Balfours is very much a part of South Australia’s history. We can trace our origins back to 1853, just 17 years after Adelaide’s founding. Generations of South Australians have had their Balfours favourites, from Scotch pies and Albert biscuits in the mid-19th century to square pies, chocolate donuts and custard tarts today. So we thought it was time to share our story. In this magazine you’ll follow the ups and downs of Balfours over the years. You’ll meet some of the people who shaped our destiny, delve into the origins of some iconic products (like our famous Frog Cake) and learn how Balfours has adapted to changing times. It’s a story of a family business that began with one small shop, opened by a Scottish baker in Adelaide’s rough and ready colonial days. Today, more than 165 years later, we’re a sophisticated operation, with bakeries in Sydney and Adelaide turning out hundreds of different products: pies, pastries, muffins, crumpets, cakes, donuts, croissants…the list goes on. Chances are you’ll have your own fond memories of Balfours: our cafés, our cake shops, a lunch-time treat from the canteen or a late night one from the pie cart. This is your chance to revisit them all. Enjoy.
Scottish immigrants James Calder and his wife Margaret (née Balfour) established their first bakery and shop at 130 Rundle Street in Adelaide. Six years later, Margaret’s nephew, John Balfour, joined the firm as an apprentice. The firm became famous for its biscuits, even supplying them to royalty when Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Alfred, visited Australia in 1867.
A Balfour’s Name
On The Door
John Balfour became a partner in the firm, renamed Calder & Balfour. James retired five years later. Under John’s direction, the company expanded, even exporting goods to other Australian colonies. However building a grand new factory in Adelaide stretched the finances, and the depression of the 1890s led to the company’s collapse.
Undaunted, John Balfour’s wife, Elizabeth, opened a stylish café, cake shop and bakery at 74 (later renumbered 72) Rundle Street. There would be a Balfours café at that address for 110 years. Now, instead of biscuits, the focus was on cakes and pies. So popular did they become that more cafés were soon opened and a new bakery was built in Morphett Street, Adelaide.
Flappers and frog cakes
By the 1920s, the three Balfours cafés in the city were the places to be seen – for businessmen, city workers and the social set. And Balfour’s bakers were developing appealing new products, including that South Australian icon, the Frog Cake. Balfours remained a family business, run by Elizabeth Balfour’s son Jack and son-in-law Charles Wauchope, and in 1924 the company changed its name to Balfour Wauchope Pty Ltd.
Treats for the troops
After the Great Depression of the 1930s came World War II. During tough economic times, Balfours had done its share to help those who were struggling, reducing prices in the cafés and providing food to charity organisations. Now, in wartime, a Balfours hamper would bring comfort to many an Aussie soldier serving abroad.
All hail the square pie
It might have been developed as a way to avoid wasting pastry, but the Balfours square pie captured local imaginations. Someone even remarked that Gordon Balfour, Elizabeth’s grandson, deserved a knighthood for introducing it. The triumphant arrival of our most popular product ever was followed in 1963 by the return of the custard tart and in 1967 by the arrival of another favourite, the choccy donut.
The computer age
In the 1970s, the focus moved from cafés to supplying hundreds of small lunch shops, delis and canteens. Keeping ahead of the times, Balfours pioneered a computerised bakery management system to improve the production and delivery of more than 600 different cakes, buns, breads and pastry products. In the tradition of working with the best, we chose to partner with IBM. The system was later sold to overseas bakeries.
With the purchase of a bakery in Melbourne Balfours developed a new range of hot cross buns and was appointed as a preferred supplier to all Coles Metropolitan Melbourne stores. At this point, Balfours’ sales to Coles and Woolworths totalled more than $1 million. But expansion interstate became one factor in increasing financial challenges through the 1990s.
End of an era
As customer preferences changed away from the traditional tea rooms, Balfours cafés had gradually closed. The remaining café, at 72 Rundle Street, closed its doors in 2004. The closure triggered waves of nostalgia from people with fond memories of trips to the city with parents and grandparents.
Keen to ensure the continued success of Balfours during challenging times, the South Australian Government provided funds to acquire a new factory for the iconic brand at Dudley Park. After relocating, the facility was leased back to Balfours and still remains the home of Balfours in South Australia.
Securing Balfours’ future
With Balfours still struggling, another family-owned South Australian food manufacturer, San Remo, purchased the company. This meant the survival of a much-loved brand and the continuing distribution of Balfour’s traditional cakes and pastry products in convenience stores, sporting venues, schools and supermarkets.
Download the full story
Balfours is Australia’s oldest bakery. We trace our history back to 1853 when Margaret Balfour and James Calder arrived in Adelaide, bringing with them the finest traditions in European baking. Through prosperous times, depressions, bankruptcy, technological evolution, two world wars and changing consumer tastes, we’ve kept those traditions alive with our much loved range of baked goods.