How sweet it is: Utah candymakers know the recipe for success.
Even in recessionary times, Maxfield Candy Co., of Salt Lake City, has seen sales heat up an average of 10 percent each year since the family started making candy in 1947. President and General Manager Neal Maxfield said he hasn't been able to verify the claim that Utahns eat more sweets than do other Americans, but adds, "It's my gut feeling that they do."
Maxfield makes, packages, and ships chocolates to 40 states and to Japan, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan, Puerto Rico, and Canada. Japan is a growing market for the company, which trucks specially packages goodies - as much as 24,000 boxes at a time - to San Francisco for shipping to the Orient. Maxfield's largest customers are retail chains: K-Mart, Smiths, Albertsons, and others.
Vard Maxfield started the company with $6,000 at its present site 45 years ago. Today his sons Neal and Neldon run the sweet shop. Their father is chairman of the board. They're expanded the plant over the years from 2,000 square feet to more than 65,000. In its latest stretch, the company doubled its workspace, staff, and production capacity to meet growing demands.
When the family remodeled the kitchen, they designed it to work as efficiently as possible. Unique among candy kitchen, it is state-of-the-art, with wall-to-wall tile. Corn syrup flows through overhead stainless steel pipes, pouring into 600-gallon copper kettles that are over 40 years old. Against one wall stands a new stainless steel kettle that cost $15,000.
The aroma of warm caramel and sugar, oranges, and mint vary in intensity as you walk from room to room. Once it's cooked "to the exact tenth of a degree," the candy travels systematically, through a 72-yard cooling tunnel, to packaging and shipping, without ever backtracking.
Utah's Willy Wonka
Neal, his brother Neldon, and their 90 employees make about 30,000 pounds of chocolates each day. Neal could be described as the Willy Wonka of Utah's candy industry. Quality, he says, is the key to making it in this business, where customers taste the distinction between fine chocolates and mediocre ones. "My dad started this company with the philosophy that a quality product will endure," said Neal. Candy makers - some have worked at Maxfield for 37 years - make the creamy fillings by hand, in small batches, with real cream and fresh butter. Maxfield makes 50 varieties of chocolates, plus pecan logs. Easter eggs, caramels, fudge, and special-recipe salt water taffy.
Shift of about 30 people efficiently move from one production phase to another, either making candy, rolling out pecan logs, or packaging thousands of boxes of mixed chocolates. After Halloween, Maxfield hires another 140 people to work around the clock to meet the holiday demand. "Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Eastern make one long holiday for us," said Neal. Then comes Mother's Day. "July 4 is usually a quiet holiday around here," he laughs. Spring and summer are the company's hectic taffy seasons.
At the peak of its busy season, Maxfield produces more than one million pieces of candy each day. Gearing up takes careful planning: precise amounts of the fresh ingredients, controlled temperatures, more manpower, more packaging, tight distribution schedules.
The Maxfields are confection perfectionists, continually sampling the many flavors and types of candy, making sure each delicate piece is thoroughly coated with milk or dark chocolate as it travels down the "enrober" belt. Volkswagen-sized vats hold gallons of satiny milk and dark chocolate. At the end of the long table, fine streams of chocolate drip a special emblem into each piece of candy to mark its flavor: caramel, cluster, mint, cherry, marshmallow, and so forth. In the final packaging, workers include a "map" that shows the individual emblems and the ingredients of each. This extra step is a special service for customers, said Maxfield, who has worked at the family-owned business since he was 12. Today his own children chip in to help.
Improving a Perfect Product
How does a company improve a product as perfect, timeless, and as popular as candy? Go to any local grocery store and you'll find their festive, elegant boxes of chocolates neatly stacked in Maxfield's candy boxes are among the most beautiful in the industry: the first to feature four-color photographs - fresh flowers and chocolates - on the box itself. "Our packaging is designed to attract the initial sale," Maxfield explained. Besides their attention to quality, the Maxfield brothers pride their ability to quickly fulfill complete orders - even up to 0.5 million pounds.
