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Haribo: Kids... and David Cameron love it so, but how did Tangfastics become the PM's fuel of choice?


For the Prime Minister at the European Union budget negotiations on Thursday night, it was less the through-the-night fare of beer and sandwiches and more Nespresso and Haribo. It's no surprise to hear that as he was trying to scalp the £1trillion EU budget he was buzzing on espresso (newspapers reported there were only the red, decaf capsules left next to the machine on Friday morning). But Haribo? The little gummy bears? The little GERMAN gummy bears?

It seems a little, well, un-prime ministerial on first glance; a little déclassé. You can't see Clement Attlee folding up his papers, leaning in his chair and slipping small gelatinous animals between his teeth while smoking his pipe. But then, times change. As the Haribo jingle says: "Kids and grown-ups love it so –the happy world of Haribo."

And it's a happy world for the firm founded by Hans Riegel in 1920 in Bonn (the name comes from the name and location: Ha-ri-bo). His starting capital, legend has it, was a sack of sugar, a marble slab, a stove and a kettle – and he married his first employee, Gertrud.

Today his dancing bears (the original sweet) dominate the market – Haribo is the largest sugar confectioner in the UK (second only to Wrigley). The brand has 16 factories across the world. In the UK it operatesthrough a company called Dunhills, which it bought out in 1994. And Starmix, Strawbs, Goldbears and all its many other varieties have been on sale in UK shops for only 29 years. Sales last year were £111.6m.

From its base in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, it churns out 250 million bags (about 40,000 tons) for the UK market a year. Some of which, we learn from a loose-lipped Berkshire shopkeeper, have ended up in the semi-regal Middleton household. If you work at Haribo, you don't have to buy its wares – you can "test" as many as you want. And the genial owner, Hans Riegel II, is said to do that with every new line in his £1.2bn empire. The sweets are so popular that they were included as a measure of the nation's rate of inflation in the Consumer Price Index and Retail Price Index when each were updated in 2012.

According, to Vince Bamford, of trade magazine The Grocer, this sums up the general trend: Haribo are the glass-jarred, corner-shop sweets of the 21st century. "It has done very well with the sharing bags – children like the size and adults like the value-for-money element," he says. It has also been particularly successful at targeting "beyond the shelf" retailers, too – such as cinemas and sports clubs.

Perhaps Mr Cameron is just reflecting the mores of all us plebs. It seems most of us have a taste for the little chewy treats. It's not as odd a choice of stiffener as some of his predecessors have relied upon. Gladstone once gave a five-hour Budget speech fortified by a mixture of dry sherry and whisked egg – which makes Nespresso and Starmix sound positively gourmet.