Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles and Gums

After seeing Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles appear in the excellent Sunday Times column The God Of Small Things, we decided it was time to tell the story of how the Rowntree’s brand came into being. This is the first in a series of posts telling the story of how our best brands were developed.

Girls Packing Sweets
Rowntree's Pastilles: Girls packing sweets on an early production line in York

Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles and Gums were, surprisingly, not invented by a Rowntree. They were developed back in the days of Tanner’s Moat factory (one of the early Rowntree’s factories in York), when the business was struggling financially. The Rowntree brothers made the decision to hire a Frenchman named Gaget in 1879 to try to develop a new pastille to sell to chemist shops; that decision probably saved the firm from financial collapse (and not for the first or last time). The French were the dominating force in the pastille market, but the Rowntrees managed to turn a profit on their pastilles and things slowly started to look up.

Joseph believed that the secret of his firm’s success would lie in consistently high standards. To Joseph, having a high-quality product was better than advertising (he didn’t like advertising – passing fad, won’t last). One of the young office boys, who witnessed the creation of Fruit Pastilles, recounted the tale in his old age and it gives an insight into just how particular Joseph really was:

“Of the old confectioners and chocolate makers I remember such names as Gaget, Haas, Olgar-Carmichael, and Sage. Mr Gaget was a Frenchman, and specialized in pastilles and gums. I came in contact with him a good deal, and like many Frenchmen, he at times got rather excited.

Claude Gaget
Claude Gaget: The only photo of the inventor ever to be published

 “I would like to mention a little conversation that went on between Mr. Joseph and Gaget. Mr. Rowntree was anxious to bring out a blackcurrant pastille of high quality for the chemists’ trade. Gaget made several samples, all quite good, but Mr. Rowntree was not altogether satisfied, and would say to Gaget, ‘Yes, you are on the right lines, but they are not up to the standard I want.’ I particularly noticed, however, that with all the samples submitted there was always encouragement given. I remember Gaget coming down with a final sample, saying, ‘Mr. Rowntree, I have got just what you want; they are beautiful.’ Mr. Rowntree carefully tasted the samples and said, ‘This certainly Gaget, is the best sample you have made, but I think we can still make some improvement.’ Mr. Gaget became quite excited and said he had made half a ton and was ready to send the samples out to the travellers. After Gaget had been so persistent for some time, Mr. Rowntree quietly said, ‘Gaget, rather than send them out to the travellers, I would sooner you empty them into the River Ouse.’ Poor Gaget went away down-hearted, but the quality pastilles were eventually produced. This gives an idea how particular Mr. Rowntree was with regard to the quality of his goods. He would not put anything on the market until he was quite satisfied about the quality.” Q. Parker speaking in the Cocoa Works Magazine, Christmas 1932

Lime Pastilles
Lime Pastilles: A summer treat

One of the unusual things about Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles is the pronunciation of its name in the UK. Pastille is a French word, and it is usually pronounced to rhyme with Bastille, however, the influence of the Yorkshire accent has meant that British consumers more often pronounce it to sound like ‘past-ul’. Perhaps if Pastilles had been made famous by Cadbury’s, they would have sounded entirely different again.

In 1955 Rowntree’s decided to build a new factory at Fawdon, on Tyneside, to cope with the growing demand for our products. The factory began packing Smarties that had been made at York, and producing Gums and Pastilles. The Fawdon factory remains the centre for Gum and Pastille production for the UK.