Good as Gold
Maxfield delights in studying his competitor's product. (He dutifully accepts the tough job of taste-tester.) In fact, he routinely buys boxes and boxes of chocolates whenever he travels or shops. On a recent trip to a trade show, he brought more than $200 worth of chocolates at the airport gift shop. Back at his office, he opens each box, samples the goods, and carefully critiques the presentation. After scrutinizing one box and its contents, he gave it poor marks because its shiny gold tray was broken. "They wanted $60 for this one-pound box," he exclaimed. That's more than $4 for each bite-sized piece!
Candy sales, Maxfield said, are attached to name or brand recognition. "Our business will continue to grow by word of mouth."
Bluebird Candy: Famous Since 1914
The owners of Bluebird Candy Co., in Logan, Utah, have turned a lifelong affinity for divinity into a profitable venture. It's a seemingly unlikely partnership: Dick Motta, retired coach of the NBA's Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks and Elmer Larsen, a Cache Valley dentist.
Opened in 1914, the Bluebird Candy Co. and restaurant have become institutions in Logan - the kind of places that people seek out every time they travel through town. Motta and Larsen, longtime friends and college chums, bought the candy factory in 1989. after many years spent dreaming of owning their own candy company. Before that, Larsen would pack along his candy-making equipment on family's outings to Bear Lake to make Elmer's Fudge for his friends, the Mottas. Their pastime is now a well-established business.
Cautious, Planned Growth
Bluebird may be small, but that seems to suit its owners. With two stores in Logan, Larsen and Motta are considering opening a third location in Park City. "We're looking at minimal expansion. We're small enough that we can't make a large quantity on the scale of See's or other large factories."
The company of 10 employees, however, does a sweet mail-order business to loyal customers in many states, having installed a toll-free telephone line. In fact, more than 50 percent of all the company's sales come during the three months around Christmas. "Chocolates are delicate enough that we cant' mail them well in the summer, because of the heat, Larsen points out.
Larsen and his wife agree with Neal Maxfield that candy is a product that seems to withstand economic ups and downs. They also have another theory. "Candy goes like liquor," said Larsen's wife, Shirley. "If liquor is in good form, candy is in good form. It is said that during the Depression, that was so. Personally, I wish people would eat more of it," she laughed. "What hurts our business more than anything are the concerns of low cholesterol, fat and calories."
Eat Candy: See Your Dentist
When questioned about the obvious connection between being a dentist and a sugar confectioner, Larsen says he can see the candy kitchen from his dental lab. He often sees the same customers: at the candy counter and, later in the dentist's chair. "It takes an average of two years before they need to have their teeth pulled. If I had my druthers, I'd make candy instead of teeth," says the 61-year-old dentist. His advice to candy lovers: "Eat lots of candy, and see your dentist regularly."
JoAnn's: One Batch at a Time
Back in Salt Lake, two partners are perfecting their own recipes for candy. "We are third-generation confection makers with a simple philosophy for making candy: we use only small batches, do all our own cooking and hand-dipping, and serve our customers with a personal edge," said Jared Lindsay, co-owner, JoAnn's. Since the tiny shop opened last year, JoAnn's candy has developed a regular following. JoAnn's specialty is a handstretched butter cream. (It's so smooth and creamy, it really does melt in your mouth.) "This old-fashioned candy is not found much in Utah on a commercial level," he says.
"We adhere to such an old-fashioned concept of candy-making, that our only competition is ourselves. There's truly a lot of religion in it. While more famous brands are doing a high volume, we're just taking it one step at a time," he adds.
It's What You Know
Lindsay named his business after his late mother, who spent a lifetime making candy for family, friends, church bazaars, and to finance her children's education. "I'm the first to take a stab at building a business out of it."
Lindsay, 38, and his business partner Mark Moses are the only employees. They are at the shop and making candy by hand at 5 a.m. Besides running all facets of their business, they each hold down part-time jobs in produce departments at local grocery stores. "It's been a good classic struggle for the first two years, but we're committed to hanging on. Starting a business like studying anything: You have to struggle at first," Lindsay says.
AT its shop just below Foothill Boulevard, JoAnn's features 55 varities of homemade confections (caramels, toffees, hand-rolled raspberry cordials) and 16 flavors of Haagen Dazs ice cream.
"Candy making was our family culture; everybody practiced it. It's a simple concept using medieval technology, but this is our niche, medieval only route I know. There's no flash or giant machines, it's all done by two sets of hands. If my aunt says it tastes good, then I'm okay, and I'll not worry anymore."
