How the cookie crumbles: United Biscuits (Part I)

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

Macfarlane Lang
James Lang established a bakery business at Gallowgate, Glasgow from 1817. His products included Scotch bread and shortbread.

John Macfarlane (1824 – 1908), nephew to John Lang, joined the firm from 1841 and the business traded as Macfarlane Lang. An energetic and progressive manager, Macfarlane eventually assumed control of the business.

John Macfarlane was a pioneer in the introduction of machine-made bread to Scotland.

John’s son, James Macfarlane (1857 – 1944), joined Macfarlane Lang & Co in 1878. He was joined by his two brothers, George William Macfarlane (1865 – 1938) and John Lang Macfarlane (died 1912).

A large new factory, the Victoria Works, was established in Glasgow in 1880.

Macfarlane Lang began to manufacture biscuits from 1885.

Sales expanded in the South of England, and a London factory was established on the banks of the River Thames on Townmead Road, Fulham from 1903.

Macfarlane Lang became a limited liability company from 1904, but remained a family business.

James Macfarlane became chairman from 1908.

Macfarlane Lang succeeded due to a strong commitment to quality and a wide variety of biscuits. The company supplied Osborne biscuits to the King by 1909.

John Lang Macfarlane died in 1912 with a personal estate valued at £284,563.

Macfarlane Lang was one of the largest manufacturers of biscuits in Britain by 1914. The factory in Glasgow covered four acres, and the Fulham site covered five acres, employing a total of 2,500 workers. Success was based upon high quality which stemmed from experienced management, skilled labour and strong investment in machinery.

After numerous extensions, the Fulham site lacked space for further expansion, and London production was relocated to a sixty-acre site at Osterley, West London, from around 1932. The new plant was one of the most modern biscuit factories in the world.

George William Macfarlane, deputy chairman of Macfarlane Lang, died in 1938 with a personal estate valued at £415,479.

Macfarlane Lang held a market share of eight percent by volume in 1939.

Sir James Macfarlane died in 1944, and left a personal estate of £172,180.

McVitie & Price
Robert McVitie (1809 – 1883) was advertising himself as a baker and confectioner in Edinburgh by 1856. He was a master baker employing six men, four boys and three women by 1871.

The firm was inherited by his son, Robert McVitie (1845 – 1910) in 1883. Charles Edward Price (1857 – 1934), a former salesman for Cadbury, joined him in partnership in 1888 to form McVitie & Price.

McVitie & Price began to produce their version of the digestive biscuit from 1892. The firm did not invent the digestive, but it is generally agreed that they did produce an improved version.

The works covered nearly three acres and employed around 300 people by 1894.

The firm ranked among the second tier of British biscuit manufacturers by 1899, behind Huntley & Palmers and Peek Frean, but alongside Carr & Co.

McVitie & Price established a factory at Harlesden, London in 1901. Price retired in 1901, and Alexander Grant (1864 – 1937) was appointed general manager.

McVitie & Price supplied their digestive biscuits to the Royal Household and the Houses of Parliament by 1908.

Robert McVitie died in 1910 with personal estate valued at £227,454. He died childless, and Alexander Grant became chairman and managing director of McVitie & Price.

McVitie & Price introduced the Jaffa Cake in 1927.

By 1936 McVitie & Price was one of the largest biscuit manufacturing firms in the world, with nearly 2,000 people employed at Harlesden, and more employed at factories in Edinburgh and Manchester.

McVitie & Price was the fifth largest biscuit manufacturer in Britain by 1939, with a market share by volume of ten percent.

The number of product lines at McVitie & Price had been reduced from 370 to ten by 1945.

Robert McVitie Grant (1894 – 1947), chairman of McVitie & Price, died in 1947 with a personal estate valued at £1,033,234.

That same year, Hector Laing (1923 -2010) joined the firm.

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.

Part II of this history.


6 thoughts on “How the cookie crumbles: United Biscuits (Part I)”

  1. I had completely forgotten about the recipe change for Water Biscuits until to-day. What a disapointment. Different colour taste and consistency from the ones I was brought up on.! I know the reason is Palm Oil, but is that an EU decision or a UK one. If it is an EU one, then can we look forward to the genuine Water Biscuit after Brexit. Hope so. Thanks.

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