Creating confectionery equipment as solid as Blackpool rock
With its roots in the production of traditional British Blackpool rock, the Loynds family has taken the step into sales of confectionery and chocolate making systems for the international market. Neill Barston visit its Lancashire facilities as its operations continue to expand
Attracting over 18 million visitors a year, Blackpool remains a notable UK holiday destination famed for its Parisian-inspired tower, expansive beaches and illuminations brightening its winter skies.
Perhaps understandably, it is little wonder that families flocking to capture a taste of its traditional British seaside culture of beach donkey rides and ‘golden mile’ arcade entertainment centres, also continue to seek out their fair share of sweets and snacks.
With latest figures revealing annual tourism revenues for the Lancashire town now stand at around £1.5 billion, the area’s food and drink sector is among the beneficiaries of this major influx of seasonal visitors.
For many, Blackpool remains synonymous with what is probably its most famous export – its lettered rock confectionery.
As John Loynds, managing director of Loynds confectionery machinery reveals, while such traditional British sweets may now be increasingly overlooked in favour of healthier and more aesthetically daring alternatives, they played a major part in his own family’s heritage within the industry.
So much so, that the Blackpool rock factory run by his father and business partner Mossie Parker, found itself in the Guinness Book of World Records, for producing the biggest stick of rock ever in the early 1970s. It clocked in at an incredible seven feet, weighing 153kg, raising more than £100,000 for charity in an auction led by the Queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.
“The process of toffee and sweet making has always fascinated me. I’d be making things at home that my dad would then sell in his own ranges. I used to work for him during school holidays from the age of 11, and joined his business in 1975 after they opened a factory on the Cunliffe Road in Blackpool, near the football ground.
“Their business had started in a garage, and by the time they closed it, the company employed around 80 people, making rock and other sweets,” recalls John with great fondness.
Sadly, according to Loynds, of more than 30 specialist business producing lettered rock confectionery that once existed in Blackpool, there are now only around a dozen, as he concedes that consumers demands are clearly changing in terms of a drive for more healthier options.
Though he laments that many of the industry characters that had made it such a fascinating market are no longer with us, he believes his formative experiences remain invaluable.
He notes that it was the core sweet making skills that he was shown by his father at his firm, the Ashton Candy Company, that helped him maintain a life-long interest in the trade. It ultimately led to him creating his own equipment business serving the international confectionery sector. (See our behind the scenes video at Loynds here)
“My dad’s involvement with making rock confectionery goes back to the early days of the industry. He was taught by a guy from Czechoslovakia, who showed him how to do all the ornate work for these sweets. He was very particular with his lettering designs, as it’s something that had to be perfect. He once did a great one for Miami Beach – with a design of a palm tree with an island and a flying seagull.
He adds that as a mechanically-minded youngster, he would enjoy fixing machinery – often flicking through the pages of old Confectionery Production journals from the 1950s and1960s, offering solutions to a range of technical issues.
As he remembers, as an enthusiastic 17-year-old, he went on to attempt his own enterprise, Jaydee Candies along with his sisters, which he says “lasted about a year before going bankrupt,” yet provided some valuable early experience within the industry. His early career also included the chance to work alongside his brother Doug, who went on to form his own company in the trade and also beat their father’s previously set record of the largest rock ever made. It proved to be an eye-watering total of over 9ft in length.
As Loynds explains, the family’s decisive twist of fate for their future involvement in the sector stemmed from his decision to take up a position with the well-established Vimto food and drink brand in the late 1980s, as it set out on a short-lived venture into making sweets.
While working there as a production manager, he realised his background in engineering could be put to good use through supplying confectionery equipment.
Running with the idea, he formed the independent Loynds Agencies International in the early 1990s, and he has not looked back since. As he explains, from its original base of primarily serving the UK market, it now exports lines of confectionery and chocolate production equipment (originally sourced from China and uprated by its own engineers to European standards), and installed in more than 120 locations around the world. The company also directly manufactures its own lines of artisan and lab equipment.
Offering a tour of the company’s modern, 23,000 square ft industrial site on the edge of Blackpool, he says it is continuing to serve the business well after making the expansion move there five years ago. Employing a small, yet dedicated workforce, the business now generates a turnover of around £3 million a year.
Its operations now include a neighbouring unit housing its sister business Yolli, specialising in online supplies for accessories including lollipop sticks, paper straws, and bakery moulds and tins. The division was started by John’s son Richard, now a fellow director, alongside his partner Sophie, who manages customer services.
As Loynds senior notes, the company remains a family-operated business in its ethos, as he offers a tour of its bustling production floor. Despite this being just before the Christmas period, its teams appear particularly busy with machinery lines to fulfil from around the world. Its customers range from small one-person operations, through to larger international confectionery companies.
Evolving its areas of expertise, the company is now able to offer chocolate and confectionery manufacturers everything from individual items of equipment, through to complete turnkey solutions.
This includes its vertical form fill and seal lines which typically consist of bucket elevators, gantry units, and computer-controlled, stainless steel multi-head weighers (in 10, 14, 20 head formats), completed by bagging machine with featuring a HMI operating system capable of delivering up to 80 items per minute.
In addition, the company also offers a metal detecting machine line, which are now a crucial element of any food production line in screening for any potential product contaminants. Other end-of-line ranges such as check weighing systems are also offered.
One of the company’s biggest success stories has been its internal development of smaller table-top artisan equipment which have shown a particular growth in demand. Last year the business released its mini form candy production line aimed at testing labs and low volume production operations.
The past six months has seen further additions to its series including a miniature lab depositing system targeting start-up and emerging confectionery businesses, and another line dedicated to small-scale humbug production of traditional styled sweets.
“People just don’t seem to want sugar anymore, but there’s a way to overcome the decline in rock products though, as we are getting a lot of artisan companies from a number of locations that are starting up and they are putting flowers, faces and lettering on their work to a very high standard. Some of it is actually better than what is coming out of Blackpool, where we have been making it since the Victorian period.
“But probably the big trend now is in machinery for CBD (legal cannabis-based products) in the US, which is a big market for us, but we have done gummies which are also big – having just sent one to the US, as well another over to Ghana. In other business areas, equipment for hard candy is going down a little, though chocolate production is moving upwards,” reveals Loynds of the company’s present workloads.
He adds there is a strong emphasis on building customer relations, and the company’s resources stretch to technical employees with CAD design skills to provide operating advice, through to engineers who are able to provide direct field assistance around the world, should any issues arise with equipment.
All-in-all, Loynds believes the outlook for the company remains strong, largely through taking a pragmatic approach to the market, and responding to individual customer requests, that has helped the company stay efficient and well valued within a particularly competitive marketplace over the past three decades.
– John Loynds father Eddie work at local Lancashire company Waller and Hartley, and started a confectionery business called The Ashton Candy Company
– Eddie Loynds sons John and Doug join the business in order to learn the trade, with both going on to form their own firms in the 70s. During this period, the family twice sets a world record for the largest stick of rock.
– In 1989, John joined drinks manufacturer Vimto in a major project for new confectionery, which lasted three years, during which time he realised the potential for machinery sales.
– The early 1990s saw the creation of Loynds Agencies, with the company quickly growing to cater for global machinery exports
– Loynds now delivers equipment to a total of 120 countries