International Confectionery sit down with husband and wife team William Whitaker, Managing Director and Gemma Whitaker, Marketing Manager of Whitakers Chocolates.
Could you tell us a brief history of Whitakers and the core values of the business?
If you like chocolate, then it’s highly likely that you’ve enjoyed a Whitakers chocolate!
Our story goes back five generations to 1889, when Ida Whitaker began selling home-made chocolates from her parents’ grocery and drapers shop. While many of her secret recipes are still in use today, our family has been keen to innovate over the years. In 1972 John Whitaker (Grandson of the Founder) made the bold move to automate production; in the 1980’s foil-wrapping equipment gave us a competitive edge; and in the year 2000, we launched personalised Neapolitans – the most delicious way to brand any business. In more recent years we have added more products to our retail range. Despite our innovations, we have always stayed true to our three core values; quality, trust and value.
What does an average day at Whitakers look like to you both? What is the dynamic of working with your partner?
There is no typical day for us in the world of Whitakers! William holds the position of Managing Director and deals with the day to day running of the business. His one specific daily task is working with the production planning team to create the most efficient production programme of the wide range of products that we make. The rest of Williams’ time is spent with the purchasing and sales team.
I on the other hand am the Marketing Manager, dealing with social media, product design and innovation, brand management and sales, as William would say “all the nice and exciting things!”
Working together has been such a positive for the business and has exceeded our expectations. We are both very focussed on driving the business forward and our different skills set really compliment one another, William being the analytical one and myself the creative one.
What developments have you seen in the business lately?
We have spent the last two years rebranding our business and developing the Whitaker Chocolates’ branded retail products. This was one of my main objectives when joining William in the business. We are extremely proud of our heritage and would never lose sight of this, but we also know how important it is to move forward and adapt to new tastes, trends and environmental issues. 2020 was a pivotal moment in our history with a new company logo, branding and a new look retail range together with new product launches. We also moved forward with Fairtrade and registered all of our dark chocolate products, whether in retail or food service, with the Vegan Society.
William says: We were so excited to launch into 2020 with our new range of products and packaging. We identified the rising demand for ethically sourced chocolate and sustainable products and we have worked hard to meet the stringent requirements set to achieve these. I am so proud of what the team has achieved.
In addition, recyclability and plastic reduction have been a key factor in the rebranding exercise. We worked closely with a leading packaging specialist, Qualvis, to create new, innovative packaging styles that our consumers would love, but at the same time to reduce plastics and increase recyclability across the whole range.
“Despite our innovations, we have always stayed true to our three core values; quality, trust and value”
How did COVID-19 impact the business? Was missing out on ISM difficult for you?
COVID-19 impacted every business that sells into the food service and hospitality sector including our own. It was the first time in our history that we closed for three weeks. During this time we had to redesign the factory floor layout to comply with the social distancing rules and regulations. Ironically, having this opportunity turned out to be a positive step and we now have a more streamlined flow. Also, we were very fortunate that we had completed and launched our new branding and retail products the year before, meaning we saw the benefit through increased online sales and wider distribution to the independent retail sector.
Whilst it was disappointing not to be able to capitalise on all the work and developments made in 2020 by attending ISM, we have been able to mitigate the loss with further developments on our online platform and growing our mail order business.
How do you feel being shortlisted for the Garbutt & Elliot ‘Yorkshire Food and Drink Business Awards 2020?
It was satisfying for us and the rest of the team to be shortlisted for such a prestigious award. It really does make all the hard work and effort worth it. It’s also a great opportunity to build our brand awareness and get to know other like-minded companies who share the same vision and values. We were just sad that with COVID-19 we couldn’t attend an actual awards ceremony and celebrate all together.
“We have spent the last two years rebranding our business and developing the Whitaker Chocolates’ branded retail products”
How important is sustainability to the business?
Sustainability is very important to us and we are constantly evaluating and focusing on improving our carbon footprint. In 2020 we made huge steps forward with our new retail packaging and factory processes. It is a key factor when developing any future products.
If you could offer one piece of advice – what would it be and why?
As Charles Darwen said; “For a species to survive, it doesn’t need to be strong or intelligent, but needs to be adaptable.” In effect our advice to survive in business is that you need to be flexible enough to change when required.
Are there any new ranges we can expect to see in 2021?
Ha ha where do I start! Let’s put it this way, 2021 is going to be a really exciting year for us, we have lots of new product launches planned. Think chocolate coated Turkish Delight, Stem Ginger and fudge to name a few!
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Editor, International Confectionery
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