Quality Street Audit
Quality Street audit. Photo: Andrew Smith
  • Quality Street is a popular confectionary brand in South Africa - especially towards the end of the year.
  • But the assortment of sweets in each packet or box is far from equal, and not particularly random, either.
  • We sifted through five kilograms of Quality Streets to see which are the rarest, and most common, you’ll find in a 500g bag.
  • More than 13% of each bag was made up of the rectangular toffees that’s surely nobody’s first choice.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Quality Street, a brand founded in England in the 1930s, is a popular product in South Africa - especially as the end of year approaches. The packaging, and varieties, differ between countries, and South Africa has long done away with the classy tins and a few old favourites.

Even so, Nestle, who now manufactures Quality Street around the world, sold more than 300,000 kilograms of the assorted individually wrapped toffees and chocolates in the last quarter of 2020, in South Africa alone.

Quality Street Audit
Quality Street audit. Photo: Andrew Smith

And a recent social media “audit” in the UK on the types and quantities of chocolates and toffees included in a single box of the sweets has put the sweets back in the spotlight - and revealed discrepancies in the assortment of Quality Street types per box:

This variability, and individuals’ preferences towards different types, is, according to Nestle, central to the popularity of Quality Street - and the result of careful research.

“The reality is that every person has their favourite Quality Street sweet. The fact that the pack contains a variety of sweets [means] it therefore caters for different tastes and preferences,” Nestlé South Africa’s Zweli Mnisi told Business Insider South Africa.

The seemingly random allocation of each type is apparently part of the fun, and evident frustration, behind the sweets - but after sifting through five kilograms of the wrapped goods it’s clear that the quantities of each in a single bag isn’t random, but rather based on calculations made down to the gram.

Our Quality Street audit findings

Business Insider bought ten 500g bags of Quality Street to test the variability, value, and ratio of each type of chocolate present. Here’s what we found:

In each bag sold in South Africa there are 12 varieties on offer:

  • Fudge Delight
  • Enchanted Toffee
  • Deluxe Toffee Cup
  • Nut Toffee Royale
  • Hazelnut Surprise
  • Duo Decadence
  • Dessert Coffee Cream
  • Tropical Coconut
  • Noisette Supreme
  • Luxury Toffee Finger
  • Dairy Fresh Toffee
  • Strawberry Secret

According to a Nestle UK survey in 2016, the all-time favourite Quality Street is “the purple one”, which South Africa calls Nut Toffee Royale. Second place belongs to Strawberry Secret, with the “green triangle”, or Noisette Supreme, coming in third.

The total quantity and variety of sweets vary between each individual bag - in some cases significantly.

Quality Street Audit
Quality Street audit. Photo: Andrew Smith
Quality Street Audit
Quality Street Audit

If you’re lucky, you might get as many as 58 sweets in a bag. The lowest total we had was 56. The average over 10 bags was 56.6 sweets per bag. In all cases, however, you’ll get 500g of sweets per bag - almost always to the exact gram.

Quality Street Audit
Quality Street audit. Photo: Andrew Smith

Quality Street Audit

According to our findings, the sweet you’re most likely to find in a bag is the Dairy Fresh Toffee - a squat rectangular toffee in a pale yellow wrapper, which is one of the simplest and chunkiest (at 8 grams) on offer. 

There was an average of 7.5 of these toffees per bag, making up 13.25% of all sweets - it’s therefore no surprise that these are often the last ones to leave the box.

The two rarest, and thus presumedly most valuable, sweets in the world of Quality Street economics is a tie between the stalwart Luxury Toffee Finger (the long yellow one, which is toffee covered in a thin layer of chocolate) and Duo Decadence (a solid oval white and milk chocolate combination, that Mnisi says is soon to be discontinued). 

There were exactly two of each in all 10 bags that we audited - making up just 3.5% of the total bag.

These rare varieties were the most consistent, too, with no bag containing more or less than two - while the remainder of the sweets varied in quantity, sometimes by as much as 33%.

