Summer of Smarties!

Chocolate beans

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

Celebrate the Platinum Jubilee with Chocolate

Celebrate the platinum jubilee with chocolate

The Platinum Jubilee is just around the corner! Our favourite way to celebrate every occasion is with chocolate (obviously), but did you know there is an interesting connection between York’s chocolate industry and the Royal Family?

The Platinum Jubilee

The Platinum Jubilee celebrates Queen Elizabeth I’s 70 years of service. She is the first British monarch to celebrate this.

Jubilee’s to celebrate the life of British monarchs became significant events during the long reign of George III. In 1809, his fiftieth year on the throne, there were celebrations which included a private service at Windsor for members of the Royal Family and a large fireworks display at Frogmore.

The longest-reigning British monarch before Queen Elizabeth I was Queen Victoria. She celebrated Golden (50 years) and Diamond (60 years) Jubilees. Her Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 1897 included a service at St Paul’s Cathedral. Large crowds gathered to watch her procession through London.

Chocolate crown created by our talented chocolatiers to celebrate the platinum jubilee
Chocolate crown created by our talented chocolatiers

The Queen and Chocolate

Chocolate is one of Elizabeth I’s favourite treats. Charbonnel et Walker is one of the monarch’s favourite brands. Established in London in 1875, they are located on Bond Street. They moved from Paris to London at the appeal of King Edward VII. They have shared that floral chocolates are popular with the Queen.

A former chef to the Queen revealed that she favours dark chocolate and her favourite desserts are indeed chocolate-based, a woman after our own heart!

The Royal Family and York’s Chocolate Industry

York’s confectioners and the Royal Family have long had a strong bond.

The Royal Family sent tins of chocolate’s to British soldiers during the Boer War and First World War.

During visits to York, the reigning monarch received a box of bespoke chocolates. The tradition, started by Rowntree’s, continues into the modern day. In 2012 the city presented a box containing two layers of individual bespoke chocolates from York’s confectioners to the Queen.

One of York’s most iconic chocolate brands, the famous After Eight Mint, carries the Royal Warrant. This is no longer displayed on their boxes as in 2009 Nestlé standardised their packaging worldwide.

Join the tour to see the box and chocolates presented to the Queen in 2012.

The Chocolate Industry and Slavery

Chocolate Masterclass

Here at York’s Chocolate Story we unwrap centuries of the history of chocolate. We believe it is important to be aware of the role colonisation and slavery have played in the chocolate trade. Slavery is an ongoing problem in cocoa production and steps are being taken to help eradicate it from the chocolate industry.

History of the Chocolate Industry and Slavery

While the Portuguese were the first Europeans to encounter cocoa, the Spanish became involved in cocoa production first. After their conquest of central America in the 16th century, they introduced an “encomienda” system. The Spanish Crown granted colonisers the legal rights to the labour of the native non-Christian population. The colonisers forced them to work in horrific conditions.

Demand for cocoa increased dramatically in the mid-to-late 17th century because drinking chocolate became popular amongst upper classes in Europe. The first cocoa house in England house opened in London in 1657. Cocoa beans were shipped to Europe from New Spain (Mexico), Ecuador and Venezuela. By the late 17th century, the labour force had shifted to mainly enslaved Africans. They were transported across the Atlantic in terrible conditions and forced to work on cocoa and sugar plantations throughout South America and the Caribbean.

Throughout the 18th century Britain directly profited from the slave trade and slavery. Tea, coffee, sugar and cocoa poured into ports as colonial products.

York’s Chocolate Industry’s Involvement

York’s Quaker chocolate manufacturers often purchased cocoa from British and other European colonies. These companies included some of York’s most recognisable, like Rowntree’s. However, as philanthropists, Quakers were one of the leading voices in the abolition movement. The Tuke family, responsible for the Retreat hospital in York, helped to fund the election campaign of William Wilberforce. He was a prominent anti-slavery campaigner and philanthropist.

With the abolition of the slave trade throughout the British Empire in 1807, and slavery as an institution in 1833, colonial indenture developed as a bonded labour system used on cocoa farms in European held Caribbean and West Africa. As slaves were freed, they had little choice but to continue working on plantations with little pay and poor conditions. Colonial indenture was eventually abolished in 1920. An investigation by The Rowntree Society into the history of the Rowntree’s supply chain has revealed they benefitted from colonial indenture. In the 1890s Rowntree & Co purchased multiple plantations in British colonies (the islands of Dominica, Jamaica and Trinidad). Research is ongoing into how the company benefitted from the forced labour of enslaved and indentured people.

British chocolate manufacturers also bought cocoa from the West African Islands colonised by Portugal, such as Sao Tome and Principe. While companies raised concerns about slavery on these plantations and even sent a journalist to investigate, they continued to buy ingredients from the regions. They believed they could address the issue of slavery through diplomatic channels. This failed and in 1909 the chocolate manufacturers publicly announced they were going to buy cocoa from elsewhere.

The Modern Chocolate Industry and Slavery

The abolition of the transatlantic slave trade and the colonial indenture system did not end slavery in chocolate production.

