After 250 years, Terry’s chocolate factory melts away

Author: By Ian Herbert North of England Correspondent

The closure of the Terry’s factory in York, with the loss of 316 jobs, means that only Nestlé-Rowntree remains in the one-time British capital of chocolate-making. Even there the workforce has shrunk since Nestlé took ownership in 1988 and the company has been called a “business in crisis” by its managing director.

John Pollock, Terry’s plant director, said: “We all feel a great sadness at the closure of a facility with such a long-standing role in the community.” The firm’s American owner, Kraft Foods International, is transferring production to newer and cheaper plants in Sweden, Belgium, Poland and Slovakia.

The York chocolate-making operation was originally known as Bayldon and Berry’s confectionery before Joseph Terry married into the family and assumed sole ownership in 1823. Soon it acquired a reputation for boldness and adventure. Terry’s daring 18th-century conversation lozenges were stamped with messages such as “Do you flirt?”, used as ice-breakers by the shy and inarticulate.

The 20-segment Chocolate Apple, launched in 1926, was also a big seller until 1954, when its orange side-kick was launched. Every Chocolate Orange contained 22 cocoa beans, and the product was to spawn one of the chocolate industry’s most successful advertising campaigns, in which the comedienne Dawn French battled to keep other people’s hands off her own. “It’s not Terry’s, it’s mine,” she pleaded.

The product did pretty well too, spawning a myriad of delicacies which have performed well in the UK market, including a Chocolate Orange bar, white Chocolate Orange and an orange of mini-segments.

The Terry family was as philanthropic as York’s famous Quakers, the Rowntrees, and Sir Joseph was lord mayor of York four times. Terry’s bought a cocoa plantation in the Venezuelan Andes, and the twin palm trees that flanked the entrance to the clock-towered chocolate factory formed the firm’s logo.

But after the Second World War, Forté, Colgate-Palmolive, United Biscuits and Philip Morris all had a go at running Terry’s, then United sold it in 1993 to Kraft, which amalgamated it with Jacobs Suchard. The writing seemed to be on the wall in 2000 when the “Terry’s of York” name stamped on all products began to be phased out. Since 2002, all products have been sold as “Terry’s”.

Though Britain is as sweet-toothed as ever and has topped the chocolate consumption league in the past few years, Terry’s reported a decline in export volumes, found the configuration of the site to be unwieldy and announced in April last year that the factory was to close. With a 4,700-name international petition signed by fans, unions proposed a move to a smaller, more cost-effective plant in the city, and callers to a local phone-in pledged never to eat Terry’s again if the factory closed. All to no avail.

But the factory’s departure creates a potentially lucrative development opportunity next to York racecourse, which staged this year’s Royal Ascot, and 100 developers have expressed an interest.

One option is to transform the factory into a hotel exploiting links to the racecourse. Other proposals include a science and hi-tech business park.

But the city still felt a sense of loss as the last workers left. York’s Labour MP, Hugh Bayley, said: “It is a desperately sad day.”

n The cost of sugar is now 10 per cent higher in Britain than in Europe and three times higher in Europe than in America, making profits tough for British chocolate makers. Norwich was a major chocolate town until 1994, when Nestlé-Rowntree closed the plant after nearly 100 years, with 900 job losses. Production of their chocolates – which include Rolo, Yorkie and Easter eggs – switched to other factories.

n Changing tastes were blamed for the closure of the Cadbury Trebor Bassett factory in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, two years ago, with the loss of 245 jobs. The management said children no longer liked the black jacks and fruit salad chews.

n The Bournville chocolate factory in the Midlands has also cut its workforce from 11,000 to 3,500. Rumours of closure frequently circulate.

n Even sales of York-made KitKat, of which 47 are eaten every second, are down 9 per cent in one recent estimate.

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