Customers in a fizz over sweet-shop favourite

For the hardcore sentimentalists it is a step too far. First Fairy Liquid replaced its squeezy white bottle (and perfect water pistol substitute) with a snazzy but less fun clear container.

Then Smarties swapped its tubular packaging for the modern but preposterous-sounding "hexatube".

Now the makers of Sherbet Fountain are dispensing with the sweet's iconic paper packaging.

Tangerine Confectionery, the Blackpool-based manufacturers of Sherbet Fountain, are abandoning the cardboard tubes that have housed the fizzy concoction and liquorice straw in favour of resealable plastic tubes, which they believe will be more hygienic.

The change means that children will no longer have fond memories of wrestling with soggy paper packaging as they try to work out how to suck the sherbet through the ever-useless straw. Many fans and nostalgics say they are mourning yet another rebranding of an iconic sweet.

In a letter sent to suppliers, seen by The Independent, Tangerine explained they had decided to redesign the packaging because "consumers wanted a more hygienic pack that can also be resealed". They start shipping the sweet in its new packaging next month. The manufacturers have slightly tweaked the ingredients, replacing any artificial colours and flavourings with natural ones, as well as making the famous dipping sweet halal.

Michael Parker, who runs AQuarterOf.co.uk, an online shop that stockpiles and specialises in sweets of yesteryear, says he has been inundated by emails from customers who don't want to see the packaging changed.

"The response has been phenomenal," the Blackburn-based entrepreneur said. "I'm sure Tangerine have good reasons for changing the packaging but people are passionate about their sweets and they tend not to react too positively when packaging is changed. Perhaps it's because we like rediscovering our childhoods through sweets, but people cling to nostalgia when it comes to sweets."

Mr Parker questioned whether hygiene really was a concern. "No one has dropped down dead from eating Sherbet Fountains out of paper containers for the past 70 years so you've got to question whether it was really necessary to swap to plastic."

The packaging change is a gamble for Tangerine, which bought Sherbet Fountain from Cadbury last year for £58m. The company makes sweets including Refreshers and Butterkist Popcorn but Sherbet Fountain, which was launched in 1925, is one of their core products. Historically, consumers have reacted negatively when manufacturers modernise the packaging of a confectionery item, although sales usually pick up again.

One customer of AQuarterOf.co.uk, who replied to a poll as to whether they approved of the redesign, said: "Leave my favourite sweets alone! The best bit of sherbet fountains is their very 1970s-ness (I'm sure that's a real word) and the slightly stale liquorice. Not to mention the paper and cardboard tube. Why can't things just stay the same?" Only 1 per cent of respondents approved of swapping the cardboard tubes for plastic ones.

Stephen Joseph, Tangerine's chairman, said he hoped customers would realise that the new design closely mirrored the old. "I know it sounds a bit anaemic to say that we changed the packaging for hygiene reasons but it did need to be done. The new design keeps the sherbet much fresher and means the liquorice stick no longer pokes out of the top. I hope people won't mind too much and we have tried to redesign the new package to looks as much like the old one as possible."

Meanwhile, Mr Parker is busily trying to stockpile as many boxes of the old-fashioned Sherbet Fountains as he can manage to find.

Bittersweet: Rebranded icons

Golden Syrup

Tate and Lyle's famous green and gold Golden Syrup tin has morphed into a plastic bottle. It may be more practical, but it lacks the nostalgia factor of a tin that was surely one of the building blocks of the British Empire.

Kit Kat

Faced with flagging sales and stiff competition from Cadbury's, Nestlé ditched Kit Kat's famous thin foil packaging in 2001 for a sturdier plastic wrap. Three years later it got rid of the equally famous "Have a break ... have a Kit Kat" slogan.

Smarties

Another Nestlé rebranding. In 2005 the company announced that Smarties would be housed in a "hexatube" – the kind of marketing double-speak that sends nostalgics into fits of apoplectic rage. The old circular tube and plastic cap, which made a pleasing pop when squeezed, was no more.

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