Nestlé is celebrating 75 years of its revolutionary confectionery assortment Quality Street in the United Kingdom this year.
Created by the Mackintosh business in Halifax, northern England, in 1936, Quality Street changed the way confectionery was manufactured and sold.
The brand used ground-breaking technology such as the world's first twist-wrapping machine to make chocolate affordable for working families.
It is now the world’s number one selling boxed chocolate assortment; exported to 70 countries including Canada, Denmark and France.
“The brand’s name itself was created as a pun on ‘quality sweet’”, explained Alex Hutchinson, heritage assistant for Nestlé UK.
“At the beginning of the 1930s, before Quality Street was invented, boxed chocolates were very expensive,” she continued. “Only wealthy people could afford them.
“They contained exotic ingredients from around the world and were sold in elaborate packaging that cost just as much as the contents.”
In Halifax, the Mackintosh family business already produced best-selling toffees made from inexpensive local ingredients such as milk, sugar beet and eggs.
The company decided to make chocolate more affordable by using it to cover the toffees.
It packaged the sweets in brightly coloured tins, decorated inside with bunting and ribbons, and sold them at a reasonable price.
The Quality Street branding featured two characters wearing old fashioned dress, known affectionately as Miss Sweetly and Major Quality.
“Mackintosh knew that in times of economic hardship and war, people crave nostalgia,” explained Miss Hutchinson.
“Britain was still feeling the effects of the economic crash at the beginning of the decade and power was shifting in Europe. Consumers wanted to be reminded of a more reliable, bygone era.”
Quality Street may have been designed with nostalgia in mind, but it was promoted with what were then very modern marketing techniques.
“Mackintosh would frequently buy up the entire front page of national newspapers for its advertisements, which it had commissioned famous artists to illustrate,” continued Miss Hutchinson.
“The company was a big advocate of advertising,” she added. “In those days this was really unusual for a confectionery business.”
“Quality Street was designed to be an entirely new, multi-sensory experience,” explained Miss Hutchinson.
“By using a tin box, instead of a cardboard one, Mackintosh ensured the scents wafted out as soon as you opened it.
“The different textures, colours, shapes and sizes of the sweets made opening the tin and consuming its contents a noisy, vibrant experience that the whole family could enjoy.”
Tradition and innovation
Today, Quality Street is still produced in Halifax, where it continues to combine tradition with innovation.
The sweets are free from artificial colours, flavourings and preservatives, and since 2009, the packaging has been completely recyclable.
The coloured wrappers are biodegradable and can be composted with garden waste, while the foil wrappers and the tin container can be recycled in the same way as cans.
To mark the Quality Street anniversary, Nestlé has created a new chocolate bar.
Called ‘My Purple Bar’, the chocolate bar is based on the ‘Purple One’; the most popular sweet in the Quality Street assortment.
Each sweet contains a whole hazelnut, which is surrounded by caramel and coated with milk chocolate. The new bar is made of four Purple One sweets joined together.
Nestlé has also created a collectable tin; designed to reflect Quality Street’s history and reputation for providing high quality but affordable confectionery.
“Quality Street’s enduring success lies in its cross-generational appeal,” said Miss Hutchinson. “Everyone can find something they like.”
Sweet success (fact box)
- 6,000 Quality Street sweets are produced per minute, a total of 67 million every week
- 136,701 miles of foil are used per year to wrap the sweets; the equivalent distance of five times around the equator
- 15 million tins of Quality Street were sold in 2010; enough sweets to stretch to the moon and back when placed end to end
- 1890 John Mackintosh and his wife open a pastry cook’s shop in Halifax. They create a new kind of sweet by mixing hard toffee with runny American caramel
- 1898 John Mackintosh builds the world’s first toffee factory in Halifax. Ten years later it mysteriously burns down
- 1909 John buys an old carpet factory and converts it into new premises. Quality Street is still produced here today
- 1936 Harold Mackintosh invents Quality Street after inheriting his father John’s business
- 1939 – 1945 During the Second World War, production of Quality Street was reduced. The packaging colours were cut to two shades as paint was rationed
- 1958 First television commercial for Quality Street in the United Kingdom. Since then there have been more than 100
- 1969 Mackintosh merged with the Rowntree confectionery business in York, England
- 1988 Nestlé acquires the company.