The Great British Love of Sweets


Oct 17, 2014 by British Blog

Sweets, sweetmeats, confectionery, toffees, candy - call them what you will, the British have always loved sweets. Today, Brits have a higher annual spend on chocolate than the people of any other European nation, but we have been eating sweet snacks since at least the Middle Ages.

Before chocolate arrived in Britain during the 1600s, sweets were often made with nuts, honey, sugar and various flavourings. Liquorice, for example, had been used as a medicine for centuries, but one George Dunhill was the first to add sugar and make it into confectionery. The resulting sweet liquorice has seen worldwide success, and is particularly popular in northern European countries such as Finland, Sweden, Norway and The Netherlands.


Industrial Production

Pontefract cakes, which are thick discs of liquorice, are said to date from at least the 1700s and are still made today. However, it was the industrial revolution and mechanisation of production that emerged during the nineteenth century that really ramped up the country's love affair with sweets. Now able to produce their wares on an industrial scale, confectionery companies began to thrive.

Between the mid nineteenth century and the mid twentieth century, many of the iconic sweets that we know and love today, were born. These include seaside rock - there is debate as to whether that was invented in Blackpool or Morecambe - KitKat, Smarties, Aero, Spangles, Jelly Babies and Dairy Milk.

Interestingly, Werther's Original, a sweet that has relied heavily on a sense of nostalgia for its UK advertising campaigns, did not reach these shores until the 1990s (although it had been available in Germany since 1903).

Here are some more fascinating sweet-based facts: 

  • Although we tend to think of 'candy' as an American term, it was once commonly used in the UK. Now, however, it has largely fallen out of use.
  • KitKat bars were originally sold under the rather less snappy name of Chocolate Crisp.
  • Sweets were rationed between 1942 and 1953.
  • Jelly Babies were originally launched (under a slightly different name) to mark the end of World War One, and were re-launched (as Jelly Babies) in the fifties. Each 'baby' has an 'official' name - red is Brilliant, pink is Baby Bonny, green is Boofuls, purple is Bigheart and orange is Bumper.
  • As a boy, Roald Dahl acted as a chocolate taster for Cadbury - he went on, of course, to write 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'.
  • Salman Rushdie, then working as a copywriter for an advertising agency, coined the term 'adorabubble' for Rowntrees' Aero chocolate.
  • Rowntrees were inspired by a French sweet called 'crottes de lapin' - literally, rabbit droppings - but thankfully changed the name for their own product, and now more than 300 tubes of Smarties are sold every minute.
  • Rowntrees once marketed a product called Oxchocolate, which was a blend of chocolate and meat. For some reason, it never took off.
  • Wine gums have never contained wine.
  • Lovehearts (made by Swizzels-Matlow) were first produced in the 1950s, for use in Christmas crackers.