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.

Make sure you follow us on Facebook and Instagram to unwrap more fun facts about York’s iconic brands

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.

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:

The Ultimate Chocolate Gift Guide

It’s the most chocolate-y time of the year! That’s right, Christmas is just around the corner and that means one thing and one thing only… CHOCOLATE (and lots of it)! But, with so much chocolate out there, we wanted to share our chocolate gift guide filled with chocolate for you to share with loved ones (or… keep to yourself) throughout the festive season!

  1. Christmas isn’t Christmas without a box of chocolates (or 10). And we think our Gourmet Pudding Selection is just too good not to indulge in this Christmas! From Jam Roly Poly to Sticky Toffee Pudding, these chocolates will give you the delicious taste of nostalgia that we all love at this time of year!

2. Money might not buy happiness, but chocolate coins certainly help! Perfect for stuffing stockings or nibbling around the Christmas tree, chocolate coins are a festive classic that never goes amiss!

 3. Fancy yourself as a star baker? Why not try out one of our bake-at-home brownie kits! Decadent, gooey, chocolate-filled brownies, what’s not to love?!

4. Fans of dark chocolate, look no further! Our trio of Christmas Library Bars is simply made for you! With a delightful selection of dark chocolate, featuring festive flavours like Christmas Pudding and Winter Fruits with Cinnamon – this is a seasonal selection not to be missed!

5. If white chocolate is right up your street, fear not! Our White Chocolate Reindeers are exactly the Christmas treat you’re looking for!

6. Why stop at eating chocolate when you can drink it too?! Indulge in a Winter Warming Spiced Hot Chocolate aka Christmas in a mug.

7. Sprouts you’ll actually want to eat?! That’s right, tasty sprouts do exist… in chocolate form of course!

8. Simply can’t decide which chocolate is your favourite? Well, why decide when you can have them all! An 18-bar collection is sure to tide you over until at least the new year and you’ll be sure to have found lots of new favourites by the time you’re done!

9. The best kind of snowballs are the ones you can eat! With orange, salted caramel and peanut butter flavoured chocolate snowballs in our collection, you’ll never be stuck for choice!

10. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without him… Chocolate Santa is the non-negotiable guest at every Christmas party and our Santa Lolly Pops are no exception!

With all of this chocolate at your fingertips, you’re certain to have a chocolate filled Christmas, New Year (and quite possibly 2021) – enjoy!

Buy anything from our chocolate gift guide? share your pictures with us on Instagram!

The place to go for Vegan Chocolate in York

First we had ‘#GymJanuary’, then we had ‘#DryJanuary’ and now we have ‘#Veganuary’. This trend has taken over the country as people swap their meat and dairy food products for a plant- based diet. We are the perfect place to go for Vegan chocolate in York.

Being a chocolate attraction, you would think we would be boycotting this trend as chocolate contains dairy, but we are all for it as we offer a range of tasty vegan chocolates…

Rose Chocolate
Our rose flavoured chocolates are sumptuously dark and infused with rose petals. These sweetly scented chocolates gives away floral like notes delighting all your taste buds.

Violet Chocolate
A British favourite, our violet chocolates have a floral notes with a very distinct Palma violet flavour. A dark chocolate shell with a creamy fondant centre.

Mint Chocolates
Our mint chocolates are an exciting flavour of dark chocolate with traditional mint notes that comes through with every bite.

Orange Chocolates
Orange chocolates can be tedious but we have jazzed up this iconic chocolate by giving it a tangy taste with an electrifying coloured shell.

Chilli and Lime Chocolates
A unique combination to tingle your taste buds, the heat of the chilli contrasts with the cool lime leaving your taste buds utterly blown away.

That’s not all…
We cater for all types of intolerance’s and allergies on our tour. We understand the frustration with not being able to eat what you want, especially when it comes to chocolate. This is why we offer dairy free alternatives and allergen chocolate bars specially made for our guests with dietary requirements. We don’t want anyone to miss out on the chocolatey goodness! So if you are looking for Vegan chocolate in York, visit us!

Follow us on Instagram for updates on our range of delicious chocolates!