Having survived the shortages of the 1950s, Trebor was well placed to ride the wave of industrial optimism washed in by the 1960s. Sugar prices fell. Production shifted from the old batch method to continuous production. New machines allowed faster wrapping and handling of finished product. After 54 years with the firm, chairman Robert Robertson died in 1981. Sydney Marks remained firmly in charge, assisted by chief engineer Sidney Bonner and chief confectioner Jack Weeks.
In 1961 Trebor bought its rival Sharps Toffees to become one of Britain’s largest sugar confectioners. The firm created a new research and development department at the Sharps factory in Maidstone. In 1966 Trebor was one of the first food companies to win the Queen’s Award for Industry – testament to the firm’s export success with products such as Regal Crowns in the US. In 1969 bought Clarnico, another East End sweet firm, far older than Trebor and once far larger. Its Mint Creams and Fruit Jellies were popular additions to the Trebor catalogue.
A name worldwide
During the 1960s Trebor sold well around the world. North America, Europe, Asia and Australasia all performed strongly. Thanks to this export success, the firm won one of the first Queen’s Awards for Industry.
In 1966 The Queen’s Award to Industry (now known as the Queen’s Award for Enterprise) was set up to recognise British companies which performed particularly strongly. Trebor was among the first food companies to be so honoured, and the only one within the confectionery industry. In July 1966 Field Marshal Earl Alexander of Tunis came along to the Trebor House canteen to give Sydney John the award in front of 200 guests and employees.
Trebor won the award for ‘outstanding and sustained export achievement’, particularly for the firm’s recent success in America. Ian Marks remembered Chesterfield factory creaking under the pressure of making over a hundred tons a week of Regal Crown Sour Lemons for the US; more than 3000 tons of this popular candy were exported there altogether. Freddie Farman and his international sales team were central to this success. As The Times reported on 5th May 1966, ‘Robertson & Woodcock has more than doubled its overseas trade in the past four years and now sells to some 50 countries. More than 20% of output from three factories in the UK is exported, over half to dollar markets.’
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.
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.
Buying its rival Sharps Toffees made Trebor one of the largest sugar confectioners in the land.
The first Trebor Magazine of 1961 announced to staff: ‘Hardly had we entered the New Year than we received the news that Trebor had acquired the old established firm of Edward Sharp & Sons, Ltd., the famous toffee makers, of Maidstone, Kent. We welcome them in the Trebor family and hope that as the years go by we shall enjoy beneficial co-operation with the family of Sir Kreemy Knut.’ For £750,000 Trebor had bought another long-established family sweet firm, comprising a brand (Sharps Toffees), an icon (Sir Kreemy Knut), a business in trouble and a large but old-fashioned factory in Maidstone (whose workers had long been mad about their cricket team).
Sharps was of course a competitor, though toffees trailed far behind mints and boiled sweets in the Trebor catalogue. This acquisition gave the firm real weight in the toffee sector, plus significant chocolate production and a printing subsidiary to produce packaging which it renamed Printway. A new research and development department was set up at Maidstone, while some areas of the factory there were expanded and re-equipped. Rather than amalgamate the two businesses, Sydney Marks decided to keep Sharps as a separate concern within the Trebor Group and in 1964 appointed John Marks its managing director. It was only in 1968 that the businesses merged – along with Moffat and the overseas companies – to become Trebor Sharps Ltd.
See more at the Sharps Gallery
Another old East End sweet firm joined the group in 1969. Clarnico, famous for its Mint Creams, brought new lines and increased market share.
By the late 1960s Trebor Sharps had successfully integrated its two named firms and their product ranges, but was still hungry for acquisition. This time the directors did not have to look far. Clarnico was an East End manufacturer of peppermint creams and other sweets, with a main factory in Hackney Wick and a longer history than Robertson & Woodcock. Buying the business gave Trebor Sharps a wider product range and more manufacturing muscle. It also enabled the group to call itself ‘the leader’ in British sweets: aside from the chocolate giants Mars, Cadbury and Rowntree, Trebor Sharps was now the leader in sugar-based sweets, ahead of competitors such as Bassett and Barker & Dobson. Clarnico chairman George Mathieson left to run the property interests which Trebor chose not to buy while chief executive Bob Morrison took over a christmas cracker operation which the firm also declined to take on.
See more at the Clarnico gallery.
The purchase took place in 1969. Rather than keep the new business separate, as with Sharps, Sydney Marks swiftly combined the two businesses, subsuming sales and overhead functions within 70 days. Fearing competition to the Trebor brand, he cut the Clarnico product range to its best selling lines, ignoring advice that such competition was fine, so long as he controlled it. He also decided quickly to transfer production from the old, uneconomic factory to the group’s plant at Maidstone; this was achieved by 1972. There were problems with the ancient machinery from Hackney, which one executive described as ‘stuck together with sugar’ and which proved difficult to work in Maidstone. There were also to be financial problems from a Clarnico subsidiary in Ireland. These, plus the cost of financing the acquisition, meant the group paid dearly during the early 1970s for its new market share.