It’s Chocolate Cake Day!

What better opportunity to talk about the divisive Jaffa Cake issue and how advertising can make a difference.

Jaffa cake close up

During strange times we tend to reach out towards the familiar. During just four weeks of lockdown, between June and July, the UK snack-hungry Brits have spent an extra £19million on biscuits, according to market research firm Kantar. Biscuits started as dried bread and in the Baghdad of the middle ages, sugar was added to the mix for the first time. So how did it become such a British food?

Mainly through imperialism and industrialisation: the navy relied on rusks, early prototypes of biscuit, which stimulated an even wider production. The UK went through a ‘biscuit revolution’ with Reading based Huntley and Palmers establishing themselves as the largest biscuit manufacturer in the world by the 1900s. However, their major competitor, London’s Peek Freans, had invented the ultimate sugary biscuit: The Pearl, ultimately establishing themselves as the strongest.

What set Peek Freans apart?

They advertised like there was no tomorrow. They produced the Garibaldi, brazenly called their biscuits after royalty and created the Marie biscuit named for Marie of Austria who married into the royal family. Using aspirational marketing words such as “distinguished” and “superior” was the key to their marketing success. Mass market biscuits went up a notch as they were given an aura of technology.

1960 Peek Frean's magazine advert

Yet while Brits – and the rest of the world – were happy to accept industrially manufactured biscuits, they were reticent when it came to mass produced cakes.

Enter Jaffa Cakes: the best of both worlds. That’s to say a cake advertised as a biscuit, always found in the biscuit aisles of a supermarket, packaged like biscuits, and eaten with hands and not a fork (which is the norm for cakes).

In the war of cakes against biscuits the real winner is the one that can be a bit of both: the Jaffa Cake.

Jaffa Cakes were the subject of what has become one of the most famous cases in tax law history – not just in the UK but in the world. In the 1990s a UK court was asked whether Jaffa cakes should be regarded as cakes or biscuits. Not to settle a particularly intense workplace argument, but for reasons of cold hard cash. Cakes in Britain are VAT free, whereas biscuits carry the extra levy.

The reason? When VAT was introduced in 1972, cakes were regarded as everyday items while biscuits were considered as luxury products.  Ultimately, the court concluded that Jaffa Cakes were indeed cakes and therefore did not qualify for VAT. The compelling argument that won the day was deliciously simple: Jaffa Cakes go hard when they are stale, just like cakes, whereas biscuits go soft. The ruling set the precedent for many other products in the market. 

Jaffa Cakes: Advertised as a biscuit-sized cake McVitie’s can have their cake and eat it!

The big question is, which one do you think should be classed a luxury and which one should be deemed essential- cakes or biscuits? But more importantly what do you think of Jaffa Cakes’ new flavours? I hear the pineapple one is the best one yet…