The forerunner to Plaistowe Confectionery was the Silver Pan Confectionery Company, founded by John Hobbs and Edward Merton in 1890. Hobbs had formerly worked in the Plaistowe confectionery company in London, which had been operating since 1863. The Silver Pan factory in West Perth produced a range of boiled and sugar candies, sugar ornaments, horehound candies, Turkish delight, chocolate creams, gelatine goods and “every description of confectionery goods”.
In 1895, Hugh Plaistowe arrived in Perth from London, where he had also worked in his father’s confectionery business. He contacted Hobbs and became a partner in the Silver Pan company. It’s not clear why Edward Merton left the original partnership but perhaps the arrival of Hugh Plaistowe caused a disagreement. Merton later sued Hobbs, claiming he had stolen some of his recipes. The case was dismissed.
For some time, the firm formed by Plaistowe and Hobbs continued to trade as Silver Pan. Then, in 1911, it became Plaistowe & Co. Ltd with both Plaistowe and Hobbs as directors. A new factory in West Perth began operations in 1915.
Plaistowe expanded their operations beyond confectionery and, from the early days, had a very active research and development operation. In 1919, because of the difficulty in obtaining essential oils and flavourings, they began to extract these from locally available material. This opened up new business opportunities beyond the food sector and subsequently a new division, called Plaimar, was established. This division ventured into perfumes, distilling sandalwood oil, boronia otto, oil of lemon and peppermint from locally grown plants.
By 1920, the company was being hailed as a leader in Western Australia’s industrial world.
In 1928 Plaistowe developed a process for producing tomato concentrate, which was successfully exported to the UK and to the eastern states. The company also obtained a licence for the UK brand Fulcreem. Under this brand, they made custard powder, Don jellies, lemon juice cordial, cakes and other goods.
An article published in 1930 recorded that, at that time, Plaistowe and Co. Ltd. manufactured over 400 different confections including “chocolates, milk chocolates, and sugar confections, triple blend cocoa, icing sugar, lemon and orange peel”. They were also among the early manufacturers of nonpareils, also known as hundreds and thousands – an essential component of that great Australian favourite, fairy bread. Among their products was the famous Choo Choo Bar, now revived by Lagoon Confectioners.
As with many much-loved confectionery makers, Plaistowe became a victim of corporate takeovers and brand rationalisation. Plaistowe’s business, including the plant and equipment, goodwill, brand names, business names and trademarks, was acquired by Life Savers Australia in 1976. Some of the products, including the Choo Choo bar, were then marketed under the Mastercraft brand, also owned by Life Savers. Then, in 1985, Nestlé bought the Life Savers business. The Plaistowe brand is now applied only to cooking chocolate products and cocoa.
Ironically, a brand that was once Western Australia’s pride is now made in Campbellfield, Victoria. The chocolate factory in West Perth is now an office building.