Summer of Smarties!

At York’s Chocolate Story we are celebrating a Summer of Smarties! Do you know the story behind the iconic York-born chocolates?

Rowntree's factory in York, the makers of Smarties
Rowntree’s factory in York, the makers of Smarties

The Origins of Smarties

A form of Smarties in England can actually be traced back to the Middle Ages when sugar-coated nuts became popular. The elite social classes ate them to ease digestion.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, chocolate treats started to become the centrepieces of confectioners. French confectioners created “Crotte de Lapin”, a joke sweet that mimicked a rabbits droppings. While they became popular with the wealthy, there was a design flaw: the chocolate stained the gloves worn by upper class women. To stop this, confectioners started coating the chocolates in sugar. Chocolate was an expensive luxury at this time.

In the late 19th century a new technique called “panning” was invented. This created a sweet covered in a sugar shell, called a “dragee”.

Chocolate Nibs and Chocolate Beans

Rowntree’s sold their own disc-shaped chocolates called Chocolate Nibs.

A French confectioner called Claude Gaget introduced dragee to the company in 1879 and they decided to rename the product Chocolate Beans. It had moderate success over the next fifty years and was sold by some familiar names, such as Marks & Spencer.

Then their Marketing Director, George Harris, returned from the U.S inspired by how American companies were creating brands with personality for products. A lot of products were renamed. Harris also started to make chocolates more affordable after conducting a survey of customers and retailers raised concerns over the affordability of products. In 1935, Rowntree’s was selling boxes of chocolates that cost 100 shillings. At the time an average factory worker’s rent in York was 10 shillings.

In 1937, Harris decided the Chocolate Bean needed a new name. The famous Smarties brand was created, though the exact reason why this name was chosen is unknown.

Chocolate Beans, now called Smarties
Chocolate Beans

The Success of Smarties

They were so popular it exceed the company’s expectations. By 1938 a new factory block had to be built focused only on making smarties. Only a few months later it had to be expanded.

By 1939, there were four flavours: milk, plain, coffee and orange. Instead of the traditional expensive tins, smarties were packaged in cardboard tubes.

The outbreak of war meant they had to halt production. Initially, milk-free products could be produced, such as a plain chocolate KitKat in a blue packet. Though a year later they had to stop all confectionery production, apart from ration chocolate. Sugar rationing continued until 1953.

Wartime KitKat. Text on packaging reads: because no milk can be obtained for chocolate manufacture the Chocolate Crisp as you knew it in peacetime can no longer be made. KitKat is the nearest possible product at this present time.
Wartime KitKat

When Smarties production restarted in the 1960s, the bright multi-coloured treats became a favourite post-war product for people.

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Modern Smarties

Rowntree’s, now owned by Nestle, still have a York Headquarters.

In 2005, the cylindrical tube got replaced by a hexagonal tube. The decision caused outrage amongst collectors of the initial packaging.

They temporarily removed the blue Smartie over concerns about artificial colourings. However, it was reintroduced after Nestle started using a form of sea algae to create a natural blue dye.

Smarties remain one of the most popular chocolates in the country.

Are you a Smarties fan? Then come join us for our Summer of Smarties! Book now


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King’s Square, York YO1 7LD

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