A few weeks back, I flew to Aberdeen at the invitation of Walkers Shortbread.
I knew a factory tour was a big part of our visit as well as a visit to the town of Aberlour and aside from knowing (and consuming) many a tartan box full of shortbread, I really didn’t know much else. I came away pretty much a Walkers Devotee, no other Shortbread will make it into our pantry and I can talk endlessly about the company like I’ve worked there for many a year, not just spent 48 hours in Walkers company.
I’ll try my best to explain, initially I jumped at the chance at going because I love the behind the scenes, I love knowing how things are made and I love getting to see what others generally don’t. I also love a biscuit. But this was much more than that, what I got to see was the process and the behind the scenes but also the story of Walkers.
We met Jim Walker, 3rd generation Walker, who had just 16 employees when he took over and grew that to 1600. The company is still entirely family owned 121 years later and sells into over 100 countries. His son Alastair who like Jim, were the most generous hosts and so gracious with their time and knowledge, flies around the world (amongst other things) ensuring Walkers is stocked in the most exciting of places from Australia to Mauritius.
There is a real sense of community, family and friendship between those who work for Walkers, I also saw deep loyalty to the company. We met employees who have worked for Walkers for 10, 20, even 30 years, not only did they work there but their nieces, nephews, parents, children and spouses were all working or had worked for Walkers. The factory, we visited Shortbread 2, could be far more automated, but Walkers have made the decision to keep things hands on, employing people rather than robots. The shortbread and the chocolate rounds we saw were being boxed by hand (sealed by machines) which also means any ‘rejects’ can be manually removed. I thought this was so commendable, isn’t it better to buy from a brand that consciously chooses to support it’s local community rather than chase profit?
After our tour, we headed back to HQ for a tasting session! Jim lead us through the various different shortbread, the shapes plus those with additions, like the Salted Caramel, Ginger, Chocolate or Vanilla! My favourites, just in case you were wondering, were the Highlanders (a round shortbread with sugar crust a little rough and ready in texture but perfection in taste), the Vanilla which was so buttery and light with just the right amount of vanilla and of course Salted Caramel as I would eat anything that is Salted Caramel.
Now those ‘rejects’… in Aberlour, the original bakery still exists, they no longer bake bread but they do sell bags and bags of the rejected or broken biscuits. Same buttery shortbread just a little misshappen for just a £1 or two. If I had a spare suitcase I would have filled it up!
Another incredible fact about Walkers is their shortbread recipe, it’s the same one from 121 years ago and consists of just 4 ingredients; incredible butter, flour, sugar and salt. No preservatives, no margarine or lard or E- numbers. In fact when we visited an article was released that putting a stick of shortbread in your childs lunch box was a far healthier option compared to a chocolate bar or the Penguin I used to have. I know what I’ll be putting in my children’s box when they eventually switch to packed lunches.
On our second day in Aberlour, after our visit to the original shop and a drive up and down the high st, we searched for Highland Cows and spotted one from a little distance away, I really wanted to get up close but it wasn’t meant to be. We stopped for a Walkers pitstop, Alastair had filled the boot with a selection of Walkers products from traditional shortbread, to dark chocolate and ginger and had somehow memorised our drinks order (I was particularly impressed as I’m so awkward, decaf coffee with oat milk!)
We had a little photoshoot and even made a nonsense stop motion of the highland cow shaped shortbread (posted at the end of this!) it was raining and I didn’t have a tripod so forgive me!
Unfortunately it was then time to head back South but what a great adventure and so honoured to have had a glimpse inside such a long standing brand! Thanks Walkers for having me.
I was invited as a guest of Walkers, I really enjoyed the experience and learning about the company and I’m really happy to share this with you but as always I am not paid to say this, all views are my own.