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Darrell Lea faces rocky road ahead


Darrell Lea has been put up for sale in the hope that Australia's famous chocolate maker and its 700 workers can be saved.

Administrators took control of the 85-year-old, family-run company on Tuesday in an attempt to save it from ruin.

The surprise move stunned staff, unions, customers and even Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Voluntary administrator Mark Robinson, of PPB Advisory, has begun work on a major review of Darrell Lea's accounts to help understand the extent of its financial problems.

He said every effort would be made to save the business, famous for its RockLea Road chocolate, and its 700 workers.

Mass publicity about Darrell Lea's possible demise has already sparked interest from local and international companies interested in buying Australia's biggest privately owned chocolate maker.

"At this time it is business as usual and our primary focus is for the employees and store owners that are impacted by this unfortunate event," Mr Robinson told reporters.

"This is an iconic brand which means a lot to Australians and I'm sure it will live on in some form into the future."

Mr Robinson said Darrell Lea had been experiencing trading problems for some time, with soft retail conditions partly to blame.

Decisions on whether jobs would be axed would be made once the review, which is being funded by Darrell Lea's owners, wraps up.

"Our focus is to save as many as possible by conveying this business as a going concern," Mr Robinson said.

Darrell Lea employs about 700 people at its Sydney manufacturing base and at shops across Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

The company is 100 per cent owned by the Lea family, who established their chocolate business in Sydney in 1927.

Mr Robinson said the company's directors were saddened by the problems they faced.

"Obviously, given it's a family owned business that commenced in 1927 ... disappointment and sadness would have described their mood," he said.

Darrell Lea employees were left dumbstruck and in tears when they learned of the company's financial meltdown.

Staff say they were given no warning that the company was in such financial peril before being informed at a meeting on Tuesday that the firm was up for sale.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union said Darrell Lea should have been more transparent about its financial woes.

As news spread among chocoholics, loyal customers began snapping up Rocklea Road and Darrell Lea's own-brand licorice.

"I can't believe it," long-time customer Heather told AAP while shopping in one of Darrell Lea's central Sydney stores.

"It's upsetting because Darrell Lea is an institution.

"I like it much better than European chocolate."

Fellow chocolate lover Prime Minister Julia Gillard hopes a buyer for Darrell Lea can be found quickly.

"Everybody has probably eaten a lot of their rocky road over the course of their lives. I know I have," Ms Gillard said.