Rowntree Mackintosh Limited – Smarties were invented by the British Rowntree Company in 1882.
During Georgian times chocolate became popular amongst the wealthy and were originally known by the French term crottes du lapin, which means rabbit droppings, so called because they were small round balls of dark chocolate which looked very similar! However, these chocolates evolved into diablotins where the chocolate was coated with small sugar pieces, like vermicelli or hundreds and thousands known today. This prevented the expensive clothes and gloves of the wealthy from getting covered in melted chocolate when they ate them. The next evolution in these chocolates was the creation of the dragee, again this was a French term and referred to a sugar-coated chocolate, like sugar-coated almonds. This time the sugar coat was a complete shell around the chocolate. It was at this point that Rowntrees who were known as a French confectioner based in the UK, began the manufacture and commercial distribution of sugar-coated chocolate beans in 1882.
In the 1930’s Rowntree’s were supplying chocolate beans to Mark & Spencer’s and noticed that the sales were on the increase. At this point they were known as Chocolate Niblets or Chocolate Nibs and in this guise had temporarily lost their sugar-coating. Rowntree’s wanted to increase production and distribute them through another large retailer at the time called Woolworth’s which they did and sales grew even more. It was at this point in mid-1937 that the Chocolate Niblets were phased out and replaced by the sugar-coated chocolate beans which were re-branded as Smarties.
Originally Smarties were mainly milk chocolate, but the dark brown coloured one was actually plain chocolate, the light brown coloured one had a coffee flavour and the orange coloured one was orange flavoured.
Smarties were so popular by the beginning of 1938 that Rowntree’s had to build a new factory block to accommodate their sole production.
H.I. Rowntree & Co. were bought out by the huge Swiss chocolate manufacturing company Nestle and they are now manufactured in Germany. Originally Smarties came in different colours which were artificially created but concern that artificial colouring may be harmful for the health of children resulted in Nestle replacing all synthetic colourings with natural ones. Smarties were the first chocolate in the UK to be free from artificial preservatives or colourings.
Oddly enough Smarties are not available in the US, but their similar counter-part M&M’s which are also made by Nestle are.
Smarties were traditionally sold in cylindrical cardboard tubes and had a very colourful plastic cap with an English alphabet letter or number on the inside part of the lid. Some of the lids are very rare and have become collector’s items.
Today all the Smarties are made of milk chocolate and only the shell or the orange one is flavoured with orange oil but that hasn’t stopped them from being one of the top seven brands of confectionery sold by Nestle. The brand has also diversified this century to become present in a number of other products such as Smartie cookies and Smartie topped brownies, or in a chocolate bar or as an ice-cream to name only a few.