8 things you (probably) didn't know about McCowan’s Highland Toffee

Are you a fan of Scotland's famous 'Coo Candy'? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about McCowan's Highland Toffee

Published 9th Sep 2015
Updated 25 th Apr 2017

Every child who has grown up in Scotland, visited relatives there or have just happened to come across the joy of Highland Toffee in their youth, will recognise the famous Heilan' Coo logo.

McCowan's Highland Toffee is one of the most famous Scottish sweets around and is still remembered fondly by many people of a certain age.

Here are eight things you (probably) didn't know about McCowan's Highland Toffee:

McCowan's began life as a Lemonade delivery service

Andrew McCowan who founded McCowan's originally made his living selling aerated water - as soft drinks were then called - until he discovered the popularity of his wife's toffee, which she originally sold from the window of their house in Stenhousemuir to make some extra money for their family.

Andrew began selling the toffee on his delivery trips and eventually made enough money to quit his job and open his own shop in Stenhousemuir.

The Highland Toffee chews were created out of necessity

Andrew added Tablet to his list of treats in 1915 - made over and old coke burner - and later Rock, Snowballs, lollypops and macaroons. However, it was during the depression and the years that followed that Andrew realised that he had to find another market so he struck upon the idea of small, cheap, toffee chews - which he called 'Penny Dainties' - to those who couldn't afford to spend a lot on sweets.

During the 1980's the brand created Wham and Irn-Bru Bars 

CONSUMER Wham Bars End 1

During the 1980s the company introduced the Wham Bar - which sold around 30 million bars a year - before reaching an agreement with fellow Scottish producers A.G. Barr to create the Irn-Bru Bar.

Other best sellers include the Fizzy Lizzy, Vimto and Lanky Larry Bars.

At its height the company sold 140 million chew bars a year

McCowan's became so successful that at their height they sold around 140 million toffee bars a year, they also exported to countries around the world including Australia, Canada and Saudi Arabia.

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Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL

There were once calls for McCowan's to make a Highland Toffee surf board 

A surfer's website once called for McCowan's to make a disposable anti-shark Surfboard, made entirely from Highland Toffee. They suggested that any shark attacking such a board would find its teeth so gummed together that it would be unable to attack the surfer who could then escape.

The idea prompted Alan McCafferty, who owned the company at that point to respond: ''If there's a profit in toffee surfboards, I'll make them.''

In 1987 the company adopted a pygmy hippo at Edinburgh Zoo

Robert McCowan with the adoption certificate.
Robert McCowan with the adoption certificate.

McCowan's the Scottish toffee manufacturers adopted Mumbo Gumbo the pygmy hippo at Edinburgh Zoo in March 1987.

The brand has had many owners over the years but is now owned by an English confectionery company

The brand was sold to Nestle in 1960, briefly held by an MBO team in 1989, and owned by Dutch confectioner Phideas in 1996. It is now owned by Tangerine Confectionery  who are based in Blackpool.

A Canadian man once won a 'pound of Highland Toffee' from McCowan's with a limerick 

Canadian Jim Willson won a limerick competition sponsored by McCowan's in 1993 and was awarded a pound of 'Highland Toffee' for his efforts.

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"There are cows on the Island of Lewis
Brown, shaggy and oft in the news
To be very brief
They're grown for their beef
To see them, you must take a cruise."


Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.
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