Time was when a pack of Callard and Bowser’s butterscotch was a very special treat. C and I were reminiscing about it recently, sharing a memory of the packet, the square lozenges wrapped in gold foil, the sense of beyond-pocket-money luxury the sweet commanded.
I was left wondering what had happened to the sweet and the brand. Mooching around on the internet I came across this site called Let’s Look Again – a history of branded Britain. It’s a fascinating trawl through the familiar and the nostalgic. Those names – Walls, Huntley and Palmers, Vesta Curries (for heaven’s sake) have a real tug, whether you liked the product or not.
I thought the story of Callard and Bowser somehow emblematic of so much that has happened to brands that were once so distinctively ours. I take up the story just a after Mr Callard bought out Mr Bowser:
Daniel Callard received the 80th trademark issued in Britain in 1876. The thistle logo would adorn his butterscotch into the twentieth century.
Control of the business had passed to Daniel’s son, James Percival Callard (1859 – 1940) by 1891. Expansion had seen the business move to Euston by 1894. Daniel James Callard died in 1903 with an estate valued at £99,570 (around £11 million in 2015).
Guinness hired a Major Allnatt to build up a confectionery subsidiary in 1951. Allnatt acquired an 80 percent stake in Callard & Bowser and William Nuttall of Doncaster, best known for its Mintoes boiled sweet. The remaining 20 percent stake was purchased in 1957. Allnatt also added Rileys of Halifax (best known for their Toffee Rolls) and Lavells, a confectionery store chain.
A factory on Silverdale Road at Hayes in Middlesex was acquired in 1956. Guinness acquired Rolls Confectionery of Greenford, Middlesex from J Lyons & Co in 1961. The confectionery subsidiary took on the Callard & Bowser name but had its headquarters in Halifax.
By the early 1960s, Edward Sharp & Sons, J A & P Holland, Callard & Bowser and Mackintosh controlled over half of the British toffee market.
The Park Royal factory closed in the 1970s. In 1981 the Nuttall factory in Doncaster was closed down and production was transferred to Halifax. Following the closure C&B employed 1,186 people.
In 1981 the company had sales of £17 million.
Guinness sold Callard & Bowser to Beatrice Foods of Chicago for £4 million in 1982, as part of a drive to focus on its core brewing operation. Beatrice owned the Smith Kendon confectionery group of Bridgend in Wales, and it became a subsidiary of Callard & Bowser.
High business rates and an ageing factory saw the Hayes site closed down in 1983, with the loss of 500 jobs.
The South Wales site had opened in 1974, but in 1984 it was thoroughly modernised and re-opened by Princess Diana.
Callard & Bowser claimed 25 percent of the UK toffee market by 1985. In 1987 combined sales totalled just under £24 million (about £59 million in 2014). Around half of all production was exported to 65 different countries.
In 1988, in an attempt to reduce debt, Beatrice sold Callard & Bowser to United Biscuits for £21.5 million in cash (about £50.4 million in 2014). By this time there were only two manufacturing plants remaining, Halifax and Bridgend. They employed 240 white collar staff and just over 400 hourly paid employees. The Times reported that UB had acquired “one of the best-known and most traditional names in confectionery, famed for its butterscotch”.
Callard & Bowser was fully integrated with United Biscuits’s own Terry’s confectionery company to form the Terrys Group. The combined group had 3 percent of the British sugar confectionery market. In 1991 C&B claimed 33 percent of the UK toffee market. Confectionery production ended at Halifax in 1992. In 1993 UB sold its confectionery operations to Kraft of Chicago.
From the late 1980s, the company had a major success in exporting its Altoids Curiously Strong Mints to America. Packaged in distinctive metal boxes, by 1997 40 million tins were produced every year. Riley’s Toffee Rolls were discontinued in the mid-1990s in favour of increased Altoids production. Cream Line toffees were discontinued in 2001.
In 2004 Kraft sold Callard & Bowser, along with its Lifesavers mint brand, to Wrigley of Chicago for $1.48 billion. By this time Bridgend was shipping 8,000 tonnes of Altoids to America every year.
In 2005 Wrigley closed down the Bridgend plant with the loss of 173 jobs. Wrigley explained the 90 percent of production was being exported to the US, so it was more economical to transfer production there. With the exception of Altoids, the Callard & Bowser and Nuttall’s brands were discontinued.
Wrigley inform me that Callard & Bowser branded Altoids are still sold in Tesco and Morrison’s in Britain, but they are now manufactured in America.