Have you ever wondered where Easter Eggs come from? Tim Worsnop tells the mouth watering story of one factory that produces literally millions of them every single year. Welcome to chocolate heaven!
“How did you like the chocolate factory Charlie?”
“I think it’s the most wonderful place in the world”.
We’ve all read or watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A heart warming tale set in a world of meandering chocolate rivers and confectionery that makes your eyes stand out on stalks and your mouth salivate.
Roald Dahl’s masterpiece, had a serious point to make but also, cleverly, tapped into the insatiable love of sweets and chocolate that is shared not only by children but by adults the world over.
This Easter millions of us will gorge on chocolate eggs and their lip-smacking contents.
One factory where a staggering 13.5 million of these have been created this year may look little like Willy Wonka’s magical kingdom but for a time at least chocolate really does flow for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Get anywhere close to its perimeters and like Charlie Bucket you’ll be enveloped in a heavenly and intoxicating smell that literally takes you to another planet.
There has been a long and proud tradition of confectionery making in Halifax, West Yorkshire since the late 1800s when John Mackintosh and his wife Violet bought a pastry shop with their joint savings of £100 and later began making toffee. Over the next 50 years the company expanded into Europe, America and Australia.
In the late 1960s it merged with Rowntree, the York based confectioners and latterly both have been enveloped into global giants Nestle - the biggest food and beverage manufacturers in the world.
The chances are the Easter Eggs it produces will end up in a majority of households right across the UK.
Toni Biggin, is the area manager who oversees much of what goes on at the Halifax plant. And she has a confession to make.
“When you go into the factory the smells are amazing. When I started working there, for the first few months it was so distracting. I thought wow, what an amazing smell? You would expect children to be wide eyed but I certainly was as well.
“I really have a sweet tooth, so it’s an amazing job to be in. The smell is delicious and still is now but I don’t have that urge any more.”
Toni, who has a Masters Degree in Anatomy from Bristol University and who lives in Sheffield with her 10-year-old daughter, has, with her staff, just come to the end of one of the factory’s busiest periods.
Easter egg production starts in September and goes on well into the following year depending when Easter falls.
“Up to Christmas concentration is on stock building for orders. After Christmas it’s more about deliveries, although much depends on what customers want. A huge amount of pre-planning goes into it especially making sure we get all the raw materials to the factory,” says Toni.
There are around 700 full time staff at Nestle Halifax where Quality Street, After Eight and Butterfinger Cups are also made. At some point the majority of staff will work on lines producing Easter Eggs containing Smarties, Kit-Kat, Aero and Rolo. It is a team effort.
So how do you make an Easter Egg?
For the millions made in Halifax it begins with a staggering 1700 tons of eggs - that’s no yolk!
They in turn are mixed with cocoa, sugar, milk and numerous other ingredients to create approximately 1400 tons of chocolate which is then stored in huge silos.
When production begins, the liquid is transfered to the eggs line where it is tempered to make sure the right crystals are created making the chocolate nice and glossy.
Each egg is made using a traditional shell moulding. The chocolate is deposited into plastic moulds and turned upside down to get rid of the excess chocolate.
Individual sweets - Rolos, Aeros, Smarties - are placed into the middle of the eggs. Then they’re closed and cooled and removed from the mould. Kit-Kats are stored outside the egg.
There are quality checks galore (not least tasting!) before the eggs are weighed, foil wrapped and transferred into packaging, glued, date coded, weighed again and sent off for despatch across the UK.
“I think moving from the chocolate delivery in the pipes through moulding and to the final wrapping takes about an hour for each egg,” says Toni.
“When production starts it goes oh so fast and everyone really works hard.
“Everyone has input, so there is a lot of shared feeling of that job and that contribution when its finished.
“Lots of the employees have children and grandchildren and love that feeling people get that the Easter products provide. So it is a good family feeling when they get to the end.
“The history goes back a long way to a tiny site in Halifax so it’s amazing to see where we are now. There are a lot of family ties. Lots of really great stories in terms of how things used to be and how the factory used to look. It’s lovely to still be able to hear that and have that history.”
So what next in chocolate paradise?
Well, Quality Street production continues all year round, but now the big push towards Christmas starts. And we haven’t even got to summer yet!
Did you know?
13.5 million Easter Eggs created this year
1700 tonnes of eggs used
700 staff at the Nestle plant
Production is 24/7
Easter chocolate sales make up 10 per cent of Britain’s annual spending on chocolate.
Approximately 80 million chocolate eggs are sold annually in the UK.
On average a child in the UK will receive 8.8 easter eggs this Easter.