As loyal customers snapped up Rocklea Road and licorice, staff were left in the dark about a decision to place the company in administration.

The iconic Australian chocolate maker appointed PPB Advisory as voluntary administrators amid fears the company is in deep financial distress.

PPB’s Mark Robinson said a major review of Darrell Lea’s business was underway in the hope a buyer could be found to help save the 85-year-old company and its 700 workers.

“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.”

Potential bidders from Australia and overseas have expressed interest in taking over the business.

Thousands of people have hit social media sites to speak about their favourite Darrell Lea products since news broke that the company is going into administration.

Liberal MP Bob Baldwin is one person who has spoken passionately of the product, telling his Facebook audience that he will “have to go on a shopping spree, and buy all the Daryl Lee Liquorice I can find”, admitting it’s all he ever asks for at Christmas and on his birthday.

While people have been reminiscing about the product, Mr Robinson said Darrell Lea had been experiencing trading problems for some time, with soft retail conditions playing a part.

Decisions on whether jobs would need to be axed will 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 its 1800 shops across Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

The company is 100 per cent owned by the Lea family.

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 have been left dumbstruck and in tears by news of the company’s financial meltdown.

Staff at the Darrell Lea factory in south Sydney say they were given no warning that the company was in such financial peril before being informed at a meeting this morning that the firm was up for sale.

Workers arrived for the morning shift only to be met by news crews and reporters.

One staff member said they would have to “go online” to find out about the company’s future.

Other staff members, who did not want to be named, said not even managers had been informed about the decision and were yet to learn about the future of their jobs.

Christine Bailey, who has worked at the Darrell Lea factory for 13 years, says staff were devastated after being told the news at a meeting in the canteen.

“People were just dumbstruck. They didn’t know how to handle it,” she told reporters outside the factory.

“I saw one girl from admin (who) was crying.”

But while the announcement came out of the blue, Ms Bailey said there had been signs the company was struggling.

“This year there doesn’t seem to be too much production, and we thought it was a little bit odd,” she said.

Founded in 1927, Darrell Lea is renowned throughout the country for its chocolate products, with chocolates sold through 69 owned and licensed stores and 1800 retail outlets across Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

PPB Advisory’s appointment follows an ongoing review of the business by its Directors and their concerns about Darrell Lea’s ability to meet its ongoing financial obligations.

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

Jennifer Dowell, national secretary of AMWU Food and Confectionary Division, said the union would meet with factory employees this afternoon, and seek further talks with the administrators.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said it was sad news for the company.

“I certainly hope that we can see someone step forward and take this business over and keep that very famous Darrell Lea brand going for us,” Ms Gillard told reporters in Ipswich.

“We all know Darrell Lea and its products, we have all been into its shops,” she said.

“Everybody has probably eaten a lot of their Rocky Road over the course of their lives, I know I have.”