Founded in 1867 in Switzerland by Henri Nestlé, the company merged with the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Co. in 1905. By 1906, Australia was the company’s second-biggest export market and the decision was made to set up a business here. The first factory was at Toogoolawah in South East Queensland.
For many decades, most Australians struggled with the continental pronunciation. The company was referred to as Nestle’s (rhyming with vessels), a practice that continued into the 1950s and perhaps beyond.
Henri Nestlé’s original product was an infant formula that he called ‘farine lactée’ or Kindermehl. Sold in Australia as Nestle’s food for infants, it was being advertised here as early as 1870.
In 1866 the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company had launched Europe’s first condensed milk, which became the founding product of the merged company in Australia. Through the early part of the 20th century, their condensed milk was applauded for being free from bacteria and easily digested because the fat globules had been “desiccated”. It was manufactured in Queensland until 1929 when the company consolidated its condensed milk operation in Warrnambool in Victoria.
Factories were set up around Australia, including a chocolate factory in Abbotsford, New South Wales in 1918 and a factory at Waroona in Western Australia in 1932. The company began producing powered milk at Gympie, Queensland, in 1953 and this factory went on to manufacture other products including chocolate bars and, primarily, coffee.
The Nestlé stand was a feature at the various Royal Shows, invariably drawing enthusiastic editorial from the local press. The Brisbane Telegraph proclaimed in 1928 that “the kiosk, with the firm’s red and gold liberally displayed, cannot well escape attention”. Infant formula remained an important part of the business, as the Telegraph article confirms, saying: “Trained nurses are in attendance to advice [sic] mothers on the correct methods of feeding and rearing children, and to prepare Lactogen for babies The firm manufactures this article”.
Nestlé was to become a diverse global group controlling many well-known brands, with products including chocolate, infant foods, pet foods, coffee and yoghurt.