Licorice / Manufacturers / News

Darrell Lea’s new owner thinking big

Tony Quinn hopes to launch new products, build a new factory, expand market share

October 10, 2012
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darrell leaTony Quinn, the new owner of Australia’s Darrell Lea, made the rounds in the United States recently. Stopping in Dallas, Chicago and New Jersey, among other places, he was attempting to get a feel for the U.S. market and the potential for selling more of his company’s Australian-style soft chew licorice in America.

Of course, that meant getting a feel for the competition.

“For the first time ever, I tasted Twizzlers the other day,” he says. “I couldn’t believe that you people are feeding your children that stuff!”

Needless to say, he’s didn’t think too highly of it. Now, all he has to do is convince all of Twizzlers’ consumers that Darrel Lea’s soft licorice is a worthy replacement.

Quinn Foods Pty. Ltd, Quinn’s company, bought Darrell Lea in early September from the Lea family. Founded in 1927, Darrell Lea had been under review by Australia’s PPB Advisory amidst growing concerns that  the company couldn’t meet its ongoing financial obligations.

The subsequent deal resulted in the closing of the remaining 27 Darrell Lea company-owned retail stores and the laying off of 46 permanent and 172 part-time employees.

But, Quinn insists the brand still has plenty of potential, and he’s ready to tap into it.

“There was nothing fundamentally wrong with the business. It was just that the family, they weren’t willing to invest in the business anymore,” he explains. “It really needed new blood, so we’re going to put a defibrillator on it.”

Quinn’s s only tie to food manufacturing before the acquisition was ownership of VIP Petfoods, which as the name implies, makes pet foods. He’s not worried though, pointing to the fact that both Nestle and Mars are involved in the pet food business.

Quinn has since put his youngest son Klark Quinn in charge of Darrell Lea, and they plan to launch new packaging and new products to reinvigorate the brand. For example, although Darrell Lea is well-known in the United State mainly for it’s soft-chew licorice, its Darrell Lea chocolate is the star in Australia. So, Quinn hopes to do more combining of the two, perhaps launching a chocolate-covered licorice.

They’re also planning to build a new state-of-the art factory in Sydney next year.

“We’ve got grand ambitions, let me tell you,” he says. “It’s going to be an exciting time for Darrell Lea.”

He also cautiously says they may reopen some of the retail stores, but they’re going to focus on making the product available to more consumers first and foremost.

Currently, Darrell Lea is available in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. In addition to strengthening their presence in those places, Quinn says they’re looking to expand to the Japanese market.

“We’re going to be there, and we’re going to be noticed,” he says.

Quinn, who’s long eaten Darrell Lea candy himself, admits that part of the allure in making the acquisition was the loyalty he felt to the company. Since the purchase, Quinn’’s been amazed by the support he’s gotten from its fans.

In fact, he goes so far as to say to compare the nostalgia for Darrell Lea to a U.S. company.

“I can’t sort of stress enough that Darrell Lea is an iconic Australian brand,” he says while on the last leg of his trip in the United States. “It’s almost as iconic as Hershey is here.”

Looks like even the makers of Twizzlers can get some love from Quinn. 

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