Marks & Spencer has explained its controversial decision to rebrand traditional midget gem sweets as 'mini gems'.

The popular midget gem sweet first rose to popularity in the North of England - so well loved in fact that Liverpool Football Club once sold club-branded tubs of the colourful treat.

But the sweet came under fire when activist Dr Erin Pritchard, a lecturer in Disability Studies at Liverpool Hope University, raised concerns over the use of offensive language.

The lecturer - who has achondroplasia, a condition that affects growth - referenced how the use of the word "midget" further stigmatises people living with conditions such as dwarfism. 

Dr Pritchard has been lobbying for supermarkets and confectionery makers to change the name - making M&S the first retailer to drop the offensive term on the packaging.

The supermarket has been using the 'mini gem' branding for some time, with a spokesperson describing how M&S aspires to be an "inclusive retailer".

Explaining the decision, a spokesperson for Marks & Spencer said: "We are committed to being an inclusive retailer – from how we support our colleagues, through to the products we offer and the way we market them to our 32 million customers. Following suggestions from our colleagues and the insights shared by Dr Erin Pritchard, we introduced new mini gem packaging last year, which has since been rolled out to all of our stores.”

The word 'midget' has long been targeted by the charity Little People of America, which describes it as a "derogatory slur".

"Language has the power to cause permanent damage to one’s self-esteem and identity," the organisation says.

The supermarket's decision to rebrand the traditional midget gem sweet received a mixed reaction online.

"This is not just wokery, this is M&S wokery!," one person joked.

One social media user said: "This *must* be an April Fools? If not, please somebody tell me there was a dodgy mushroom in my dinner & I'm gonna need a lot of water in about half an hour's time!!"

Another Twitter user said: "More political correct nonsense."

The Northern Farmer: Undated handout photo issued by Marks and Spencer of a packet of Mini Gems. Marks and Spencer has changed the name of its popular Midget Gems sweet to avoid offending people with dwarfism rebranding its version of the confectionery as Mini Gems following a campaign by a disability academic. Undated handout photo issued by Marks and Spencer of a packet of Mini Gems. Marks and Spencer has changed the name of its popular Midget Gems sweet to avoid offending people with dwarfism rebranding its version of the confectionery as Mini Gems following a campaign by a disability academic.

One unhappy customer said: "Call me a cynic, but I get the impression the wokerati are SEARCHING daily for anything ‘offensive’ ."

Responding to the public's reaction, Dr Pritchard urged those offended by the decision to research the history of the word.

Posting on Twitter, the lecturer said: "It seems that there are a lot of average sized men getting upset about the removal of the word midget from a packet of sweets. I didn't realise they were so sensitive."

One social media user, who gave their support to Dr Pritchard's campaign, said: "Come on people it's only a small sacrifice to make, there's no need to belittle anybody for wanting change, manners seem to be in short supply these days, let's be nice, be kind, be the bigger person."