It was privately owned by the Lea family, and was the largest privately owned confectionery manufacturer in Australia. It was established as a company in 1927, named after the owner's youngest child, Darrell Bernard Lea, born earlier that year. Darrell Lea had 81 privately owned shops and other 1,838 outlets. In July 2012 the company was put into administration and restructured. In September 2012, it was sold to the Quinn family. Further restructuring, including elimination of the majority of retail jobs occurred during August and September 2012. All company owned retail outlets were closed by, or on, 9 September 2012.
During peak times, Darrell Lea employed at least 1,200 people.
Darrell Lea operates solely in Australia, though its products are now available worldwide through distributors in the USA, UK, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. The two popular products are Darrell Lea Original Soft Eating Liquorice (black and strawberry) and iconic Milk Chocolate Rocklea Road. Darrell Lea's offers several confectionery product lines ranging from fresh liquorice, to traditional chocolate, to gifting boxes and a range of delicious nougat.
Darrell Lea has been in the ownership of the Lea family since it was founded by Harry Lea, who was born on 15 February 1876 in the East End of London, migrated to Australia in 1888, and started making confectionery in 1917 at the back of his Manly Corso fruit shop. Lea started the first shop in New South Wales in 1927 in Sydney's Haymarket, being a combined milk bar and confectionery shop. During the Depression in 1929, a shop became vacant in Pitt Street, and in 1935 a factory was established under the northern most arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge at 1 York Street. His first almond noughat creation was called Bulgarian Rock.
Harry Lea died in 1957. Maurice Lea, Harry's eldest son, opened five shops in Brisbane in 1966 and delivered fresh stock until he (Maurice) retired in 1996. Robert Lea, Harris' second son, opened a shop in Adelaide in 1966.
In 1968, the company was listed on the stock exchange, with Darrell as Chairman and Managing Director (Harris became Managing Director in 1971), but was privatised again in 1982, with Jason Durard Lea (28 September 1942 - 12 September 2005), Monty’s son, being Managing Director from 1983 to 1998. Darrell died in 1990, aged 62.
In 1982, the Kogarah factory was rebuilt due to a fire two years before, and set up with modern chocolate-making machinery. In 2004, Darrell Lea licorice was a dessert ingredient at the wedding of Mary Donaldson to Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark.
In April 2008, Darrell Lea won a 5-year legal battle brought by rival chocolate company Cadbury over Darrell Lea's use of the colour purple on its packaging (which Cadbury uses for its Dairy Milk range packaging), when the Australian judge ruled that Darrell Lea was not trying to fool customers by adopting the shade.  
On 10 July 2012, Darrell Lea was placed into voluntary administration due to a review of the business by its directors who had concerns about Darrell Lea's ability to meet its ongoing financial obligations. Half its company run stores were closed, with the loss of nearly 200 jobs. The administrators are PPB Advisory.
On 3 September 2012 the company was acquired by the Queensland owners of VIP Petfoods, the Quinn family. The business will be further restructured, with the loss of 172 casual and 246 permanent jobs. Only 83 Darrell Lea employees will remain. The last company owned stores were all permanently closed by end of business on 9 September 2012. Darrell Lea products will continue to be sold through its licensed retailer network.
Their range comprises 500 products, with 60 extra items created for Easter and Christmas. In recent years Darrell Lea has had many demands for their liquorice from overseas, in particular the U.S., United Kingdom and Canada. They offer an ordering service to this end. Darrell Lea's line of soft licorices are sold in Canadian shops as well as Target department stores and Trader Joe's grocery stores in the United States.
Darrell Lea has sponsored a local high school in order to assist students in continuing their studies to completion, and the Lorna Hodgkinson Sunshine Home which works with people with intellectual disability. Additionally, the company helps organisations such as the Starlight Foundation, Variety Club, and other local youth groups.
On 19 August 2007 The Workplace Ombudsman took Darrell Lea to court, with accusations of pressuring casual sales assistants into signing the company's workplace agreement. Darrell Lea threatened to reduce shifts for casual staff as young as 16, if they refused to sign the agreement.
Following media attention and resultant public pressure, Darrell Lea chief executive officer, John Tolmie announced a decision to abandon their proposed workplace agreements, which would have resulted in pay cuts for its casual staff.
- King, Ian (14 April 2008) "Cadbury's eggs take a beating". The Sun. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
- (12 April 2008). "Cadbury vs Darrell Lea chocolate war over colour purple". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved on 10 July 2012.
- Clay Lucas (9 March 2005)."Lea purple rides again after Cadbury backdown". The Age Company. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
- Williams, Kylie (3 September 2012). "Darrell Lea to remain Australian owned". Herald Sun. Retrieved 3 September 2012.
- The Lorna Hodgkinson Sunshine Home - sponsors list
- "Darrell Lea Faces Bullying Claims" news.com.au