Walnut Whip-story

By Alex Hutchinson, Nestlé UK Archivist and Historian

16 August 2017 See comments (0)
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Your love for our brands is, as always, overwhelming and reassuring. Today it’s the turn of the Walnut Whip to feel your support and before I start I want to reassure all loyal readers (and whip fans) that we haven’t dropped the walnut from the Walnut Whip; it’s still there and you can still buy it in all its beauty and mystery. However, for your delight and delectation we have also launched a selection of whips in flavours other than walnut, so now you can also share your love of the whip with your friends who don’t like walnuts.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get down to the knotty topic of the history of the beloved Walnut Whip.

The long-accepted history of the Walnut Whip goes a little something like this: in 1910 a firm called Duncan’s of Edinburgh began making the Walnut Whip in their Beaverhall Road factory. It was jolly popular (understandably so) and Rowntree’s of York bought the firm, and the Walnut Whip along with it.

The name of Duncan’s appeared on the Walnut Whip for the last time in 1966 and from then on it was known as Rowntree’s Walnut Whip. When Nestlé bought out Rowntree’s in 1988 they inherited the Whip and created a few extra non-walnut whips to add to the family (like the Lemon Whip in 2000 which was topped with a slice of lemon, and the Maple & Pecan Whip in 2002 which was topped with – surprisingly – a pecan nut).

Some people remember a distant time (before The Summer of Love) when the Walnut Whip boasted not one, but two walnuts, and this is where the history of the Whip gets both complicated and (for archive geeks like me) rather exciting, because some new evidence has only recently come to light which has been a total secret until now.

Back in 1927 Rowntree’s bought Duncan’s, but decided to place control of the company in the hands of a Rowntree appointee, so that Duncan’s could continue to operate, effectively, as a separate company. This would have worked better if they hadn’t been making an identical product to each other, and competing with each other over it.

Yes, that’s right, Rowntree’s bought a company that made an almost-identical product to them, but they both continued to make those products and to compete with each other. The story gets even more eccentric when a third company (Shuttleworth’s – which was also owned by Rowntree’s) launched their own Walnut Whip in 1931. Back in the inter-war years Britain appears to have been gripped by a veritable Walnut Whip fever; and previously unseen Rowntree’s board minutes reveal that Rowntree’s were annoyed by it.

We don’t know exactly when Rowntree’s started making a whip, but this photo (which for various reasons must have been taken between 1906 – 1914 – let me know in the comments section if you want to nerd-out with me over the exact year) is our earliest evidence of a Walnut Whip production line at the Rowntree’s factory in York, and we know that a recipe from 1911 has been found in the effects of a former Rowntree’s employee. So we can safely say that Rowntree’s and Duncan’s had been making the product for a similar length of time.

In 1930, Rowntree’s decided to make their Walnut Whips (or Whipped Cream Walnuts as their version was called) bigger and added a double walnut. By May 1931 the Rowntree’s board of directors was excited about the success of the double-walnut line, but annoyed that their subsidiary companies were making competing products. They decided that they would talk about how it made them feel at their next Marketing Conference, but this doesn’t seem to have made much difference because Duncan’s continued to make their Walnut Whip until 1966.

It was in that momentous year of the English World Cup win that we saw the last of the double walnut on the Walnut Whip. According to the archive records production lines were moved around at Duncan’s to make room for the Fruit Polo, and the Duncan’s Walnut Whip changed its name, and became a single-walnut treat.

The brand has seen many flavour variants (coffee, plain chocolate, maple, and lemon, to name but a few) but rest assured that it is still available in all its walnutty glory for you to wrap your tongue around. And on that note, I think it’s time to walk down to the corner shop.

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