Where Did It Start?

From 1886-2021
Pick n Mix History!

The History of the renowned British Pick n Mix Sweets Tradition…

So we all know Pick n Mix when we see it.  Although the stands are not seen in as many shops as they used to be, there is quite a bit of history to this way of picking and selling sweets.  

In fact, we are going to go all the way back to 1886.  

America 1886…

An American businessman named Frank Woolworth (yep, Mr Woolworths himself), had a range of 5 & 10 cent shops. One day he had a novel idea to sell sweets, but differently.  He decided to sell sweets by the weight in front of customers.  

Today it doesn’t seem like such a novel concept.  But in the late 1900’s, poisoning from cheap candy sweets was quite common (no food hygiene ratings back then!). That’s why shoppers were much more accustomed to buying their sweets from department stores where they were more assured that the larger store had checked the ingredients of sweets and the way they had been manufactured. 

But that didn’t deter Frank.  He researched and researched.  Looking for sweet makers who would deal directly with him, rather than through a wholesaler. He also recognised the concerns of hygiene, that customers held in firm belief.  To overcome this his shops and counters were scattered with signs advising they had been hygienically made in his factories.   

…And it worked!

Customers were amazed with the new way to buy their sweets. Woolworths became the go-to shop for loose sweets by the weight.  He held this top spot for many years to come.  And this was only the beginning. 

…And cheaper!

The typical price of a quarter of sweets at the time was around 25 cents.  Woolworths wanted to bring this crashing down to only 5 cents for his stores. By doing this, he would be the joy of sweets (or candy as Americans call it), into the price range of the regular working class person.  

Everyone called him crazy! Including his own team…

That didn’t stop him…. And we are so glad that he didn’t.  What kind of world would we be living in now without the joys of Pick n Mix sweet mixups. 

Woolworths went all out…

Ignoring any critics he had, and he had quite a lot of them, he ploughed on with his vision.  He found a supplier who was amazed at the super high quantities he was willing to purchase at a time – and the full money up front.  

Frank set about creating his sweet counters. He styled them very similar to the counters found in Macey’s department stores, with lots of mahogany wood, shiny display frames and tiered displays of sweets. 

All of this was kept under the most secrecy possible.  The displays and counters we kept under clothes until an hour before the store’s big opening.  

…And it worked!

Oh boy did it work!  Massively!  Within moments of opening the stores were full of customers, absolutely amazed by the choice on offer and that amazing low-cost pricing that almost all could afford.  The factory producing the sweets had to add a night shift pattern for workers.  Before long it was running at full production 24 hours a day!

Pick and Mix sweets was born…

Rivals of Woolworths, critics and those “expert” critics were amazed.  They stood up and took notice of his growing business and wealth.  Before long rivals followed the same loose selling method of sweets.  

This same method continued, pretty much unchanged, across North America and Europe, in particular Britain for the next 75 years. 

1909, British Pick n Mix…

Ok so that’s the backstory of one man’s vision for the future of sweets.  Now lets look at the Britain and UK sweet market in more detail. 

We will now jump to a nice warm summery month in 1909.  Yep, only 23 years after his “crazy and silly idea” he was looking for shops in the UK.  Suppliers in Britain weren’t quite ready for the size of order he placed.  Initially, Woolworths was importing stock in bulk from America in order to stock the first store on Church Street, Liverpool.  

The following spring the British manufacturers stepped into place.  The store counters were bursting with a massive selection of favourites including chocolate, boiled sweets and Everton Mints.  At the time, a quarter pound of Pick n Mix (113g) was only 2 old pence.  In today’s money that would be roughly 6.55p per KG.  (Sorry, we like to keep prices down – but that’s impossible today!).

… & us Brits loved it!

Customers were amazed at the amount of different sweets on show.  The amount of sweets that could be crammed into bags for their money was unbelievable. By the time of 1930, Woolworths was the sweet shop in Britain & Ireland.  They held the lead in the UK market in fact for as long as it was part of the High Street.   

Along the years they added more and more sweets to the range along with growing the selection of Chocolate bars and Ice Creams.  

Pick ‘n’ Mix was born…

Customers had given the sweet service a nickname for years.  It wasn’t until the mid 1950’s that Woolworths recognised this. Previously, they had always called the selections “Weigh-out Sweets”.

They took the nickname for their sweets and almost made it a brand of it own. Pick n Mix was now officially a thing! Oh yes!  

…it grew and grew….

The selection of sweets grew.  The size of stores grew. And the number of stores in the Woolworth empire grew (Massively). By the 1930, stores had huge counters, but even these needed to be restocked a few times a day. 

Pre-packed sweets and chocolate bars, such as those from Cadbury’s, gained popularity but not to the extent of the loose sweets selections. 

Come 1939, Woolworth’s were untouchable. They had established an unrivalled stranglehold on the confectionary market here in the UK. 

Until a year later… shops were empty as Britain was at War and ration coupons had kicked in.  Factories were working to help the war effort and many brave men were across Europe defending our freedoms.    

But the British prevailed.  And so did Woolworths!

They carried on trading as best they could.  Although at war, us Brits still needed something sweet.  Government Rations were used to share the sweets out fairly.  Unofficial rations were also used in a number of stores.  Adult, mainly older pensioners would hand extra ration coupons to staff and request that they keep them for the “little ones”. How nice!  They gave their tokens so that littler kids would not be turned away from the sweet counters.        

The 1950’s – A New Era…

Ok, so that’s the history lesson out of the way. Now we jump to post-war Britain.  To the 1950’s.  A time of hope and new beginnings.

Most Pick n Mix sweets and sweets in general which are popular and easily recognisable today, stem from this exciting period in time. 

Brands changed, stores changed and customer tastes and willing to experiment with the “new” grew.  

And the retail world went through a change.  Inspired by stores in America, the Personal Service method of retails would be gone.  

Instead, customers would have free range of their choice of Pick n Mix sweets from “self-service” stands.  Oh my!  What a sight this must have been for the first time.  

Big brands also became more mainstream with the new model and lowering of costs.  Working class people could now indulge in treats of which previously would have been a ‘luxury’ item.  The likes of Cadburys, Mars, M&M’s, Rowntrees and Nestle become firm favourites. 

And it worked!  

This format of self serve Pick n Mix stands stayed as part of the High Street for decades to come. 

Now, jump forward to 2020.

It’s the year that the world discovered what Covid-19 is.  Not something that’s affecting countries thousands of miles away. Nope – it’s here!

And that’s when we had the idea… 

Let’s bring back the good old days of a Pick n Mix from Woolies.  But without the need for shops.  Without customers needing to even leave the house!

And that’s how Sweet Sensations was born.

Offering customers the ability to choose and create their very own Custom Pick n Mix sweets mixup and have it delivered directly to their door.  

Anywhere within the UK within days via Royal Mail.  

Or even next day via Royal Mail 24 if you’ve got a bad sweet craving to sooth 😊  

We hope you’ve enjoyed this quick whistle stop trip down memory lane.  Like to know more or read about something else sweet related?  Let us know in the comments below…..

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About Adrian McCarroll

Owner and co-founder of Sweet Sensations. Father to 2 amazing girls. My main role of the business is the website & technical side of things.

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