Tam's Tall Tales

- Snowballs and Teacakes

Tunnocks Snowball via Wikimedia Commons

Sweet, Sticky and Scottish
Two Scottish based confectionery firms are set to receive a windfall tax rebate after judges ruled Snowball snacks were technically cakes and not "confectionery".

Lees of Scotland and Tunnocks faced a combined tax bill of 2.8m after HM Revenue and Customs insisted Snowballs did not enjoy the same exemption from tax as tea cakes. For those not familiar with this iconic Scottish delicacy, a teacake consists of a small round shortbread biscuit covered with a dome of Italian meringue, a whipped egg white concoction similar to marshmallow. This is then encased in a thin layer of milk or dark chocolate and wrapped in a red and silver foil paper. Around 3 million teacakes are made by Tunnocks every week. A Snowball is similar to the Tea Cake, but with the addition of grated coconut to the exterior of the soft chocolate shell and with no biscuit base.

The firms refused to accept snowballs were "standard-rated confectionery". But at a recent tribunal, Judge Scott said it was not disputed that Snowballs were a "sweetened prepared food which is normally eaten with the fingers" and that everyone "agreed that a Snowball is certainly not a biscuit".

Snowballs are described by Lees as "soft fluffy mallow with a chocolate coating and sprinkled with the finest flakes of coconut to create a delicious sweet treat".

They are believed to derive from a shaved ice New Orleans snack, first on offer before the 1940s. The judge described Snowballs, which are boiled and not baked, as "very fragile", "very sweet" and observed that their mallow core was "similar" to that found in tea cakes.

As a result of the decision connoiseurs of these delicacies will continue to pay slightly less for their sugar fix than if the tax had been applied.

Tunnocks' products are sold in more than 30 countries including Caribbean nations, Kuwait, Canada and Japan. Saudi Arabia is reportedly Tunnocks' biggest foreign market, with 20% of its sales now coming from overseas.

Sales of Tunnocks tea cakes soared in the days following the opening of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in which the iconic product was featured in the opening ceremony with 30 large teacakes dancing during the performance. Talk about icing on the cake...

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Tam O'Ranter
May 2014

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