The official version of the White Wings history states that the company traces its origins back to 1898 and a single flour mill in country Victoria. However, other records cast some doubt on this story. The White Wings trade mark was, indeed, applied for on 30th November 1898, but the applicant was ‘Arthur Rickard, of 28, O’Connell-street, Sydney, in the Colony of New South Wales, merchant.’ His application sought to trademark ‘The words “White Wings” as applied to flour.’
Arthur Rickard (later Sir Arthur) was a mercantile broker who set up a wholesale grocery business, importing and exporting various commodities including wheat and flour. Around the turn of the 20th century, flour was still being imported from America. Among the imports was ‘Washington White Wings’ flour, perhaps giving Rickard the inspiration to trade mark the name in Australia.
It’s not clear how or when the trade mark was acquired by Henry Lytton Bussell. It may have been in 1904, the year Bussell arrived in Sydney. That same year, Rickard abandoned the grocery trade to pursue interests in real estate. It is certain that by 1913 White Wings flour was being used in regional cookery competitions in country New South Wales. White Wings claim to have been the first in Australia to produce self-raising flour and by 1914 the product was being advertised by H. L. Bussell & Co. Ltd.
The advertorial-style copy promoted other products including rolled oats, flaked oatmeal and a cereal called ‘Brekweet Meal’ which was described as ‘a magnificent specially-made breakfast food of great restorative or feeding force for both body and brain, among the ingredients being incorporated malt, yeast and pepsin’. The new factory was painted in glowing terms:
One of the most interesting pure food factories to be found in Sydney is the “White Wings” in Meagher street off Regent street. The edifice is a new one, and is equipped with the very latest scientific appliances for the production of food in the highest state of purity.
The flour mill and factory continued under the ownership of Bussell’s until 1952. By 1924, the range had expanded to include jelly crystals and fruit saline. Over decades since, the brand has appeared on products from confectionery to breakfast cereals, from doughnuts to gravy mix. H. L. Bussell was acquired by flour millers Gillespies Bros Pty Ltd in 1952 and the name changed to White Wings Pty Ltd.
The company’s first move into cake mixes was in 1954. The first product, called American Blend, was a generic mix that required cooks to add a range of other ingredients to produce different cakes and biscuits. The copy stressed the convenience of preparation:
Imagine Hubby’s pride – the admiration of friends, when you serve up luscious, fluffy-textured cakes, biscuits that melt in the mouth, and bubble-light, golden brown patties. YOU CAN DO IT. Without guidance or experience YOU CAN DO IT. All you need is a packet of American Blend Cake Mix, based on the formula millions of American women use today. “American Blend” will make dozens and dozens of different recipes. Average time of preparation – from pack to oven THREE MINUTES, success guaranteed or your money refunded.
By 1958, the one-mix-does-all American Blend had been replaced by three different mixes – Chocolate, Vanilla Snowcake and Buttercup Yellow – each of which required the addition of one egg. The following year, an Orange Chip variety joined the range. Marketing lore is that the addition of an egg assuaged the housewife’s guilt about using a pre-prepared mix.
It’s likely that the technology to create the first cake mixes was acquired from, or at least inspired by, the American company, Pillsbury, which was among the pioneers of packaged mixes in the USA. And, in 1961, Pillsbury acquired 49.9 per cent of the White Wings company in Australia.
In the 1960s, White Wings became the sponsor of a cookery competition held in conjunction with the Australian Women’s Weekly. The Butter-White Wings Bake-Off ran from 1963 to 1971 and required entrants to send their recipes to the magazine. State finalists were then flown to Sydney or Melbourne to prepare their prize-winning dish in the grand final. The final of the 1970 series was televised, becoming the first cooking competition on TV.
The ownership of White Wings bounced around through a series of corporate mergers beginning in the 1970s. In 1977, Gillespie Bros. merged with another leading flour miller, Fielders Ltd. Two years later, Fielders Gillespie bought back the Pillsbury share, to make the company wholly Australian-owned. Manufacturing continued at the Chippendale site until 1982 when operations were moved to Kingsgrove.
The 1983 merger of Fielders Gillespie with the New Zealand-based Goodman Group created Goodman Fielder, a company with a diverse range of food products. Goodman Fielder is now owned by the Singapore-based agribusiness group, Wilmar International.
Today, the White Wings range includes flours; cake, pancake and pavlova mixes; seasoning and gravy mix; and some ready-to-bake dough products.