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Uncovering tradition at Thorntons chocolate factory

Thorntons

Thorntons have been making chocolate for over 100 years. My own relationship with Thorntons began back in the early nineties, when I would return home from a shopping trip, clutching a bag of their special toffee along with my new clothes. Thorntons’ Swansea branch, with its European-inspired blends of chocolate and large, gift-wrapped hampers of treats, seemed luxurious and exotic in the small Welsh city. So the invitation to look round their factory in the  village of Alfreton, in Derbyshire, felt like an offer to peer into a mysterious hidden realm.

Thorntons have cornered a particular space in the UK chocolate market. Not too pricey for a quick purchase; but good quality, so you know the recipient will enjoy their special treat. With a wide range of milk, white, dark and special occasion chocolates – the factory goes into overdrive around Hallowe’en, Christmas, Mothers’ Day, Valentine’s and of course Easter – there’s something to suit most palates.

Thorntons

Raymond Briggs’ Snowman, on the assembly line for Christmas

Thorntons

Those different tastes and smells were the first thing we noticed, when our small group of bloggers was being led around the factory. We could smell the creamy chocolate as we walked through the locker-room area, then – BAM – we were hit with it, full force, when we reached the factory floor. The chocolate was practically crystalising in our throats as we breathed it in. Then, we moved on to the toffee zone, where five-metre high vats churned Thorntons’ special top-secret ingredients (the recipe is held in a vault, under lock and key, with only a handful of staff allowed access). The fudge and sweet filling areas were last on our tour; as well as getting distinct wafts of lemon, mint and turkish delight as we made our way around, this was also the noisiest area, with more machines than in other parts of the factory.

And that was the biggest surprise of the day: just how much of the chocolate-making process was done by hand. Of course there were conveyer belts, machines and robotic arms that darted about, picking up duds (my favourite was the blower that sent packets of mint creams shooting off into a bin if they didn’t have exactly the right number of sweets inside). But a surprising number of the chocolates were hand-finished, and there were beady eyes looking along almost all the belts, to weed out any chocolates that weren’t quite right.

Thorntons

Security is tight at the factory. For our visit we had to don hairnets, scientist-style overcoats and special rubber shoes. No cameras, phones or chewing gum were allowed; and despite the desperately tempting trays and vats of chocolates around the place, any tasting is strictly forbidden.

Thorntons

Unless, of course, like us you’re on a tour, and even then, only in the special tasting zone. We were given the opportunity to try some chocolates fresh off the production line, and – oh my word – they were even more than delicious than the Thorntons chocolates you buy in the shops or online. Our tour guide, John, explained that the chocolates taste quite different if you eat them on the day they’re made, and so it’s best to gobble up your chocs quickly after you’ve bought them, for maximum flavour.

Thorntons

Chocolates ready for personalisation

The chocolatiers on the factory floor go through rigorous training for their jobs, and the people who design the personalised chocolates are highly skilled. We got to find this out first hand, when we were given the tools to personalise our own treats. Despite our very best concentration, the results weren’t quite up to Thorntons’ high standards (certainly not in my own case, at least). But everything was made with Thorntons’ chocolate and filling, so the gifts we were sent home with tasted delicious, even if mine looked a bit of a dog’s dinner.

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Concentrating on the task ahead

Thorntons

My wobbly handed attempt at personalisation

Thorntons

The raw ingredients

Thorntons

Getting stuck in (I’m the one on the right)

Thorntons

Ta-daaaa!

I was invited on a tour of the Thorntons chocolate factory in Derbyshire, UK. All views are my own. I had the pleasure of spending the day in the company of this lovely lot (I’m second from the left in the picture):

Thorntons

Alex from Bump to Baby

Emma from Mrs Shilts

Jo from Slummy Single Mummy

Emily from A Mummy Too

Charlotte from Write Like No One’s Watching

Hayley from Sparkles and Stretchmarks

Debs from Super Busy Mum

Amy from Everything Mummy

Jade from Raising the Rings

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8 Comments

  • Mike Aspinall
    October 11, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Thanks so much for coming along, Nell! John and I really enjoyed meeting you and showing you round the Chocolate Factory 🙂

    Reply
    • Nell
      October 11, 2016 at 10:28 am

      It’s a pleasure – thank you so much for a choc-tastic day. So interesting.

      Reply
  • John Alexander Rowley
    October 11, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    Thanks Nell, it was our pleasure! As Mike mentioned, we’re really pleased that you enjoyed the day in our factory and development kitchens. I loved your story about returning home clutching a bag of special toffee – I never tire of hearing of how personal Thorntons can be to people! Take care, John. 🙂

    Reply
    • Nell
      October 12, 2016 at 10:15 am

      Yes, I could never decide between Special and Treacle. Oh, the dilemmas of youth! Thanks again for a great day.

      Reply
  • Sarah Christie
    October 17, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    Ah I watched all of your instagrams drooling that day it looked liked such an amazing even Nell, great post and your creations look fab x

    Reply
    • Nell
      October 18, 2016 at 6:56 pm

      Thank you! I was literally bursting with chocolate when I left…

      Reply
  • Notmyyearoff
    October 19, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    Oh my goodness, it looks amaaaazing and I don’t even really like Chocolate very much. I think I would probably drool a lot at the smell of it all.

    Reply
    • Nell
      October 31, 2016 at 11:53 am

      It was heavenly!

      Reply

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