Everyone remembers their favourite childhood lollies or do they?

Liz Wylie talked to confectionery fans young and old to find out what their favourite sweet treats are.

When Cadbury announced they would be producing limited edition Caramilk chocolate in early February, it seemed people could not get enough of it.

Someone who knows a lot about the fluctuations of confectionery fashion is Dale King who owned and managed Whanganui's Thistle Sweet Shop from 1976 until she retired in 2009.


"I don't remember Caramilk being very popular," she says.

"There were other lines that sold well and were suddenly discontinued, like Snifters for instance."

Dale said she puts it down to companies going through changes of ownership.

"There have been so many changes and I think the quality of ingredients diminished over time with some products."

Thistle Sweet Shoppe was opened by Dale's grandfather Gordon Douglas Duncan in Guyton St in 1935.

"He was a confectioner who had his original factory in Wilson St," says Dale.

"I remember him saying that he was unsatisfied with the sweets he was making – they weren't smooth on the tongue like he wanted them to be."

After importing a special boiler from Scotland, the sweet maker discovered it was the Whanganui water that was affecting the quality.

"There was too much lime in the water and although it didn't affect the taste, he was unhappy with the texture."

His daughter Helen Duncan ran the business after her father died and young Dale would help her aunt out in the shop after school and during holidays.

Although she did not mind helping out, Dale says she had no ambition to be in the shop fulltime.

"Helen called me in 1976 and said she was going to hospital and could I look after the shop for a couple of weeks.

"She never came out of hospital and I discovered that she had left the shop to me."

There were six months left to run on the Guyton St lease and Dale decided she would see that out and wind up the business.

She never imagined that she would run the shop for 33 years.

"People would say to me 'Oh you can't close the shop' and I felt a sense of obligation to the community to keep it open."

When the lease ran out, Dale moved to 138 Victoria Ave where she ran the shop until a fire destroyed it along with several others in the block in 1987.

Thistle Sweet Shop eventually reopened at its current location at 136 Victoria Ave where Dale worked until she retired in 2009.

Rochelle and David Cole would become the first owners outside the Duncan family.

"Rochelle had been working with me for a while and I knew how much she loved the shop and how capable she was," says Dale.

"My children were not interested and I was ready to step down so I asked Rochelle to make me an offer and I was very satisfied with her proposal."

The Coles ran the shop for five years and sold to current owners Sharlene and Roger Millar in 2014.

Looking back, Dale is pleased she did not sell the shop back in 1976.

"It is a shop full of happiness with lots of good memories for Whanganui people.

"I think it is likely to be around for a long time yet and it has an international reputation as a traditional sweet shop."

Current owner Sharlene Millar agrees that Thistle Sweet Shop is a happy place and says customers are pretty much always in a good mood when they visit.

Arne Leiva Benegas, 7, and his brother Moata, 5, were visiting Thistle with their father Joel to pick up some treats last week.

The family moved from Joel's native Argentina to his wife Teresa's home town of Whanganui around 18 months ago.

"Some of the sweets the kids liked in Argentina are available here but there are a couple of things they miss," said Teresa.

"Flynn Paff are big chewy lollies that come wrapped in paper and they liked Palitos de la felvach which have pictures of jungle animals and animal facts on the wrappers."

At Thistle, Moata was pointing to all the Chuppa Chup flavours he likes and one variety that comes in a packet with popping candy.

Perhaps Moata's favoured treat is not so different from one enjoyed by Ted Kellet during his childhood.

Ted, a resident at Kowhainui Home and Retirement Village in Whanganui, remembers how much he enjoyed packets of sherbet that came with a liquorice straw.

"The trouble was that you would eat the straw and there was still a lot of sherbet left so you would have to eat it with your finger," he said.

Ted remembers lots of lollies – Crunchie bars, chocolate fish, gob stoppers and butterscotch.

"Liquorice straps, aniseed balls, blackballs," said fellow resident Molly Harden.

"I love blackballs too," said diversional therapist Donna Freeman.

"My mum said she constantly craved them while she was pregnant with me."

Research has discovered the receptor cells located on our taste buds begin to diminish after we turn 50 which may explain why older people are sometimes disappointed when things don't taste as good as they remember them.

Kowhainui residents were certainly not disappointed by the taste of some good old-fashioned humbugs, bullseyes, blackballs, aniseed balls and granny mints from Thistle last week.

Bought sweets were a treat that some of the group missed out on, they said, as they lived far from town during their childhoods.

Mothers would make toffee, coconut ice and fudge, they said, and they recalled food shortages during World War II which made confectionery scarce.

Sharlene Millar has become a fudge, cake decoration and chocolate maker now that she is a sweet shop proprietor and says she loves creating both traditional and new flavours.

Thistle also stock a wide range of NZ made and imported confectionery.

"A lot of elderly people come in to buy the traditional sweets they remember buying at Thistle when they were children," says Sharlene.

"They remember how much their favourite lollies cost when they were children and they will tell you how many they could get with their pocket money," says Allannah Millar.

Allannah, 16, and her sister Brooklyn, 17, help out in the shop and make icing cake decorations, hand-made chocolates and nut brittles.

It is a great business to be in, says their mother – customers are happy because they are treating themselves or someone else.

"There is that element of nostalgia and people who have moved away will make a point of dropping in when they visit Whanganui."

Andrew Mills of Feilding-based confectionery wholesaler Lollies NZ echoes the feeling.

His family-run business has the tag line "Live Laugh Love" and he says they sell a lot of classic lollies that bring back happy memories.

"We know that it is not good to eat a lot of lollies every day but they are the rewards we give ourselves – they are fun and they make us happy."

And they can make us happy no matter how old we are it seems.