Chocolate is to York what mustard is to Norwich or marmalade to Oxford. While many Yorkshire towns and cities made their fortune out of textiles in the wake of the industrial revolution, York went its own sweet way – and even today the chocolate business remains a key employer in the city.
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One of York’s most famous sons is Joseph Rowntree, a Quaker remembered and revered both for his outstanding work towards improving the lot of working people (including his own employees) and for his founding of the famous Rowntree confectionery name. In 1827 he set up a grocer’s shop in Pavement, which in time expanded into a chocolate factory on Haxby Road. His son, also named Joseph, inherited the chocolate business and also shared his father’s philanthropic tendencies. He set up three influential Trusts which still bears his name today, and which continue his legacy in the fields of poverty, housing, international peace, social justice and democratic reform.
Rowntree later merged with Mackintosh, and the joint company became part of Nestlé in 1988. Many sweets and chocolate bars that are a much-loved part of British life are manufactured in the York factory, like Kit Kat and Yorkie.
Some Interesting Facts
- York is headquarters to Nestlé Rowntree, the confectionery division of Nestlé UK. Swiss-owned Nestlé SA, the world’s largest food company, acquired Rowntree plc in 1988. The York factory is the largest Nestlé factory in the world.
-About 3500 people are employed at York – in the factory and commercial functions as well as departments that serve the whole of the Nestlé group, such as distribution, consumer services, IT, purchasing and personnel.
-Also based at York are Nestlé Ice Cream and the Nestlé Product Technology Centre that serves Nestlé confectionery companies at home and abroad.
-The factory produces over 110,000 tonnes of product every year, equivalent to 10% of all confectionery consumed in the UK. Leading York-made brands include Kit Kat, Aero, Smarties and Polo.
-The Nestlé Rowntree Division is the biggest UK exporter of confectionery with around a quarter of output going overseas including a quarter of all Kit Kat production from York.
-Some £180m has been invested in York site between 1988 and 1995. The biggest investment was a new Kit Kat factory, which cost £28m and was opened in January 1994.
-Construction of the original factory was completed in 1906 and the site covers area equivalent to 142 football pitches in total. Employee facilities include the Joseph Rowntree Theatre and library, cash machine, employee shop and a range of sports and social clubs and facilities. The Yearsley swimming pool on Haley’s Terrace was built for employees but is now owned by the council.
-Nestlé supports numerous charities in the York region. It is a corporate patron of the York Early Music Festival, St Leonard’s Hospice and the Our Celebration charity for mentally handicapped. The company has donated money to the Rowntree Band, York Civic Trust and York Enterprise Ltd.
York’s other great chocolate name is Terry’s. The firm began in 1767 and was founded by Mr Bayldon and Mr Berry. The Terry’s name first appeared when Joseph Terry became a partner in 1823. The site in Bishopthorpe Road remains the hub of Terry’s confectionery production in Britain. At peak seasons over 700 people were employed at the plant to produce world-renowned delights such as Terry’s All Gold.
The Terry family has been involved in the highly successful business for generations, and the present-day representative, Peter Terry, is honorary president of what is now a £140 million business. Terry’s has operated under the ownership of Kraft Jacobs Suchard since 1993. The York factory sadly closed in the summer of 2005, moving its operation overseas and the future of the distinctive factory site is currently unknown.
The successful chocolate industry brought economic stability to 19th century York.
York’s superior railway connections were vital to the success of its chocolate industry.
Nestlé’s Chunky Kit Kat has been one of the retailing sensations of the past decade.
You can still see what was a very sumptuous Terry’s chocolate shop and restaurant in St Helen's Square. Today it is a gift shop.
The first Terry’s chocolate ‘fruit’ to be made in York wasn’t the famous Orange, but a Terry’s Chocolate Apple.
Surveys reveal that a Terry’s Chocolate Orange finds its way into one in ten Christmas stockings.
Strict hygiene rules mean that it is impossible to allow visitors into York’s chocolate factories. But the end product is readily available.
Information courtesy York Tourism