 1981.

Guinness sold Callard & Bowser to Beatrice Foods of Chicago for £4 million in 1982, as part of a drive to focus on its core brewing operation. Beatrice owned the Smith Kendon confectionery group of Bridgend in Wales, manufacturer of Altoids Curiously Strong Mints, and it became a subsidiary of Callard & Bowser.

High business rates and an ageing factory saw the Hayes site closed down in 1983, with the loss of 500 jobs. The South Wales site had opened in 1974, but in 1984 it was thoroughly modernised and re-opened by Princess Diana.

Callard & Bowser claimed 25 percent of the UK toffee market by 1985. Combined sales in 1987 totalled just under £24 million. Around half of all production was exported to 65 different countries.

In an attempt to reduce debt, Beatrice Foods sold Callard & Bowser to United Biscuits for £21.5 million in cash in 1988. By this time there were only two manufacturing plants remaining, Halifax and Bridgend. The sites employed 240 white collar staff and just over 400 hourly-paid employees. The Times commented that United Biscuits had acquired “one of the best-known and most traditional names in confectionery, famed for its butterscotch”.

Callard & Bowser was fully integrated with United Biscuits’s own Terry’s confectionery company to form the Terrys Group. The combined group had three percent of the British sugar confectionery market. Callard & Bowser claimed 33 percent of the UK toffee market in 1991.

Confectionery production was discontinued at Halifax in 1992.

United Biscuits sold its confectionery operations to Kraft of Chicago in 1993.

Beginning in Seattle, Altoids Curiously Strong Mints enjoyed considerable success in America from the late 1980s. Packaged in distinctive metal boxes, it was the highest selling peppermint in the USA by 1997, with an annual sale of 40 million tins.

Riley’s Toffee Rolls were discontinued in the mid-1990s to accommodate increased Altoids production. Cream Line toffees were discontinued in 2001, and all production of toffee appears to have ended by 2003.

Kraft sold Callard & Bowser, along with its Lifesavers mint brand, to Wrigley of Chicago for $1.48 billion in 2004. By this time Bridgend was shipping 8,000 tonnes of Altoids to America every year.

Wrigley closed down the Bridgend plant in 2005 with the loss of 173 jobs. Wrigley explained the 90 percent of production was being exported to the US, so it was more economical to transfer production there. With the exception of Altoids, the Callard & Bowser and Nuttall’s brands were discontinued.

Callard & Bowser branded Altoids are still available in Britain, but they are now manufactured in America.