Blackpool Rock firms’ plight needs urgent UK government backing

Hearing the plight of British-based Blackpool Rock producers these past few days who are fearing the loss of their industry owing to a food of imitation Chinese imports is something that surely stands as a clear wake-up call for our sector.

Looking at this entirely objectively, on the one hand, the world has always thrived on exchange of goods that forms the cornerstone of economies around the globe, yet there are some clear exceptions to that which require careful handling.

This is very much in that camp, as local manufacturers in Blackpool have explained to this publication, there are only around 30 people who are specifically trained in the skilled production of rock and its decorative lettering – which is a genuine artform in itself, and therefore something to be really cherished as a piece of British heritage.

It’s not just simply the rock manufacturers themselves, it’s also that the companies all require specialist machinery, such as with local suppliers including Loynds machinery, which in turn will stand to lose out if confectioners potentially go bust.

At present, there’s nothing protecting this fragile industry from the kinds of alternative imports that have been seen in the past few months from China, which have attempted to imitate what really should be a protected product.

Hence the band of 10 Lancashire rock businesses, which supply a number of seaside locations around the country, including Herne Bay, Kent, the home county within which Confectionery Production’s HQ is based, are quite right to assert their specialist production of the nostalgic sweet treat that was very much created in Britain during the Victorian era in the 1880s.

A record breaking piece of Blackpool Rock from the 1960s. Pic: Loynds

The group has consequently applied to the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for geographical indication product status to gain some much-needed protection for the industry. But with a General Election just around the corner in the coming months, will this national government department have time, or indeed inclination to step in and take urgent decisive action?

Well, the immediate answer should absolutely be yes – you really can’t imagine the French or German governments lingering in any way, shape or fashion if it were a case of seeking to protect one of their respective cheeses, agricultural or automotive products to name but several categories, if they found their own markets flooded with imitation brands.

This simply wouldn’t be allowed to happen. It’s something the confectionery sector clearly agrees on, with a number of industry businesses within supply chains coming to the defence of the under-pressure British companies in Blackpool. The industry has already faced enough in terms of huge inflation levels within the UK, spikes in energy costs, and weakened consumer demand – so this is a landmark moment – is the UK government going to do the right thing and get behind its businesses? Was this not the very essence of what those leading the Brexit campaign stated leaving the EU was about?

Only time will tell on this – but it’s the one thing that this niche sector doesn’t in fact have – unless protection is brought in ahead of the vital summer season, then we could face the prospect of losing yet more of our British manufacturing heritage, which is surely a situation that none of us want to see. Let’s hope that common sense rapidly prevails in this case.

Neill Barston, editor, Confectionery Production magazine

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