The UK’s favourite purple one is in ninth place, and the strawberry one is in seventh place.

On the fringes is the green triangular Noisette Supreme. Were it not for one remarkable bag that had two bonus triangles, these would be almost as cherished as the other two rarities - there were an average of just 3.2 per bag, making up 5.65% of an average bag.

The most common non-toffee sweets were Dessert Coffee Cream (12% of each bag), followed by Tropical Coconut (11.5%), and Deluxe Toffee Cup (11.1%).

Quality Street Audit
Quality Street Audit

What’s going on here?

From our findings it seems as if there are three consistent categories in every Quality Street bag - the extremely rare, the extremely common, and the happy middle ground. 

Presumably the extremely rare are popular but expensive to make; the extremely common cheap enough to excuse their unpopularity and bulk up the bag; and the happy middle ground enough to bridge the gap between the two.

Nestle confirmed to Business Insider South Africa that there is little equal about the distribution of the sweets in each bag - instead, according to Mnisi, it’s the result of “a balance of a few factors, including consumer preference.”

Deciding which items appear in an assorted bag is usually the domain of an industrial engineer - who will tweak plant machinery and assortments to make the most economical sense for the business, while not alienating customers in the process.

Quality Street Audit
Quality Street audit. Photo: Andrew Smith

Gabriel Roodt, managing director at Africa Industrial Engineering Services, has worked on several similar projects for other companies. Roodt says that unlike in the past, consumer feedback is one of the leading factors behind the makeup of assorted bags like these - but that there are a few other important factors at play.

“You won’t be able to satisfy every customer’s choice, so scientifically what they have to do is gather information from market research sample groups, which they use to mix the contents of a bag,” says Roodt.

“Some companies vary the assortment every couple of months, which is based on feedback from consumers - it does happen that they get complaints about mixes being different from what it was,” he says.

But the makeup of a bag only has as much to do with customer satisfaction as it needs to - in selling such vast quantities of chocolate around the world, a company like Nestle will weigh up customer satisfaction against the cost of production and generating maximum profit.

In some cases, says Roodt, companies will identify the most popular items, and if they happen to be the most expensive to produce, they’ll provide a bare minimum of these to satisfy customers. In the case of Quality Street, these would appear to be the long thin chocolate covered toffees, and the milk and white chocolate ovals. They may also reduce the weight of the more popular ones while attempting to retain their essence.

“There’s certainly a cost factor that influences the decisions, and they obviously price it per bag. They factor in how many of the cheapest and most expensive to include, and they’ll make the bag up according to that,” says Roodt.

Although the allotment seems somewhat random, Roodt says companies like Nestle will invest in machines that can carefully allocate products to bags based on colours or types - and calculations often come down to fractions of a gram.

“In general terms they look at the cost of what they’re offering, the quality, and consumer feedback. They even take into consideration the wrappings of the individual sweets, which have different costs associated with them,” Roodt says.

The intricacy isn’t just about flavours and specific sweet types either, Roodt says - manufacturers of products like Jelly Tots and Smarties will distribute colours among packs according to market research and customer preference.

Desperate for your favourite?

Customers desperate to gorge on their favourites - or who live in a household that shares a common favourite - are, largely, out of luck.

Unlike in the United Kingdom, where you can customise a tin of Quality Street to enjoy more of your favourites, Mnisi says there are no plans to do the same in South Africa. Instead, he says, they will continue to mix the bags up based on “consumer preference”. 

Roodt says assorted bags often make more sense than special editions featuring a single type.

“There have been studies where one type per bag doesn’t do as well as a mixed bag, so it’s usually driven by the consumer,” he says.

If you’re terrified of picking a bag overrun by a certain type, though, your best bet may be to look for the 500g plastic bags, rather than the smaller boxes. These have a small transparent window that you can use to identify a rough outline of the makeup on the specific bag. 

But even this window - offered only as a small slither at the bottom of a bloated bag - seems to have been carefully thought out so as to avoid picky consumers trying to avoid the burden of a bag too laden with those bulky Dairy Fresh Toffees.

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