How did a Lancashire manufacturer become the largest producer of toffee in the world?
John Holland establishes the business
Following the death of his mother and the subsequent alcoholism of his father, John Holland (born 1860) was adopted by his uncle, James Ford (born 1840), a prosperous confectioner in Ormskirk, Lancashire, in 1868.
John Holland served an apprenticeship to Ford, who later gave him premises of his own at 23a Cross Street, Southport.
John Holland developed a new method for producing creamy toffee in the 1890s. Before boiling, all the ingredients except for flavouring and colouring were cold-mixed at high speed in vats until a smooth consistency was achieved.
The highest-selling product was Everton Toffee, made with just sugar and butter.
The business enters into mass production; a factory is established at Virginia Street
A production line factory was built outside Southport during the First World War. The firm was thus well-placed to cope with the post-war rise in demand for confectionery products.
The next generation also joined the business; John Arthur Holland Sr (1886 – 1962) was appointed manager of a new toffee factory on Virginia Street, Southport from 1927. John Arthur Holland was a cheerful and lively man.
The firm traded as John Holland & Sons by 1932.
John Arthur Holland evidently made a success of his factory, as the Cross Street site was sold off in 1934, with all production centralised at Virginia Street.
John Arthur Holland took over the business from 1936. He relaunched Invalide Toffee, a discontinued brand that had been first introduced around 1900. Sales grew, aided by a confident new marketing slogan, “Best on Earth”.
A fire at the factory in 1940 caused an estimated £5,000 to £6,000 worth of damage. The works were out of use for three weeks, but Holland refused to leave staff out of work, and instead engaged them in the clean-up process.
Originally a local firm, the post-war period saw a boom in sales, and the factory entered into 24 hours a day production. National advertising had been introduced by 1950. An office was established in New York to handle increasing sales in the United States.
A £75,000 investment was used to extend the factory in 1952. That year, the firm was passed to John Arthur Holland Sr’s two sons, John Arthur Holland Jr (1913 – 2001) and Peter Holland (born 1923), and renamed J A & P Holland.
J A & P Holland was listed on the Liverpool Stock Exchange with an authorized capital of £250,000 in 1953. That year, the company began exporting toffee to the United States.
A new four-storey factory was erected at Virginia Street, Southport in 1954. Around 7,000 tonnes of confectionery were produced each year.
The toffee market had entered into decline by the late 1950s. John Arthur Holland Jr and Peter Holland became convinced that the company should grow by acquiring competitors. J A & P Holland became the largest toffee manufacturer in the United Kingdom after it acquired Fillerys of Birmingham in 1960. Fillerys produced higher-end toffee, and had a substantial own-label contract with Marks & Spencer.
Later in 1960 Walters Palm Toffee of Acton was acquired for £385,000; and Ewbanks of Pontefract, best known for liquorice, for £72,600.
The company listed on the London Stock Exchange in May 1960, with an ordinary capital of over £500,000.
S Parkinson & Son of Doncaster, best known for butterscotch, was acquired in 1961. Harper Paper, a sweet wrapper manufacturer, was also acquired that same year for £1.25 million.
J A & P Holland was the largest manufacturer of toffee and caramel in the world by 1961, and the largest exporter of toffee and caramel to the United States. Over one billion toffees were produced every year. The company held 25 percent of the British toffee market.
John Arthur Holland Sr died in 1962 and left an estate valued at £117,243.
Some subsidiaries were loss-making, particularly the paper interests, and J A & P Holland was unable to pay a dividend in 1963 or 1964. Independent shareholders found themselves in disagreement with the Holland family regarding company strategy.
J A & P Holland was best known for Penny Arrows and Goodies White Mice when the Chewits line was introduced in 1965.
Acquisition by Cavenham Foods
Cavenham Foods acquired J A & P Holland in 1965. It joined the Cavenham Confectionery subsidiary alongside Carson’s, which made chocolate liqueurs.
J A & P Holland management was replaced. The paper and plastic interests were divested. Cavenham closed down the smaller factories that it had inherited, leaving just Bristol, Southport and Doncaster. Cavenham invested heavily in new machinery at the Southport factory.
Cavenham Confectionery was loss-making between 1966 and 1969.
Cavenham provided strong advertising support for Holland brands, with Chewits and Arrows advertised on television in the 1970s.
The Doncaster factory was closed due to the rising cost of sugar in 1977. All administrative functions and chocolate production were centralised at Bristol. Sugar confectionery production was concentrated at Southport.
Cavenham Confectionery had re-entered profitability by 1980, with annual sales of £24 million.
Subsequent ownership; production is moved overseas
Cavenham Confectionery was subject to a management-buyout backed by Candover, a private equity firm, for around £8 million in 1981. 1,050 people were employed at Bristol and Southport. Its main products included Elizabeth Shaw, liqueur chocolates, children’s sweet lines and own-label chocolate for Marks & Spencer. The business was renamed Famous Names.
Candover sold Famous Names to Imperial Tobacco for £15.5 million in 1985. By this time the number of employees had been downsized to 650.
The Southport factory employed around 250 people in 1986, and produced the Chewits, Goodies and Parkinson’s confectionery lines.
Famous Names Ltd changed its name to Elizabeth Shaw Ltd in 1988.
Elizabeth Shaw Ltd was subject to another management buyout for £24.7 million in 1989. Leaf of Amsterdam took a minority stake in the venture, before acquiring full control the following year. By this time Chewits was the leading fruit chew brand in Britain.
Chewits were the eighth highest-selling sugar confectionery line in Britain by 1997.
The Southport factory, with a four-floor layout, was outdated, and was operating at 40 percent capacity. It was closed with the loss of 150 jobs in 2006. Production was relocated to Slovakia and the Southport factory was demolished in 2008.