Trebor is best known today for its Extra Strong and Softmints. It also introduced Refreshers, Fruit Salad and Black Jack sweets. Trebor was the largest sugar confectionery manufacturer in Britain when it was acquired by Cadbury in 1989.
Robertson & Woodcock was established when William Woodcock (a sugar boiler), Robert Robertson (a grocer), Sydney Herbert Marks (a salesman) and Thomas King (a grocer) invested £100 each in a partnership to manufacture boiled sweets from 1907.
There was a factory at Forest Gate, London, called the Trebor Works. Confectionery was sold under the Trebor brand.
Horse-drawn vans were replaced by motor vehicles for distribution purposes from 1915.
Sydney J Marks (1900 – 1980), the son of S H Marks, was sent to Germany to learn the latest production methods in 1925. Information he acquired on powdered sugar enabled Robertson & Woodcock to introduce its two most famous products. Refreshers were introduced from 1935, and Extra Strong Peppermints were launched in 1937.
A new factory was established on a five-acre site in Chesterfield from 1939. The site was chosen as it lowered distribution costs for the Midlands and the North of England. Initially around 300 people were employed.
S J Marks became managing director in 1941. By this time the company was controlled by the Marks family. S J Marks was a brilliant but autocratic businessman.
Sugar was rationed during the Second World War, so a sugar and lard mixture was used to make the product go further.
Control of Jamesons Chocolates was acquired in 1959.
Edward Sharp & Sons of Maidstone, a toffee manufacturer, was acquired in 1961.
Sharps and Trebor were merged in 1968 to form Trebor Sharps, a mid-sized confectioner based at Woodford Green, Essex.
An overseas trade flourished, and by the late 1960s, the company was the largest exporter of sugar confectionery in Britain, sending 15 percent of production to nearly 70 countries. More mints were sold in Nigeria than in the domestic market, and the United States was the largest export destination.
Clarnico, the confectionery subsidiary of Clarke, Nickolls & Coombs, was acquired for £750,000 in 1969. The acquisition made Trebor the fourth largest confectionery company in Britain.
Sydney J Marks became president of Trebor from 1970, and his son, John Marks (1930 – 2012), became chairman.
Guided by his Christian convictions, John Marks developed a paternalistic relationship with his workforce. The business banned night shifts from 1981, in the belief that it was disruptive to domestic life.
The loss-making confectionery arm of Maynards, best known for wine gums, was acquired for £8.1 million in 1986.
Trebor was the leading sugar confectionery manufacturer in Britain by 1986, with a twelve percent market share, including 50 percent of all hard mint sales. It was the market leader in boiled sugar sweets and branded mints.
Trebor is sold to Cadbury
Unfortunately the business found itself under increasing pressure from the bigger confectionery firms, with larger marketing budgets. Trebor was sold to Cadbury for £120 million in 1989. The Marks family gifted 15 percent of the sale value to their workforce.
Many of the 3,000 strong workforce were to lose their jobs. Redundancy costs were low, as many workers were only employed on three-month contracts.
Cadbury recouped some of its takeover costs by divesting Trebor House, the head office and factory in North London.
Trebor Extra Strong was the second-highest selling sugar confectionery line in Britain by 1997, behind only Polo mints. Trebor Softmints were the third-highest seller. Maynards Wine Gums were the fourth best-seller.
The Chesterfield factory was closed with the loss of 245 jobs in 2005. The closure was blamed on an outdated plant and declining sales of Fruit Salads and Black Jacks.