Poppets – a history (and a machine…)

Picture of a Poppets vending machine, coloured red with new artwork and with 2 columns
Picture of a Poppets vending machine, coloured red with new artwork and with 2 columns

Paynes Poppets are currently made by Valeo Confectionary, but originated in 1937 by the (still present, in name only) Payne’s fine confectionery, at that time based in Croydon, the factory itself sadly closing in 2001. George Payne & Co. began production in the East End of London, before moving to Croydon Road, Croydon in the 1930s, but by 1998 it was purchased by Northern Foods. It was in 2001 that the closure of the Croydon factory was announced, as part of a deal by Northern Foods to take over the Fox’s factory in Leicester from Nestlé and relocate Poppet production there. From 2003, the current brand owner and producer of Poppets was Big Bear Confectionary, who commissioned the re-design of the packaging featured on the machine above. In 2019, most recent owners Big Bear Confectionary and Tangerine Confectionary merged, finally closing the historic Fox’s plant which pre-dated the invention of Poppets themselves. The latest factory, in York, was heavily featured in a recent Channel 5 series.

The product comes in four readily available flavours: Mint, Toffee, Raisin and Orange. You can also sometimes find ‘limited edition’ Strawberry and Biscuit, when they don’t get bought in bulk and placed onto eBay! The Orange and Mint varieties are made of a fondant centre with a dark chocolate covering, while the Strawberry fondant and all other varieties have a milk chocolate coating. The company claims that in the last ten years alone, figures suggest that up to ten million Poppets were consumed each week.

One feature making Poppets of particular interest to RCA, is that they are still to this day supplied in small, 40 gram cardboard boxes. While other confectionery moved to plastic wrappers in the 1960s and 1970s, Poppets have retained these traditional boxes ever since. The box has a small hatch in one corner that can be torn open to dispense the sweets one at a time, this ‘popping out’ having given them their original name. The non-rustling packaging, and the ability to dispense single sweets in the dark, made them a popular snack in cinemas which remain one of their most popular sales outlets. The box was redesigned in 2006 with new printed designs, themed with other British design icons such as the Mini and a NatWest Piggy Bank; and although this ‘era’ has now passed, this machine is firmly rooted in that time; being a more modern machine (yes, this one is electric!) we thought that anything older just wouldn’t seem authentic. However we definately like the idea of single column, LocWil or Rotary machines dispensing single boxes in the future.