Blackpool rock 'under threat' from cheap Chinese imports and lack of skilled workers

Blackpool's iconic rock is under "grave and immediate" threat from an influx of cheap Chinese imports and a shortage of skilled workers, manufacturers have said.

The resort - where almost all of the UK's sticks of rock are made - has seen the number factories dwindle from around 30 to just 10 in recent years. And it is feared those numbers will fall further as businesses face rocketing energy costs, forcing some to reduce manufacturing to just three or four days a week.

Makers of the sweet seaside staple say it should be given protected status, similar to that given to Stilton cheese, Cornish pasties and Melton Mowbray pork pies. In a letter to MPs, confectionary bosses say: "Our industry has been an integral part of the local economy and British tourism sector, employing hardworking individuals and contributing significantly to the cultural heritage and tradition of British confectionery.


"However, the rise of cheap Chinese imported imitations poses a grave and immediate challenge to our industry, jeopardising the livelihoods of our employees and the sustainability of our business. Specifically, products that are made in China but call themselves "Blackpool Rock" or similar.

"The quality and integrity of British confectionery is unparalleled, built upon generations of craftsmanship and expertise. However, in recent months, inferior products have flooded our market, undercutting domestic producers and eroding consumer confidence in locally-made goods while giving the impression to consumers that they are buying British products."

David Thorp, who penned the letter, says companies can't compete with the Chinese imports, which are sold to wholesalers at 3p per stick cheaper than theirs. This undercutting will see 'at least two' more factories in Blackpool close down in the next year, he fears.

Mr Thorp, who runs Stanton and Novelty Confectioners which was set up by his grandad in 1969, said: "It's Chinese rock that's really poor quality but it's cheaper than we can sell it for. It's having an affect on sales. There's factories that are working three day weeks, everyone is downsizing staff."

"Companies have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of orders. It's only 3p a stick cheaper but the wholesalers are putting big orders in.

"Back in the day, there would have been about 30 manufacturers and now there's 10. Next year, it will almost certainly be eight. It's not something that's sustainable."

Sticks of Blackpool rock have sold to visitors to the seaside resort for more than a century, since appearing in the late Victorian period. Its origins remain unclear, but most makers believe it evolved from the popular fairground rock of the time, which was a similar shape and size.

Over time, the sugary snack - and its assortment of colours and wording - has become synonymous with the resort. And it was even immortalised in the George Formby song 'With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock'.

But while the town manufacturers make thousands of sticks every day, they fear the imports pose a "grave and immediate challenge" to the industry. They said eight factories had closed in recent years and that only 30 people in the country have the skills needed to 'letter' the rock - and most of them are in Blackpool.

The letter called on the MPs to "take a stand" by supporting an application to the UK geographical indication protected food names scheme. Tony Farrer, managing director of Rainbow Candies, which employs 11 staff, said he had reduced manufacturing to just four days a week due to 'astronomical' costs.

He said: "My energy bills have trebled in the last three years, I'm not paying £1,000 a week in just gas and electricity. It's only sustainable if you're able to charge what you need to charge for it.

"We're working a four day week on the manufacturing side. That happens over the winter months normally we're back up to five days by February.

"That doesn't look like it's going to be happening any time soon."