Behind the walls of Darrell Lea
A tour of the Darrell Lea factory in Kogarah by Klark Quinn whose family now owns the company.PT0M0S 620 349
Darrell Lea products should be on sale in every major supermarket chain in time for Christmas shopping, said Klark Quinn, one of the new owners.
''Everyone wants Darrell Lea,'' he told the Herald. That's a sweet turnaround for the 85-year old company, which was put into voluntary administration in July by its previous owners, the Lea family, resulting in the closure of 70 shops and the loss of nearly 400 full and part-time jobs.
Quinn Foods, another family company, has already negotiated a distribution deal with IGA, which will stock Darrell Lea products by the end of this month. The company is also talking to Coles, Woolworths and other supermarkets, Mr Quinn said.
Veteran Darrell Lea licorice maker Gary Butcher admits that after 25 years of making the treat he doesn't like licorice as much as he used to. Photo: Tamara Dean
Mr Quinn, the youngest of the four Quinn children, has been charged with returning the confectionary company to profitability. He shuns titles, jokingly calling himself the special ops guy or maintenance man, referring to the bright orange maintenance shirt he wears around the Kogarah plant in southern Sydney.
''I wear a maintenance shirt because things are broken,'' he said of Darrell Lea. ''Every facet [of operations] was disconnected, marketing from sales, sales from finance, etc.''
The company will likely eliminate 600 lesser-known products to concentrate on expanding sales and distribution of 200 better known and profitable products, including its Batch 37 Soft Eating Liquorice and Rocklea Road.
Mr Quinn said he'd likely eliminate products that ''you and I had never heard of '' to grow local and export markets of iconic products. ''It was the lesser known products that were dragging the business down,'' he said, but added there wasn't one that didn't taste fantastic. ''It was very hard choosing what products to keep. But when we looked at it closer, it was obvious.''
When we interviewed Mr Quinn, he'd been working, eating and smelling confectionery before retiring to sleep in a 50s-style bachelor pad on the roof of the old plant. It's where the company's original founder, Darrell Lea, once lived. Looking at a batch of liquorice being made in a newer part of the plant, he rattled off statistics. The high-tech extruder pumps 1300 kilos an hour, six days a week and 24 hours a day, making Darrell Lea the No. 1 producer of liquorice in Australia.
The long black strands are dipped in a solution that makes them shiny and easy to separate before they are sorted by a machine that resembles a giant octopus, with arms picking different size pieces. 'There are as many as 10,000 combinations to make one kilo of liquorice exactly,'' Mr Quinn said. The machine eliminates the 20 to 30 grams of extra liquorice per pack that once eroded profits.
The Quinn family is looking to modernise the plant, but they'll retain many of the old confectionary processes and equipment, including burnished copper pans where cooks make peanut brittle without a recipe and thermometer. These give Darrell Lea products their distinctive handmade flavour, he said.
Mr Quinn is hoping to replicate his success at the Bush Petfood Factory (now Australian Pet Brands) in Dubbo and Ingleburn, which was losing about $400,000 a day before VIP Petfoods took over. Klark and his brother Kent turned it around in 12 months.
Mr Quinn stresses how precious Darrell Lea's reputation and brand is to the Quinns. ''You hear people talk about word 'iconic,' but Darrell Lea IS iconic. There's so much history we can draw back on going forward, it's really exciting.''