From Small Beginnings
From small beginnings in 1889, the Whitaker family is a prime example of what is possible with hard work and a commitment to high standards and top quality products. For what started as a grocer’s shop in the village of Crosshills well over a century ago has now grown into a business of worldwide renown. The story of Whitakers Chocolates is an inspiring one.
The Crosshills grocery shop was started by husband and wife John and Rebecca Whitaker, and staffed with the help of their children Reg and Ida. Ida trained as a baker at Morecambe and on her return persuaded her father to change his grocer’s shop into a baker’s and confectioners. Ida began making chocolates in 1903, taught by the wife of the vicar of Kildwick.
In 1926 the shop was transferred to its present site at Skipton High Street, and a restaurant was opened above it. In 1934 Reg married Claire Smith, an employee of the Company. The couple went on to have four children – John, Fred, Peter and Susan.
In 1940 the restaurant was closed and Ida decided to leave the firm. She died in 1957. After the war the family decided not to re-enter the restaurant business and leased the premises above the shop to other operators, and it has remained this way to the present day.
After Reg’s death, Claire spent most of the rest of her life running the family shop in the High Street as well as overseeing the development of chocolate manufacture on the site of the old bakery in Skipton, forming Whitakers Chocolates Limited in 1961.
Young John entered the family business in 1955 and helped develop the chocolate side. Gradually this began to expand through sales to pubs, hotels, restaurants and shops.
In 1964 the family decided to expand the business and set about developing the chocolate side further. One of the chocolates selected was a mint flavoured product derived from an old nougatine recipe used by Claire’s sister, Mrs Margery Smales, who had worked for the Company previously.
Eventually this product became an international winner and is currently exported to more than 25 countries as well as being served with coffee in thousands of outlets in the UK.
In 1988, foil wrapped products were introduced and now more than 50 per cent of Whitakers products are foiled, primarily crèmes, crisps and truffles – a large proportion of which are sold abroad.
The distinctive Whitakers foil design consists of a candelabra with three lighted candles, an idea inspired from the piano of Liberace, and the three candelabra form the letter W.
Whitakers High Street shop was refurbished in 1989 and renamed in honour of Claire. It now sells only chocolates and is overseen by John’s daughter Sally.
Fourth generation chocolatier William, John’s eldest son, is now the Company’s Managing Director. John is Chairman.
The Whitakers story continues, with the Company now a worldwide supplier of quality chocolates. It has now got its own distribution Company and is developing new products all the time. An own label bar was being considered at the time of writing.