Tunnock's Getting the Last Laugh

  Image Credit:  Derek E-Jay  via  Flickr   cc

Image Credit: Derek E-Jay via Flickr cc

     At the beginning of this year, I admittedly knew little about Thomas Tunnock Limited – popularly known as Tunnock’s – the family-owned confectionary bakery company based in Uddingston, Scotland. My faintest memory of it up to that time were its famous tea cakes being featured as “dancers” in the opening ceremony for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

     This changed dramatically as those tea cakes and the Tunnock’s company became embroiled in a Nationalist-induced firestorm not long after the new year had begun. Chiefly, there were Nationalists who became incensed that the best-known product of this Scottish company was now being branded as “Tunnock’s Great British Tea Cake’s” - inspired by the BBC's wildly popular and award-winning Great British Bake-Off - and photos of ads featuring this on the London Underground were widely shared on social media. In addition, it was believed (falsely) that the company had removed its iconic Lion Rampant – one of Scotland’s national symbols, featured on the Royal Standard – from the packaging of its products.

     For outraged Nationalists, this amounted to the 126 year old company rejecting its Scottish heritage and the visceral angst was on display to see via the good ole’ cybernats, many of whom voiced their vehement disapproval by calling the company “traitors” and saying that they would never purchase Tunnock’s products again, and indeed some went out of their way to throw out Tunnock’s products they already had and also plastered Nationalist slogans on such products on supermarket shelves.

     All of this would have been amusing enough to witness, but then came Scotland’s blessed freedom fighters, the Scottish Resistance! Led by their fearless leader James Scott, the so-called Resistance called for a national boycott of Tunnock’s and all of their products, and then they marched to Uddingston to take on the mighty company by staging a protest outside their factory and headquarters. The protest was attended by only a small band of the true believers, but that didn’t stop them employing over-the-top theatrics, such as man smashing a box of the marshmellow biscuits with a sledgehammer and speeches over a bull-horn condemning Tunnock’s for its “treachery” toward Scotland.

     Adding to the controversy was the fact that the current managing director Boyd Tunnock CBE – grandson of the founder and the creator of the tea cake – was a prominent supporter of keeping the United Kingdom together during the referendum campaign in 2014 and said in response to the criticism of his company: “The vote said we’re British. We’re Scottish; however, we’re still in Britain.”

     Three months following this stramash, it would seem that Tunnock’s is having the last laugh. The boycott campaign has backfired spectacularly as the Lanarkshire-based company reported that its sales have soared by 10% in the first quarter of this year. First quarters, according to operations director Fergus Loudon, are typically a “quieter time” for the firm, but in contrast, the beginning of 2016 showed a tremendous increase – a “real boost” – and Loudon attributes it to the publicity generated by the furious Nationalists and their failed boycott, further stating:

“It meant the Tunnock's name was being talked about all over the world and people are still talking about it. It prompted a lot of people to go out and buy tea cakes and has been fantastic for us in terms of sales. There was a definite spike.”

     Not only this, but Loudon also said that in fact, the company is struggling to keep up with demand as it sells hundreds of thousands more of its snacks in the UK and throughout the world, with the firms order book “full to overflowing.”

  Tunnock's HQ in Lanarkshire. Image Credit:  Geograph  © Copyright  Lairich Rig  and licensed for reuse under this  Creative Commons Licence

Tunnock's HQ in Lanarkshire. Image Credit: Geograph © Copyright Lairich Rig and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

     This has turned out to be quite well for company that is proud to promote its Scottish and British heritage, and a spokesperson went out of his way to say that the company was not ashamed of its roots in Scotland and further, that the change in branding was not meant to cause offense. He reiterated that the Lion Rampant remained on their packaging, and would always remain there, but also stated that in the end, the fuss raised by the Nationalists “has been good for us.”

     Indeed, it is very good for the family-owned firm, its 500 employees, as well as the local economy, and since January according to the Scotsman, they have:

“released a range of merchandise in the wake of the success of the marketing strategy, including teddy bears, mugs, clothing and key rings, which they hope people will purchase to show solidarity with the company.”

     My personal solidarity with the company began within days of the controversy coming to the fore and while the reaction on social media continued to play out for several days. As I was shopping at one of the supermarkets here in Savannah, I decided to take a look at the British section of the International products aisle to see if I could find the tea cakes at the root of the brouhaha across the Pond. They were not there for sale, but I did find the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Biscuits and purchased them.

     I must admit that I have a low appetite for sweets and candies, but I felt a need to lend my support for this company which had come under fire for its branding choice and for its owner – nicknamed the Willy Wonka of Tannochside by the Times – supporting the pro-Union campaign. So at home, I tried one out, and it was quite good; it was not too sweet and had refreshing taste.

     On Twitter early the next morning (early for me, anyway), I tweeted out this message:

“Couldn’t find #TunnockTeaCakes, but did find these tasty wafer biscuits from this great British company in Scotland.”

     The tweet contained pictures featuring the front and back of the wrapping. Sure enough, there was the famous Tunnock’s logo proudly featuring the Lion Rampant and the Tunnock’s Boy on the front, while the back prominently featured this for the home location:



     This support for Tunnock’s was much-appreciated, and received positive attention from many people, and among them was a Twitter follower who offered to send some tea cakes my way.

     It took a while for them to get here as my friend was busy with things going on at home in Scotland, but they did finally get here in late February in a beautiful box which made me think it was my birthday. Indeed, the it really felt that way because the package contained a panoply of Tunnock’s products: Snowballs, Caramel Logs, Caramel Wafers, and of course, the “Great British Tea Cakes” – all of them with the Lion Rampant prominently featured on the packaging.  There was also a nice card with a tartan cloth and wooden thistle ornament. Inside card was a heart-felt and meaningful message which read:

Hi Wesley,

Sorry for the delay, life is quite hectic these days. Added a few more to help you get over the wait.


  The special Tunnock's Treat I received from a friend in Scotland. Image Credit: Wesley Hutchins

The special Tunnock's Treat I received from a friend in Scotland. Image Credit: Wesley Hutchins

     This was totally unexpected but greatly appreciated for the way that he went out of his way to do all this, for he did not have do, and I shall remember this token of friendship from across the Pond at an individual level, as well as part of the greater relationship between the US and the UK.

     As for the sweet treats themselves, I was very pleased to try out the tea cakes at last, and they did not fail to impress. The milk chocolate combined with the mallow on the inside and the biscuit base made for a delectable taste which cannot be compared to anything I recall having in the States, but which is popular and well-known in the Kingdom. Meanwhile, the Snowballs – which are much like the tea cakes, but with marshmallows covered in frosted coconuts – were pleasant despite my lukewarm taste for coconut. The same was true for the Caramel Logs, which are like Caramel Wafers with the addition of the coconut bits coating the outside, though still a nice treat.

     So thanks to the howl of the Nationalists, Tunnock’s is doing better, it has greater international exposure, and I have become a loyal patron of this great British company from Scotland, of which every Briton throughout the United Kingdom can be proud.