Crunch time for McCowans

The future is uncertain for New McCowan's (Scotland) Ltd
The future is uncertain for New McCowan's (Scotland) Ltd

Over 100 jobs are at risk after a Stenhousemuir sweetie manufacturer went into administration.

The 103 workers at McCowans factory were sent home last week and the factory will remain closed until a buyer can be found.

New McCowans Limited, best known for producing Highland Toffee, was taken over by administrators on September 14.

It is the third time in six years the Stenhousemuir-based business has gone into administration. But Grant Thornton Chartered Accountants hope a buyer will be found quickly and prevent jobs being lost.

Falkirk West MSP Michael Matheson said concerned workers had contacted him after they were sent home from work on Wednesday and told they would go unpaid.

He claimed administrators confirmed two potential buyers had been in talks with them and added he hoped the company would be saved.

Mr Matheson said: “I will continue to keep lines of communication open with the administrators and endeavour to work hard on the employees behalf. I hope a positive outcome can be achieved in order to secure the company’s long term future.”

McCowans sells 140 million Highland Toffee bars - commonly known as ‘coo chews’ - around the world every year and has had a factory in Stenhousemuir since the 1920s.

New McCowan’s was formed in 2006 after buying Millar McCowan. They bought the rights to make Highland Toffee, Wham Bars and boiled sweets including Millars Pan Drops and recently added soft and chewy bonbons to their portfolio after improving the production facilities at their Stenhousemuir factory.

Margaret Robb, owner of Gems Sweet Shop in Callendar Square, said the news wasn’t surprising.

“There have been rumours that the company was having problems for a while.

“It’s really disappointing and I hope a buyer will be found because all the McCowans products are big sellers.

“The Highland Chews, Wham Bars and new bonbons fly off my shelves and I know the products are well loved around the world, so I don’t know why they have gone into administration.

“If they go it will be a real shame, I often get tourists in who want to try local sweets and I give them McCowans products.

“I even frequently get asked for Penny Dainties and they haven’t made them for years. The company really is a landmark in confectionery so to hear it is having problems again is very sad.”

McCowans was started in the 1900s by Andrew McCowan and his most famous product, Highland Toffee, was created in the 1920s.

The company created children’s favourite Wham Bars in the 1980s and added them to their line. The chews proved to be incredibly popular, selling millions of bars annually, and became a cult product.

McCowans was sold to sweet giant Nestle but still produced under the brand name and was then sold again to a Dutch firm in the 1990s.

It was under Scottish ownership from the 2000s and then merged with Scottish boiled sweet manufacturer Millar in 2005. The merger saw the factory start making Pan Drops and Chocolate Eclairs.

Just a year later the merger fell into financial difficulties and 149 jobs were lost at the Stenhousemuir and Broxburn factories.

The company was resurrected by Principal Capital Management in 2006 and New McCowans Limited formed.

The latest financial accounts for the company show that turnover has been at £8.4 million in 2009 and 2010 but this year saw losses of £2.38 million and the previous year £1.9 million.

The plant in Broxburn, West Lothian, was closed last year as a cost cutting measure.

Staff met with administrators yesterday and another meeting is planned for Friday and they will find out if they still have a job.

A spokesperson for Grant Thornton confirmed interest had been expressed in McCowans but the factory would remain closed until the discussions were complete.

Councillor Craig Martin, leader of Falkirk Council, said: “We are naturally very concerned to hear that any local business is having difficulties and especially when it is such an established name.

“We are obviously hopeful that a buyer can be found for this well known local business and that the 103 employees can retain their jobs.

“In the meantime we have offered the company assistance and guidance for their employees as part of a wider multi-agency response in attempt to signpost them to a number of support services that are available.”