How KitKats came to be made in Dubai

A factory in Jebel Ali can produce more than two billion of the world-renowned chocolate bars every year

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From its manufacturing plant in Jebel Ali, Nestle Dubai Manufacturing can turn out more than two billion KitKat bars every year, or 5,000 per minute.

More than 400 people currently work at the National Industries Park factory, producing not only the traditional two-finger version of the chocolate treat, but more than 38 KitKat products.

Some of them are flavoured to Middle Eastern tastes, with caramel or hazelnut, while Dubai also creates the 'KitKat Moments' range in cherry brownie, strawberry cheesecake, creme brulee and tiramisu.

The Dubai factory opened in 2010 as part of the company's global expansion, and now supplies 26 countries worldwide with much-loved KitKats.

But the story of the KitKat goes back much further, to Britain in the 18th century when a man called Christopher Catt, or possibly Catling, established a political club for supporters of the Whig Party in London.

In those days, the name Christopher was often shortened to Kit, and so the club became known as the Kit Cat club and then KitKat.

It developed a reputation for the excellence of its mutton pies, which were offered to members as a bite to eat. Over time, the term KitKat became popularly associated with a tasty snack of any kind.

Step forward to the 1930s, and the Rowntree’s confectionery company in York, northern England. Following a suggestion from an employee to “make a snack that a man could take to work in his pack”, the first KitKat rolled off the production line in September 1935.

Except it wasn’t called the KitKat, but the decidedly less snappy Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp.

Rowntree’s had previously trademarked the names KitKat and KitCat and briefly used them for a discontinued line of chocolates. In 1937, someone had the bright idea of reviving it for the new snack, and the KitKat as we know it had arrived.

Produced in four and two-finger versions, and with its distinctive red wrapper, the new bar was an immediate hit. Branded the “Biggest Little Meal in Britain”, it was particularly popular among office workers looking for a quick energy burst.

During the Second World War, eating a KitKat became practically a patriotic duty, although food shortages meant dark rather than milk chocolate was used, and the bar’s wrapper changed to blue.

In the 1950s, the KitKat went global, with exports to Canada, South Africa, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. It was also the decade when the famous advertising catchline “Have a break” was created.

KitKats were now taking over the world. A factory in Germany was built to satisfy European demand, and by 2010 the Guinness Book of Records had certified the chocolate bar as the most sold in the world, with 14 factories supplying 72 countries.

In 1970, the American chocolate company Hershey struck a licensing deal with Rowntree’s in 1970, which was bought by Nestle in 1988.

In Japan, the KitKat was introduced by the Fujiya chain of confectionery stores, with only moderate success.

But around 2003, local managers discovered that teenagers were giving the bars to each other as good luck tokens for exams. The name KitKat sounded like the Japanese phrase “kitto katsu”, meaning “you will surely win”.

Capitalising on this, another phrase “Kitto sakura saku yo”, or “wishes come true”, was adopted as an advertising slogan, with teenagers regarding the KitKat as a universal symbol of good fortune.

Not content with mere chocolate, Japanese factories have since produced about 300 different flavours, including sake, sweet potato, Hokkaido melon with mascarpone cheese, and wasabi.

Although not yet mutton pies.

A version of this article was first published on July 26, 2022

Updated: August 16, 2023, 10:32 AM