In 1830 Robert McVitie and his father William opened a bakery in Rose Street, Edinburgh. Robert’s baking was so popular that he soon managed to open more shops and expand the business. Mc Vitie sent his son, also named Robert, to Europe at an early age to study bakery techniques. He returned with Vienna bread which he introduced into Scotland, in the process turning the bakery he was to inherit from his father in 1880, into a household name.
In 1875 Charles Price became partner in the firm which became styled McVitie & Price.
In 1888 the company opened a new factory in the suburbs of Edinburgh. In 1892 the company devised and produced the first and original “digestive” biscuit, the secret recipe of which is still used today. The biscuit contained bicarbonate of soda and claimed to aid digestion.
Increasing trade in England led to a new factory opening in Harlesden, London, in 1902. The business was incorporated as a limited company in 1910.
During the First World War McVitie & Price Ltd. was called on by the government to use its knowledge and production facilities to supply “iron ration” plain biscuits, and a new factory was opened in Manchester in 1917 to satisfy demand.
McVitie’s Chocolate Homewheat Digestive was created in 1925 and two years later Jaffa Cakes were introduced. In 1947 McVitie’s made the wedding cake for Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten. It stood over 2.5 metres high. With post-war food rationing still in place, ingredients were sent as wedding presents from overseas. Pieces of cake were later distributed to scool children and institutions.
In 1948 McVitie & Price Ltd. merged with another Scottish biscuit manufacturer, Macfarlane, Lang & Co. Ltd., to become United Biscuits.
The factory in Harlesden became the first biscuit factory in the world to be fully automated, increasing output by an incredible 1000 %.
In 2000 United Biscuits was acquired by a consortuium of financial investors called Finalrealm, and in 2006 it was sold on to a consortium made up of the Blackstone Group and PAI partners.
Today, United Biscuits is headquartered in Hayes and the core of its business is in the UK although the company manufactures in a number of countries across Europe.
United Biscuits produces biscuits, crisps and baked bagged snacks under a number of brand names including McVities. McVitie’s Chocolate Digestives, Rich Tea and Hobnobs were ranked the top three favourite biscuits in the UK in 2009. Over 71 million packets of Chocolate Digestives are eaten in the UK every year, giving an average of 52 biscuits per second.
McVities were prolific users of commercial overprints, although the company does not appear to have used overprints in either the Victorian or Edwardian eras and the the earliest stamp issue to have been recorded so far is the King George V 1d scarlet (SG 342). United Biscuits overprints appear on the Queen Elizabeth 2d Wilding and Machin stamps.