For many in Britain Thursday 5th February 1953 holds one of their best War-time memories. ‘Why?’ you may ask. I’ll tell you why – it was the day that sweets came off ration! Children, and a lot of grown-ups too I suspect, all over the UK must have cheered. During the Second World War there was a shortage of so many of the ingredients sweets were made of, like sugar and chocolate. People were allowed a very small quantity of sweets if they could find anyone selling them. In April 1949 there had been an attempt to take sweets off ration but it didn’t work, because demand far outstripped supply. Within four months there were shortages and sweets were back under ration again.
But today – Thursday 5th February 1953 – the release was correct. All over Britain children began emptying out their piggy-banks and heading straight for the nearest sweet-shop as the first unrationed sweets went on sale today. Toffee apples were the biggest sellers, with sticks of nougat and liquorice strips also disappearing fast.
One firm in Clapham Common gave some 800 school children 150lbs of lollipops during their midday break; and a London factory opened its doors to hand out free sweets to all comers.
Adults joined in the sugar frenzy, with men in the City queuing up in their lunch breaks to buy boiled sweets and to enjoy the luxury of being able to buy 2lb boxes of chocolates to take home for the weekend.
Many wondered how long it would be before they went back on ration but the Minister of Food, Major Gwilym Lloyd-George, told the House of Commons that he had no doubt that stocks are sufficient and that he had ordered a one-off allocation of extra sugar to manufacturers to help them meet the anticipated surge in demand.
Sugar itself, though, still remained rationed. Manufacturers said that the Ministry of Food should have freed sugar supplies as well as those of sweets and chocolate. Their challenge was to make enough sweets to meet the demand of a de-rationed market, but with only 54% of the sugar supplies they had before the war. It was a challenge but, overall the industry gave a warm welcome to the news. “We are very glad about it,” said a spokesman for the Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery Alliance. “We will do all we can to make it work.”
Despite the volume of sales – there were already shortages of the most popular brands – there was no signs of panic buying. One reason for this was probably that the price of confectionery had nearly doubled during the war! However, the de-rationing of sweets had a dramatic effect on the confectionery market. Spending on sweets and chocolate jumped by about £100m in the first year to £250m – a year which, according to the confectionery industry, was “as dynamic as any in the industry’s history”.
Just to put this all into perspective – consumers in the UK now spend in excess of £5.5bn on confectionery each year.