The origins of Moffat

After the second world war Trebor bought up tens of local distributors to create Moffat – a national wholesaling group.

John Burnett Collins, known to most as J.B., was born in 1915 and worked as a stockbroker prior to the Second World War, where he served under colonel Denis Hedley, son-in-law of Robert Robertson and sales director of Robertson & Woodcock. After the war, knowing J.B. was unhappy to return to the stock market, Hedley invited him to meet Sydney Marks. As he later recalled, ‘Sydney told me that Alec T Moffat, who had run an old-established boiled sweets and toffee business in Ardwick Green, a suburb of Manchester, had died and the business was up for sale. Would I like to take it over?’

Unsure about the offer as he knew nothing about confectionery, J.B. went to Manchester to take a look. On arrival he found some local lads booting a ball against the factory wall, and when he told them tersely to ‘Hop it’ one small boy equally tersely told him to ‘xxxx off.’ This cheeky response both amused and intrigued him, for he realised he would be back once again with the kind of men he knew well from the army, but this time he would be building his own business. So, with the firm’s backing, he took over the company in 1950 and set about building Moffat into one of the country’s major confectionery wholesalers.

A secret acquisition

This takeover was central to Sydney Marks’ post-war acquisition plans. Moffat brought manufacturing plant, which was useful, but more importantly it gave the firm access to an established wholesale operation across the North West. Marks also put J.B. in charge of the newly acquired Bristol Sweet Supply Co and R&J Scholes Ltd. This grouping was known internally as The M Group but to the world it was Moffat – and together it offered a broad reach for wholesale. Yet outside the board of Trebor, J.B. and a few of his managers, the firm’s ownership of Moffat was a secret.

At that stage, Marks did not feel Trebor could reveal it had a captive wholesaler. Traditionally wholesalers were independent, stocking products from competing manufacturers – as did Moffat – and people would assume (albeit correctly) that Trebor products got preference over their rivals in what should have been a level playing field. But while Trebor’s own sales teams covered many territories, they could never achieve the depth of a wholesaler stocking not only confectionery but also tobacco and other products. So Trebor’s sales figures benefitted hugely from Moffat’s sales – and the link remained secret.

J.B. Collins was persuaded by Sydney Marks to take over Moffat in 1950. He went on to turn it into one of the country’s major confectionery wholesalers.

Moffat was also known as the M Group – blessed with this faintly sinister logo, more redolent of a spy network than a wholesale chain.