Each month we profile a family business to see how the baking craft has passed down through the generations. This month, the story of Walkers, a business built on £50 and a single shortbread recipe.
In 1898, 21-year-old Joseph Walker obtained a loan of £50 and used it to open his own bakery. His shortbread recipe became locally renowned, and shooting parties from local estates would make detours to try it. Word spread fast and demand increased. In response, Joseph moved to larger premises in the Speyside village of Aberlour after a mere two years in business, and invested in a horse and cart so he could deliver further afield.
In the 1930s, two of his sons – James and Joseph – joined the company and, by 1936, the firm had introduced a range of cakes, a selection of confectionery and its first delivery van.
Despite rationing during the Second World War, Walkers continued to supply its customers with bread and oatcakes, helping the firm to survive. After the war, many bakeries made the switch to cheaper margarine, but Joseph was adamant the shortbread recipe remain the same. Even after his death in 1954 his sons heeded his wishes, and the original recipe, still in use, contains four ingredients: flour, sugar, salt and pure creamery butter.
By 1961, the third generation of Walkers – James’ children, Joseph, James and Marjorie – had joined the company and the workforce numbered almost 50, with a fleet of six vans, as well as shops in Grantown and Elgin. Local grocers began stocking Walkers’ products too, and the family had to invest in bakery machinery to meet demand. By the 1970s, Joseph’s grandchildren were also exporting shortbread to more than 20 countries.
In 1975 Walkers outgrew its bakery and moved to a custom-built factory, still in Arberlour. As Jim Walker puts it, “This gave us the extra space and facilities needed to develop new products, such as chocolate chip shortbread and speciality biscuits. Since the 1990s, six members from four generations of the Walker family have joined the company and played a major part in its development.”
Walkers now operates from six factories – four in Aberlour and two in Elgin – and exports to more than 100 countries, with overseas sales accounting for more than 40% of its turnover. To support global demand, the company has set up subsidiaries in Germany, its largest European market, and the US.
But all the shortbread is still baked in Speyside. Now, just as it did over 100 years ago, Walkers tests every product on the people of Aberlour by selling it in the village shop first. “Our products are still given their first seal of approval by Aberlour,” says Jim.
1898: Joseph Walker opens the bakery, using a loan of £50.
1890: His shortbread recipe quickly gains a local reputation.
The business moves to larger premises and invests in a horse and cart.
1930s: His sons, James and Joseph, join the company.
They expand the range and introduce the company’s first delivery van.
1961: James’ children – Joseph, James and Marjorie – have joined the company.
Walkers has six vans, shops in Grantown and Elgin, and a 100-strong workforce.
1975: Following investment in bakery machinery, Walkers moves to a custom-built factory in Elgin.