Derek Shaw has used his six decades of confectionery experience to help the Aberdeenshire firm create its first new chocolate bar to hit the shelves in six years.
He’s earned the nickname “Dundee’s Willy Wonka”, and now Derek Shaw, famed for his Shaw’s of Dundee sweet shop and factory, has had a hand in the creation of a new “Orange” chocolate bar from confectionery brand Mackie’s.
Derek, 73, had been tasked with helping the Aberdeenshire firm to ramp up its honeycomb production while maintaining unwavering standards, years after he first worked with the family firm to create its own honeycomb based on traditional techniques.
It was during this visit an idea struck him, inspired by his early experience and knowledge of the Victorian technique of preserving the flavour of citrus fruits by infusing zest and oils within sugarloaves.
He realised Mackie’s had a perfect opportunity to infuse honeycomb “dust” – a by-product after grading honeycomb shards for its ice cream and chocolate – with natural oils from oranges to create a “truly special ingredient”.
Derek revealed he was inspired to create a chocolate bar that had a rich orange flavour.
He said: “It’s something I have always had a thing about. There are lots of orange chocolate bars out there but none of them taste like orange in my opinion.
“I first went up to Mackie’s to do honeycomb and I did a special one for going into ice cream which can have its own issues, but it worked out a treat and it’s selling very well.
“I was back up again a little while ago and I persuaded them to try an orange chocolate bar. They went for it and it’s now being launched. Now we can sit back and wait see what happens.”
Derek continued: “When I was a boy at my first job we developed a knack for flavouring honeycomb, which was rare then and even more so now as it is really tricky to get right. The tiny fragments that Mackie’s produce are absolutely perfect for taking on the intense orange flavour from the natural oils.
“The idea just hit me – and the Mackie family were really up for trying it out.
“Natural oils always work best and after some trial and error we used an oil from vibrant Jaffa oranges. Unlike most orange-flavoured chocolate, it tastes incredibly natural, just like the real thing. It takes three days to fully infuse, but it’s well worth it.”
A lifetime in sweet business
Sweet treats are Derek’s world and, of course, at this time of the year as we approach the festive season, there is plenty to keep him busy.
“I drive my wife mad, especially at this time of the year, as I have lots of Christmas products in the shops. I say: ‘There it is there’s that’ and it’s great fun I really enjoy it, it’s good for the ego,” he added.
“Sweets have been part of my entire life from when I was 13 years old. It’s my life, I’m sitting in my office now and I am surrounded by all sorts of stuff that is associated with sweeties.”
And the sweet guru believes the new flavour will be a winner.
He said: “It’s got what it needs. I’m not just saying that because I did it, it’s got something, it’s got that kick of an orange. I’m very pleased with it.
“The very best ingredients, as you can imagine, cost money, but that’s one of the things about the Mackie family that doesn’t bother them, it’s always the very best so it’s pleasure to work with them. You don’t get, ‘Can you not use something else, that’s a bit expensive?’ You don’t get that from the Mackie’s.
“What we have done is we have gone back to the Victorian times to get that flavour right. The Victorians were the kings of sweet making, not chocolate, more boiled sweets. They were the guys who really kicked off the sweet business as we know it today. It was great fun doing it – and I enjoy a bit of chocolate too.”
Founding Shaw’s Sweet Factory
Derek started his confectionery career aged 13 as an “odd jobs boy” at Margerum’s in his native Gravesend, Kent, before becoming an apprentice at 15, eventually marrying the company owner’s daughter Gloria, with whom he now has two children and four grandchildren.
Still residing in the city, he is now “semi-retired”, while still working with major brands like Mackie’s, driven on by his love of confectionery.
“I had great times with that,” continued Derek. “A chap the other day stopped me and said: ‘Are you Mr Shaw? I said yes. He said I remember visiting your sweet factory. It was a blast’. It’s amazing even now people still talk about it.
“Although Keillers was known for its marmalade it had a massive confectionery business, massive! They sold sweets all over the world.
“I always remember when the Okais took over and the chairman, Ibrahm Okai, saying ‘There’s a whole world out there, not just Europe and you need to go out and sell to the whole world’. And they did. We used to brag that we supplied every country in the world apart from Russia because it was still behind the Iron Curtain then.”
Derek has been busy with other projects and in true Willy Wonka style many are kept firmly under wraps.
“I’ve got a few, there are things happening but I can’t tell you about them,” he said. “I’ve been doing a lot of Christmas stuff. I have things going into Harrods and I’ve even got a cake, a log, that I came up with that contains a liquer. All sorts of things like that.”
Kirstin Mackie, development director at Mackie’s of Scotland, said: “We’ve worked with Derek for many years now and he helped us to develop our own ‘honeycomb’, which is similar to cinder toffee and puff candy – and is the flavour ingredient in our most popular flavour after our original traditional flavour.
“He has an amazing mix of creativity, passion and an unmatched experience in confectionery. It’s a real honour to work with him.
“We’re thrilled with the new flavour and can’t wait for it to hit shop shelves in the coming weeks.”