KitKat is named after a man called Christopher

By Alex Hutchinson, Nestlé UK Archivist & Historian

28 August 2015 See comments (4)

It's the KitKat® chocolate bar's 80th anniversary on Saturday, and we're celebrating by publishing an image, for the first time in nearly 100 years, of the chocolate box that gave the bar its name. Ever wondered why KitKat® is called KitKat®? Well read on...

In September 1935 the famous four-finger wafer was launched in London and the South East under the fairly forgettable name of Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp.

Production in the Cake Department (a bar was still referred to as a ‘cake of chocolate’ in those days) at York Factory increased, and it wasn’t long before the famous biscuit line went national. It was rebranded two years later as KitKat Chocolate Crisp to fit in with the company’s new policy of branding.

The brand’s name has a longer history than the bar itself. Rowntree’s first registered the names Kit-Cat and KitKat as early as 1911, but waited until the 1920s before launching a boxed chocolate assortment with the name. Kit Kat was originally the name of a seventeenth Century literary and political club that met in the pie shop of a pastry cook called Christopher Catling; Mr Catling’s names being more easily shortened to Kit and Cat.

During the early 1930s the firm decided that they were making too many different kinds of boxed assortments and it would be better to put more energy into one or two strong assortment brands. Black Magic and Dairy Box were the result. Kit-Cat and the other boxed assortments were gradually phased out.

The story goes that the creation of Chocolate Crisp at the York factory in 1935 was prompted by an entry in the Rowntree’s suggestion box; one of the firm’s employees felt that Rowntree’s ought to be making ‘a chocolate bar that a man could take to work in his pack up’. Rowntree’s tried to make a chocolate bar that would be more affordable for a working man, and they used wafer to fill the product and keep the price below that of a solid chocolate bar. In so doing they created a very sophisticated product; wafer is a palette cleanser and it changes the sensory experience of eating chocolate. Demand for the new bar quickly began to outstrip supply.

In 1937 the name KitKat® began to appear alongside Chocolate Crisp as its ‘nickname’. Popular legend (and BBC Radio 4) has it that the name was invented by Nigel Balchin, who at the time was the Company Psychologist but later became a famous novelist. It seems unlikely that Balchin invented the name, as it was first registered when he was just a child, but he may have had the idea of transferring the name from the assortment to the bar as the name ‘Chocolate Crisp’ was a bit of a mouthful.

In 1941 Rowntree’s had to drastically alter the recipe of Chocolate Crisp due to shortages of ingredients. In order not to effect customer loyalty (they were worried that the wartime KitKat® would put consumers off the product altogether) the firm produced a Chocolate Crisp in a distinctive blue wrapper, and called it KIT-KAT. The explanation on their advertisements read “No More Chocolate Crisp Till After The War”.

When war ended Chocolate Crisp returned with its old name and old wrapper. The words ‘Chocolate Crisp’ were not dropped until 1949. It was then that Rowntree’s were really able to focus their attention on brand investment.

KitKat® first appeared on television in 1955, and started using the slogan “Have a break - have a KitKat®” in 1957. The campaign proved so popular sales increased by a quarter. During the sixties the first grocery KitKat® multipack was produced and after only five years the bargain six pack of two-finger KitKat® accounted for over 20 per cent of total sales.

Sales increased dramatically in the early seventies following huge investment in new plant and equipment by Rowntree’s. In 1973 the cream and red wrapper was replaced by a new bright red and white wrapper. Since then the brand has gained new flavour variants (KitKat® Orange was the first and KitKat® Mocha is the latest) and new shapes (the KitKat® Chunky of 1999 has been a runaway success). In 2010 Guinness World Records certified KitKat® the world’s most global brand, sold in more countries than any other that year; and in 2015 more than 17 billion KitKat® bars will made and consumed this year.

  1. Bob (Mrs) @ 100 Curwendale

    04 Oct 2016 - 07:27 (GMT)

    My mum told a story about my dad ( both aged 13 ) in 1924 giving her a piece of chocolate which had a rowan tree on it. Would this be correct and if so when did they stop doing this on their chocolate bars?


  2. Alex Hutchinson - Archivist and Historian @ Nestlé

    13 Oct 2016 - 09:24 (GMT)

    Yes, you're quite right, there was a Rowntree tree on our chocolate and packaging all the way through the 1920s. I don't know for certain when we stopped using it, but the last example I can see in the archive is from the very early 1930s. If you take a look at this link you can see an example in the bottom left-hand corner.

    https://flic.kr/p/N77rQY


  3. Bob Logan (Mrs) @ No

    13 Oct 2016 - 17:28 (GMT)

    Thanks for the info, unfortunately there was nothing at the bottom left-hand corner when I clicked on to it.


  4. Alex Hutchinson - Archivist and Historian @ Nestlé

    17 Oct 2016 - 14:15 (GMT)

    Did the link lead you to a photograph of the front page of a 1920s sales catalogue? If so, the image is in the bottom left-hand corner of the front page of that catalogue. It is a very plain brown logo in the shape of a tree in a flower pot. The top of the tree is the word "Rowntree".

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