Edinburgh Rock makers to close after 135 years

Ross's of Edinburgh is closing, ending production of its classic Edinburgh Rock. Picture: Toby Williams

Ross's of Edinburgh is closing, ending production of its classic Edinburgh Rock. Picture: Toby Williams

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IT IS a purveyor of sweet treats that has delighted generations of Scots children and given dentists cause to grind their teeth.

But after 135 sugar-coated years, one of the country’s best-known confectioners is about to make its final batch.

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Ross’s of Edinburgh, which has produced the famous Edinburgh Rock delicacy since 1880, is to close its factory in Loanhead.

Its demise spells grim news for children young and old who still hanker after traditional sweeties, with the future of other product lines such as pandrops and soor plooms under threat.

The decision to wind up the factory was reluctantly made by Graham Ross, the great grandson of James Ross, who founded the business as a small sweet shop near Edinburgh University.

Unable to convince his family to take over from him, Mr Ross, the firm’s chairman and managing director, said it was time for him to retire after four decades in the business.

He said: “I’m 64 and was made an offer for the factory building that, at my age, I’d be stupid to refuse.

“I’ve been in the business for 40 years and there is a certain sadness in bowing out, but it can’t go on for ever.

“My family doesn’t want to follow in my footsteps and we don’t feel we want to turn it over to somebody just to manage it.”

The waning fortunes of confectioners, Mr Ross reflected, was due to the greater choice of consumer goods afforded children of the 21st century compared to those of yesteryear. “Back in those days, children didn’t have a huge amount of options on what they were going to do with their pocket money,” he explained.

“Now kids have a vast range of choices and would rather spend their money on mobile phones. The traditional corner shop has all but disappeared.”

From the early days of James Ross, the firm, which exports to countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, has enjoyed sweet success.

Rationing during the Second World War forced it to devise boiled sweets which lasted longer, while in 1948, Dr James Ross, the founder’s grandson, struck upon a bestselling product in the form of puff candy.

At around the same time, the firm produced the first of its iconic yellow boxes of Edinburgh Rock, introduced to coincide with the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival. Softer and crumblier than its English counterpart, it has been a hit ever since.

Since Mr Ross announced he was closing the factory at the end of March, he has been taken aback by the “incredible” response. Its stock of sweets such as Berwick Cockles and violet creams has been snapped up, the equivalent of two years’ worth of products.

He added: “We sent out letters and the very next day I got a response from a sweet shop in Fort William. After that things went berserk. We got calls and messages from all over the place.”

Despite the looming closure of the factory, there remains an outside chance that some of the goods made famous by Ross’s could continue to be produced.

Mr Ross said he is open to offers from would-be buyers to purchase the brand as well as the machinery used to produce the likes of the Edinburgh Rock, which is unique to the company.

Whatever the future has in store, Mr Ross said he has been encouraged by the public’s renewed appetite for the likes of ginger creams, barley sugars, fruit drops and cinnamon oddfellows.

“Traditional sweets and sweet shops are making a bit of a comeback,” he said. “The population is getting older and there is a great appetite for nostalgia. People are looking for the sorts of specialised products you don’t find in supermarkets or chain stores.”

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