Why this Christmas looks different at Quality Street's Halifax factory

The annual family tussle over a tub of Quality Street is a British Christmas tradition that’s as ingrained as pulling crackers and opening presents.

There is a fondness and a sense of nostalgia about the Yorkshire-based chocolate brand. So when owner Nestle announced it was replacing its shiny foil wrapping for recyclable paper, there was an uproar among some of its fans who weren’t ready for the change and said it looked ‘dull’ and ‘cheap’.

"Any change on a brand that people love is always going to be tricky,” admits Quality Street senior brand manager Jemma Handley.

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"But what we’ve seen is that once people understand that the wrappers are recyclable, and that the old wrappers weren’t recyclable, then there’s a real shift for them.”

Quality Street senior brand manager Jemma Handley at the Nestle factory in York. Picture: Lucy Ray/PA WireQuality Street senior brand manager Jemma Handley at the Nestle factory in York. Picture: Lucy Ray/PA Wire
Quality Street senior brand manager Jemma Handley at the Nestle factory in York. Picture: Lucy Ray/PA Wire

Figures that came out last week show that 76 per cent of people are now either positive or neutral about the new wrappers.

"Considering it’s the biggest change the brand’s ever seen, that’s an amazing result and we’re really pleased,” she says.

The project has been over three years in the making and for Handley, 37, who joined the Quality Street team in July this year, it’s been her main focus for the last six months.

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“It’s taken a long time for us to find a solution that works from both a technical and functional perspective but also works for consumers as well,” she says.

“For Quality Street, wrappers are a huge part of the brand. People rummage through the tubs looking for their favourites and they pick by colour so it was really important to get wrappers that look natural, that have a paper look and feel but still have that lustre.”

Nestle says the move will remove over two billion individual pieces of packaging material from its global supply chain.

The Quality Street team has spent the last year trialling the new twist wrappers, with each individual sweet undergoing three separate tests at the factory in Halifax.

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"We’ve tested the wrappers on the line to see if they are wrapping properly. Are they tight enough? Are they protecting the product properly? Are they tearing? Because obviously all those things from a quality perspective are really important,” Handley says.

The transition started in August, with the factory changing nine of the 11 sweet wrappers one by one. Only two – the foil-wrapped green triangle and orange crunch - will remain unchanged because their packaging can be recycled already.

"For each individual sweet, there can be six or seven different wrapping machines that need to be changed over so that process is ongoing,” says Handley.

That transition will finish by the end of March next year meaning that this Christmas people will see a mixture of old and new wrappers in their tubs.It’s been a huge logistical challenge for the factory. Toni Biggin, Quality Street factory manager, says: “Each of our existing machines has had to be adapted to run paper and then be rigorously tested by our packaging experts to ensure we're still delivering the same quality consumers expect when they open a box of Quality Street.”

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She adds: “A new sweet has a knock-on effect on other sweets, so my team in the factory works closely with the marketing and brand teams to ensure it is planned a good year in advance of production.”

Recyclable packaging isn’t the only measure Nestle is undertaking in its attempt to be greener. The confectionery giant’s ambition is to become net zero by 2050, which means also looking at ways to reduce carbon emissions in its transport and logistics network.

Earlier this year it invested in 11 new trucks that run on a renewable source of energy, Bio-LNG.

“That’s 75 per cent of the fleet we own, and it means we’ve reduced C02 emissions for our owned fleet by 95 per cent,” says Sally Wright, head of physical logistics.

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“Considerations such as the refuelling facilities of Bio-LNG, the weight of the goods the truck carry, and the range restrictions of alternate fuels, has meant that every step of the journey needs to be meticulously planned,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Handley says she is already preparing for Christmas 2023. Presentations to customers will take place in the next four-to-six weeks.

The factory starts making Quality Street for the Christmas season in March and runs right through to a couple of days before Christmas when they dispatch the very last tubs out to stores.

The Christmas range lands in shops in August although its carton and pouch formats are sold all year round.

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At peak times the factory makes up to 12 million individual sweets every single day.

"It’s Christmas all year round here,” Handley says.

Mum-of-two Handley joined the Quality Street team following her second maternity leave in July.

She has spent the last 14 years working across most of Nestle’s chocolate brands, including KitKat’s recent move to new wrappers made with 80 per cent recycled plastic.

"It’s really rewarding when it’s not just a brand campaign and there’s a sustainability element to it. I get a lot of pleasure from knowing that I’m making a difference,” she says.

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She has also worked on Milkybar and Smarties, After Eight, Black Magic and Dairy Box, Fruit Pastilles and Randoms, and Toffee Crisp, Rolo and Munchies.

"I’ve worked across every brand apart from Aero,” she says. “Quality Street is amazing because everyone loves it so much. It’s quite complicated but really rewarding when you see the consumers’ reaction to what we do.”

And as for the those Christmas arguments over the most popular Quality Street chocolates, Handley says she’s usually ok because her favourite is the ‘controversial’ pink fudge. “I did used to love the toffee deluxe, which we took out of the mix a few years ago so watch this space...I might be starting a campaign,” she adds.