In general, the lot of a food blogger is a pretty happy one and this was a fact not lost on me the other day as I quite cheerily ticked another item off my bucket list – a guided tour through a chocolate factory. The chocolate factory in question is a pretty special one here in Adelaide, as it produces an item that is quite peculiar to South Australia and very dear to most crow-eaters hearts – that chocolate-coated blend of peaches and apricots, the Fruchoc (that’s pronounced “froo-choc”, folks).
Way back in the last century, in what my kids like to call”the olden days” and when I was a lot closer to the ground, one of the thrills of our infrequent interstate travel was the opportunity to sample the exotic flavours of other places. Things like bread, milk, snack foods, ice creams and confectionery were all made locally back in the dim mists of time, so a trip across the border opened up a whole new world of pocket-money possibilities to the young, wide-eyed traveller. Not so now, as most of the small, family owned businesses have been devoured by large national and multinational concerns, leaving us in a country where the state boundaries – at least in terms of retail therapy – are little more than a concept. However, here in South Australia we have managed to hold on to just a few of our old favourites and, as is the case of Menz Fruchocs (that’s “froo-chocs”, remember), some have been returned to our fold.
Menz was one of South Australia’s oldest brands and grew from a family owned and run grocery and bakery business in Adelaide in 1850 to become manufacturers of the much-loved Yo Yo biscuits and Crown Mints. In 1948, in an effort to find a way of dealing with dried fruit off-cuts, Fruchocs were created, quickly becoming enormously popular in their home state. In the 1960’s Menz merged and became part of Sydney company, Arnotts, which was subsequently bought out in 1992 by the US giant, Campbells. Campbells could see little value in maintaining the smaller confectionery lines, which were then bought by another respected Adelaide firm, Robern.
Established in 1908, Robern had grown from the Sims family run Serv-Wel grocery stores to major producers of dried, canned, frozen and dehydrated fruit and vegetables. They were an important supplier of dehydrated food to the Allied Forces during the second World War and, after the war, Edgar Sims refined the hitherto somewhat imperfect process of glaced fruit. In the 1970’s Robern had branched out into confectionery items, making their own dried fruit confectionery lines and honeycomb, so the acquisition of Menz Fruchocs was a pretty obvious fit and a happy return to South Australian ownership for the Menz brand.
Still family owned by the Sims and completely South Australian based, Robern Menz now produces Fruchocs, Crown Mints, honeycomb, Choccy Snakes, fruit snacks and the premium range of natural Medlow Fruit Gels, among others. The place of Fruchocs in South Australian history was cemented in 2005 when they were inducted to the Bank SA Heritage Icons list, becoming part of an elite group of only 35 who were listed by the National Trust as having significant cultural importance.
Having donned the mandatory white coat and tucked every single strand of my (fairly wild) hair up in a stylish cap, I followed Robern Menz CEO Phil Sims as he led me on my own personal tour of what is a noisy, but aromatic little piece of heaven. Different products are made on different days of the week and there were no jelly products (Choccy Snakes, Medlow Gels) being made on the day of my visit, but there was plenty of other action to watch – the mints coming out of the press, the delicious little cubes of combined peach and apricot that are the inside of Fruchocs, and the searing hot, continuous stream of honeycomb being poured out of a machine. Oh, and chocolate – there was plenty of chocolate – being ground up in the conchers, coated on the the Fruchocs and gently pouring over the honeycomb in the enrobing machines. In, fact Robern Menz produce a whacking 9 tonne of chocolate a day!
Unfortunately for the rest of the country, Fruchocs are not marketed outside of South Australia so you interstaters will have to put them on your list of reasons to visit Adelaide. And Adelaideans, next time you open up a bag of Fruchocs at the movies or grab a bag of the new Giant Fruchocs (what an inspired idea that was!) at the supermarket, remember that you are eating a home made product and an official South Australian treasure!