Despite major brands vowing to stop using cocoa harvested by children two decades ago, child labour in modern day chocolate production is unfortunately still a huge problem. The chocolate industry is still guilty of human rights abuses because these children, often victims of human trafficking, work for low pay in terrible conditions.

Modern Initiatives to End Slavery in Chocolate Production

York’s Chocolate Story are Partners to Callebaut. Their program Forever Chocolate aims to make sustainable chocolate with no child labour the normal across the industry by 2025.

Callebaut’s involved in the World Cocoa Foundation establishing CocoaAction and they are going to go beyond the initiative.

Forever Chocolate has four main aims: to lift farmers out of poverty, eradicate child labour, become carbon and forest positive and have 100% sustainable ingredients in all of their products.

Callebaut is aiming to start a movement with their industry partners, governments, NGO’s and consumers to meet these aims.

York’s Chocolate Story’s shop stocks a range of chocolates from suppliers that are making leaps in terms of sustainability.

Find out more about York’s Chocolate Story here

Text reads: team chocolate


York’s Chocolate Story Turns 10

It’s the 10th birthday of York’s Chocolate Story! We love celebrating the city’s heritage and famous confectionery industry. Many people in York have worked in the chocolate industry and have family who have. This includes members of our team. To celebrate our birthday, we are looking back at our exhibitions from the last decade.

Breaking The Mould: The Story of KitKat


KitKat is one of the world’s most famous confectionery bars.

Our current exhibition explores the secrets behind the iconic brand. It uncovered the bars history, starting with its humble beginnings in 1930’s York. It was launched as Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp. Back when chocolate was a luxury, the bar was the most affordable treat on the market.

Text on bar reads: Rowntree's Kit Kat. Because no milk can be obtained for chocolate manufacturer, the Chocolate Crisp you knew in peacetime can no longer be made. Kit Kat is the nearest psossible product at the present time. The bar is wrapped in foil and blue packaging.
Wartime KitKat

The KitKat has evolved over the years in more ways than just a name and packaging change. Different flavours and varieties have emerged. There is the two-finger bar, the KitKat Chunky and 2018’s Ruby KitKat. It is also Japan’s favourite confectionery with over 300 flavours on the market. The bar has become the world’s favourite way to “have a break”.

Times of Change: Women and Confectionery


This exhibition launched on International Women’s Day. It focused on the role of women in York’s chocolate industry. 2018 marked 100 years since women gained the right to vote.

Visitors heard the stories of influential women from York’s confectionery industry. The city’s “Mother of Confectionery” is Mary Tuke. Her company later became Rowntree’s. Mary Ann Craven fought York’s patriarchal society to grow her business. Craven’s is now one of the world’s biggest boiled sweet manufacturers because of her hard work.

We also explored the experiences of women who worked in the factories. This included the strict dress code, salary compared to male colleagues and their vital contribution during the world wars.  

Women using machinery in a Terry's factory as part of the cake-wrapping stage of the production process.
Women working in a Terry’s factory

Throughout its history, female employees formed an average of 60% of the confectionery factory workforce. We were proud to showcase their stories.

250 years of Terry’s


We celebrated 250 years of the iconic York brand Terry’s. Their products, including the Chocolate Orange, have become household names. This exhibition explored how Terry’s built an enduring legacy in York.

The company started in 1767 as a small confectionery shop owned by William Bayldon and Robert Berry. In the 1823 Joseph Terry joined, an unlikely apothecary who used his scientific background to pioneer new products. The company is now famous because of his focus on quality and innovation.

We also celebrated the social impact of Terry’s on York. It was important to us to tell this story because tens of thousands of York residents have worked for the company.

Terry's, an iconic York chocolate brand, has a range of chocolate fruits. Stacked on top of each other in their packaging are the chocolate apple, chocolate lemon and the famous chocolate orange.
Terry’s Chocolate Fruits

Chocolate and the People of York


At its peak, over 14,000 people were employed in York’s famous chocolate factories.

This exhibition explored the life of workers in the factories, from the coveted Rowntree’s Departmental Football Trophy to the Rowntree’s fire brigade. We displayed a fascinating collection of personal items and photographs that celebrated those who worked in York’s confectionery industry.

Brilliant Brands


This exhibition explored the legacies of the world-famous brands born in York, including: KitKat, Smarties, Terry’s Chocolate Orange, All Gold, Polo and After Eight. We showcased how Rowntree’s, Terry’s and Craven’s are loved by the nation and how their packaging has changed over the years.

Old Smarties packaging, back from when they were called Chocolate Beans.
Old Smarties packaging

WWI: A Taste of Home


A fascinating look at the conflict from the perspective of York’s chocolate industry, commemorating 100 years since the outbreak of war. Previously unseen artefacts and letters were displayed.

Visitors learnt about how chocolate helped keep morale high, at home and on the front. York’s companies supported the war effort and the war changed chocolate manufacturing forever.

We are excited to continue unwrapping the history of the confectionery industry in York and share the secrets of chocolate making with more visitors. Book your tickets now: