'I think we introduced tins of Ritchie's Mints a couple of years before you could get tins of Roses chocolates," says Ronnie Ritchie, managing director of Ritchie's Mints for the past 17 years. He took over the family sweet business from his dad Bobby, who took over from his father Hector.
The sweet factory moved to its current premises in Inchicore from Cuffe Lane off St. Stephen's Green just before World War II, having first started out making the likes of Milky Moo Mints and Ritchie's After Dinner Mints in 1936.
"My dad never brought business home so it wasn't a case of us growing up eating sweets every night," says Ronnie. "I'm the same with my three, and if they get sweets, they're ones I buy for them as a special treat."
We've just popped our heads into a room where a massive amount of cinnamon lozenges are drying out and it really is, as Ronnie says, hotter then if we were in the Canaries. Machines are working noisily on the second floor, out of which as many as 1,500 sweets spill every minute. It takes an hour from when the sugary mix is boiled to when it is ready to be twisted into a butterfly wrapper to go into a package.
"I'm always surprised at the places I see the sweets, such as a farmer having a packet with him in his tractor, to a packet sitting on the roof of a car once," Ronnie says.
"I've seen the Milky Moo stickers in Irish bars in New York, even though there were no sweets available in the place," he says.
It was his dad Bobby who came up with the name Milky Moo Mints and the slogan, which so many kids grew up with in Ireland, about it being the extra milk in the sweets which made them go 'moo'.
"I've no idea how many sweets we produce a year, it would be impossible to keep count," Ronnie says. "Between 20 and 30 different types of sweet are produced at any given time."
"Bon bons take longer to make because they have to be continuously coated in sugar. Over seven types of mints are made in the factory. You have to be careful as the taste of mint can travel and you don't want it in the fruity sweets."
Lozenges take even longer as they are made cold and need to dry out. While walking around the factory we come across sweets ready for packaging, such as a ton of clear mints in large bundles of bags.
Ronnie left Blackrock College at 15 to go into the family confectionery business, starting out working on a baggage machine. Thirty years later, he still feels a sense of pride at keeping the family business on the road. "We're a small drop in the ocean of sweet making and if the machines break down, we're the ones here until the early hours of the morning trying to get them up and running again. It's not very Charlie and the Chocolate Factory then," Ronnie says.
"We're growing at about five per cent a year as a business. Back in the Seventies there would have been about 150 employees here but then machines took over a lot of the work. Trade barriers came down when we joined the EEC and we were importing more, too.
"Today, Ritchie's Mints are as popular a seller as ever which is great news for us, and between 20 and 30 people get a wage packet from the factory, which is an achievement in this climate."
The sweet industry has changed a lot over recent decades. Take the framed antiquated advertisement on the wall of the factory which reads, 'Ritchie Mints, After a Cigarette'.
Ronnie says: "Between 1984 and 2000 we were burgled a lot because there was money to be made from sweets. But after that people seem to have found easier things to sell on and we don't have that problem."
There are public tours of the sweet factory, during which children are shown how a chocolate machine works. "We used to make Easter eggs but we got out of it years ago as chocolate making really should be specialised, such as the likes of Butlers Chocolates or Lily O'Brien's," Ronnie says.
He lives in the midlands with his family, and enjoys cycling, shooting and golf when he has the time to unwind. A brother and sister are also involved in the business.
"Anyone in the family who has something positive to offer is always welcome to put an idea forward," he says. We're in a room where there's an estimated 30 tons of sugar in vast bags – then a short while later we're at the other end of the manufacturing process and in the front-of-factory shop, where the large variety of sweets includes Ritchie's Milky Liquorice, Ritchie's Milky Fudge and Ritchie's Humbugs.
"I've never been in a car on a long journey where a packet of sweets hasn't been opened and passed around. Even if you don't fancy a sweet at the time, you're likely to take one and put it in your pocket for later than refuse it," Ronnie says.
"For me, family car journeys always come to mind when I see our packets of sweets. Of course, you can eat them any time, but what's a car journey without sweets?"
LIFE IS SWEET: Ronnie Ritchie has been in the sweet business all his life