A refreshing change: Trebor

Trebor is best known today for its Extra Strong and Softmints. It also introduced Refreshers, Fruit Salad and Black Jack sweets. When it was acquired by Cadbury in 1989, it was the largest sugar confectionery manufacturer in Britain.

Trebor was founded in 1907 when William Woodcock (a sugar boiler), Robert Robertson (a grocer), Sydney Herbert Marks (a salesman) and Thomas King (a grocer) each invested £100 in a partnership.

The firm originally traded as Robertson & Woodcock. Its factory in Forest Gate, London, was called the Trebor Works.

Horse-drawn vans were replaced by motor vehicles for distribution purposes in 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 Trebor to introduce its two most famous products. Refreshers were introduced in 1935, and Extra Strong Peppermints were launched in 1937.

A factory was opened on a five acre site in Chesterfield in 1939. The site was chosen as it lowered distribution costs in 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.

Jamesons Chocolates had been acquired by 1960.

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.

In 1970 Sydney J Marks became president of Trebor, and his son, John Marks (1930 – 2012), became chairman.

Guided by his Christian convictions, John Marks developed a paternalistic relationship with his workforce. In 1981 the firm banned night shifts 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 12 percent market share, including 50 percent of all hard mint sales. It was the market leader in boiled sugar sweets and branded mints.

Unfortunately the firm found itself under increasing pressure from the larger confectionery firms, with larger marketing budgets. Trebor was sold to Cadbury in 1989 for £120 million. 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.

In 2005 the Chesterfield factory was closed with the loss of 245 jobs. An outdated factory and declining sales of Fruit Salads and Black Jacks were blamed.

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