We're still hooked on biscuits

02:13, May 05 2014
OLD FAVOURITES: Kiwis eat no less than 203 Gingernuts every minute.

Kiwis are the world's second-largest consumers of biscuits - and the company that helps feed them this month celebrates its 150th birthday.

Griffin's, the country's oldest biscuit maker, churns out nearly 1 billion biscuits a year, including favourites such as Gingernuts, Toffee Pops, and MallowPuffs.

It all came from humble beginnings in 1864.

The American Civil War was raging, Charles Dickens was writing his final novel, and the settlers of Hamilton were choosing the city's name when John Griffin set up a flour and cocoa mill in Nelson.

The factory became a mainstay of the community, making biscuits and confectionary for the school across the road, and later sending them across the country.

Griffin's entrenched itself in New Zealanders' hearts and diets when it used its new automatic biscuit oven, the first in the southern hemisphere, to make rations for World War II troops.


Its roster of products was steadily increasing with the Wine biscuit, Milk Arrowroots, and the ever-popular Gingernut joined by MallowPuffs and Chit Chats.

In 1990, Griffin's sold its confectionary business - including Jaffas, Minties, and Jet Planes - to Cadbury. In return, it received the Hudson biscuit business, which included famous brands like Chocolate Chippies, Toffee Pops and Squiggles.

As part of the package came the iconic Cookie Bear brand, which was already a New Zealand institution. At its peak in the 1970s and 1980s, a quarter of children aged 12 and under belonged to the Cookie Bear club.

However, it hasn't been an easy 150 years for Griffin's.

The Nelson premises was beset with problems. It was razed by fires twice at the turn of the 20th century, and had to be rebuilt both times. In 1987 the factory was closed due to an earthquake risk, with 137 people losing their jobs.

The building was finally torn down in 2013 to make way for a car park.

The company closed its Lower Hutt factory in 2008, with 228 job losses. A year later, the "Buy New Zealand Made" logo that adorned each packet of biscuits was quietly removed from some of its brands - Griffin's had outsourced some of its manufacturing to Fiji.

But Griffin's is satisfied with its history, and the affectionNew Zealanders hold for the brand.

"Griffin's is part of New Zealand's DNA," spokeswoman Josette Prince said.

"From playing an important role during wartime in the 1940s making army ration biscuits for the troops, through to baking nine of the 10 top-selling biscuits in the country today, the brand has a special place in the hearts of generations of Kiwis."

The Gingernut, introduced in the 1930s, is still the company's best seller - New Zealanders eat 203 of them every minute, she said.

But it's the Toffee Pop that can lay claim to being the country's favourite.

Last year a survey showed it was the favourite biscuit in 11 out of 14 regions, beating out previous winner Hundreds and Thousands.