How Sustainable is Yorkshire Cocoa?

By Alex Hutchinson, Nestlé UK Archivist and Historian

01 August 2014 See comments (0)

A man reaches into the upper branches of one of our new cocoa trees in the Rowntree’s hot house c.1930

I’ve been talking to my colleagues this week about all of the lovely sustainable cocoa that we’re securing for our confectionery here in the UK (click here to read more about it). And while we were talking, the conversation turned to what it would be like if we could grow cocoa in Yorkshire. Would it be more, or less sustainable? What impact would it have on our environment? Would the butterflies in our butterfly meadows like it?

The team all said it would be impossible to grow cocoa here, but I remembered seeing something in our archives about our Rowntree’s factory growing cocoa in York. Yes, that’s right, we were the only people to ever successfully grow cocoa beans in Yorkshire.


As part of our pioneering factory, the Rowntree family had a couple of hot-houses built at our York site, as well as a tropical greenhouse where they successfully grew cocoa, vanilla pods and even a pineapple during the 1930s - all for scientific, experimental reasons, of course.


Mr Thornton and the pineapple that he grew at Rowntree’s York factory


Legend has it that during the Second World War the only place in Britain you could get a banana was York, because we were growing our own.


The York factory cocoa trees didn’t produce an awful lot of cocoa (so they weren’t very sustainable, and we won’t be repeating the experiment any time soon), but what they did produce was put to good use. The factory hand-made three small bars of chocolate using entirely British ingredients (the first ever entirely British chocolate bars), and put them in a presentation box. When trying to decide who to give the chocolate to, the factory decided that the little Princess Elizabeth would be the most worthy recipient, as her parents were the Duke and Duchess of York, and Rowntree’s chocolate bars were known as York Chocolate. Click here and here to see the bars and read all about the beans.


The tropical hot house in the factory grounds c.1950

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