Presented on 4 November 2019
Trebor is an iconic British sweet brand which has its roots in the East End of London. Britain’s big role in the slave trade led to a new availability of sugar by the mid 18th Century, mainly from the West Indies. Once an exclusive and expensive product, sugar was imported into England in huge quantities to satisfy a growing demand. The West India Docks supplied raw sugar to the boiling houses of the East End and then to the great refineries, like Tate & Lyle. By the mid 19th Century, sugar was a main staple of the working class diet, mostly in the form of cheap jam. Sugar was cheap, addictive and pleasurable; there was also a huge market for children’s sweets.
Trebor was a Victorian start up begun in 1907 by four men looking to make extra money and start a new enterprise. All of them – with their different work and business experiences – had grown up and moved on from the Old East End into the new suburbs of East London where new communities and markets were made possible by the arrival and growth of the railways. Sweet making was a good business prospect; there were other factories in the East End (Clarnico, & Whites) and Barrett & Co., Confectioners & Maynards, North London as well as many other smaller enterprises.
Trebor had small beginnings in premises in Trebor Terrace, St Katherine’s Rd., Forest Gate, E7. It began life as Robertson & Woodcock, named after the two founders who had a full time role in the business. The trade name Trebor was adopted in 1918.
The business survived the difficult restrictions of World War 1 and early on demonstrated that it was flexible, adaptable and innovative. It pioneered new methods of transport and distribution and new technical processes imported from Germany. It invested in new machinery and the new power source, electricity; it pioneered new marketing techniques, advertising and new working practices. From a small East End base, it had achieved a national presence and network by World War 2.
The Forest Gate premises were bombed in 1944 and production there suffered some interruption but careful expansion before WW2 meant that Trebor could relocate production also to a base in Chesterfield. It had both a market in the Midlands, N. England and Scotland and a distribution system to utilise. It provided sweets for Government contracts, moved into chocolate making and had survived sugar rationing again by buying up small sweet making firms and their sugar quotas.
Trebor was in a relatively strong position at the end of the War and developed international markets and production bases. Steered by loyal and talented management staff and with a long standing and settled employee base, it was effectively a family business run by Marks Family alone. The Chairman, Sydney John Marks was the son of one of the original founders of the Company. His sons, John and Ian, were also to have leading roles in the business.
Trebor bought out its rivals – Clarnico, Maynards and Sharps – and it developed the Moffat Group in the 1960s – 1980s. This was a distribution network company which diversified its interests into supplying other goods like cigarettes.
By the mid 1980s, it was one of the largest sweet making firms in the UK, with a fourth generation of the Marks Family already involved in the business. Global trading was changing, however. In 1988 the British chocolate manufacturer, Rowntree, was sold to Nestle. Trebor found itself exposed. Unable to raise the capital to buy Bassett and unable to continue competing in an aggressive and acquisitive world of huge multi nationals, the Marks Family took the decision to sell to Cadbury in 1989. Gradually, the Trebor factories were closed by 2003 and production moved North. Cadbury itself was bought up by Kraft in 2010.
The Trebor name still exists and includes their most popular and successful product, Extra Strong Mints, invented in 1935. At the Company’s height it had 423 sweet products on its list; today there are only 4. Trebor is part of the Mondelez global snacks empire.
The Forest Gate Art Deco Factory, built to house a thriving business, is now a set of apartments.
A Job for David – Trebor Careers Film, 1957 (YouTube)
Matthew Crampton, The Trebor Story, 2012
E7 Then & Now, The Trebor Story, Forest Gate’s Sweet Success