Cheryl Smith is managing editor of Utah Business.
Sweet Success for Utah
Utah has an exceptional abundance of candy and sweet manufacturers, and all are doing a thriving business responding to a never-ending craving for their products. Each has developed its own niche, with loyal, repeat customers.
True to Utah's entrepreneurial heritage, many of Utah's candy companies were started from scratch - out of a hobby or family tradition.
Mrs. Cavanaugh's in Bountiful, started out 28 year ago when Marie Cavanaugh turned her avocation of making candy for church projects into a full line business.
Most of Utah's candy companies are family owned and operated.
Sweet Candy Co. this year celebrates 100 years in business. Leon Sweet moved his candy company to Salt Lake City from Portland, Ore., in 1892. With 250 types of candy and 150 employees. Sweet's is by all accounts one of the largest candy manufacturers between Chicago and thee West Coast. The company ships its candy throughout the Intermountain West, to all 50 states, and overseas.
According to the National Confectioner Association in McLean, Va., America's candy hub started out in Philadelphia, shifted to Chicago, and has slowly moved West.
"Utah has a lot of candy companies," confirmed Bill Sheehan, the association's manager of communications. Though the associations. Though the by state, Sheehan reports the average American consumed 20 pounds of candy in 1990.
Why does Utah have so many successful candy companies? "I know from what I've read that Utah has been favorable for all types of business, business is becoming out there, and it's a great place to live." said Sheelan.
Snelgrove's Is Ice Cream
When Laird Snelgrove, 80, went to work for his father's fledgling ice cream factory in 1929, double scoop cones sold for 5 cents.
Today the Snelgrove name is legendary in Utah, synonymous with creamy, delicious ice cream. His family no longer owns the company, but on most mornings you'll still find Snelgrove working part-time at the factory in Sugarhouse as a manufacturing consultant. "It's a way to keep happy every day." he exclaimed.
Snelgrove sold the 63-year-old family business to thee owners of an H&R Block franchisee two years ago. "It seemed like the right thing to do at the time," he said, his voice falling away as though he regrets that decision today.
"I have no real regrets," he assures. "But I believe that the new operators could benefit from learning a little." Last month thee new owners reopened thee flagship Snelgrove ice-cream parlor on 2100 South after a lengthy remodeling. And therein lies Mr. Snelgrove's disappointment.
"The new operators look out did and outdated equipment, much of which had nostalgic value. They replaced it with modern equipment to more rapidly serve the customer."
Some of the furnishings may have changed, but the memories are intact for Snelgrove and loyal customers who have been enjoying his ice cream for 60 years. He fondly remembers young lads proposing marriage to their sweethearts over a dish of ice cream and older couples who have established a weekly tradition of strolling to Snelgrove's for a tasty treat. "A gentleman from Sacramento came in the other day on a trip through town. H said whenever he comes to Salt Lake, Snelgrove's is the first stop h makes."
Snelgrove's is distinctive ice cream, as any connoisseur will tell you. It supplies restaurants and some grocery stores. At one time, Snelgrove's made ice cream for Smith's and Albertsons, before those supermarkets began making their own. But that's not where the real competition is.
More than the major ice cream chain stores and new-fangled frozen yogurt. Snelgrove's prime competitors are the fast-food outlets. "The biggest competition we have today are all of the pizza parlors and hamburger places, they didn't exist in the early days."
Though it had little competition in its early days, the company encountered other challenges. Snelgrove recounts how 25 percent of Americans were unemployed and many had mortgaged their homes. Looking back, it seems to have been an unlikely time to start a business, he said.
"I can't take credit for the courage or the initiative or thee idea to start the business. Any new business requires someone with vision, and that was my father," said Snelgrove.
He tells how his father started the business when he lost his job during the Depression. He had no capital, negotiated for six months of free rent, and bought equipment and supplies mostly on promises to pay. "Supplies were happy to do that. But it couldn't be done today."
Snelgrove's has five retail outlets, all in Salt Lake County, and this month will open another store at the Inn at Temple Square. The Sugarhouse factory and distribution center are owned by Seattlebased MKD Distributing.
With Utahns' ravenous appetite for sweets, Snelgrove couldn't have picked a better location for his ice cream business. But Laird has a different theory. "Utah most definitely leads the nation in consumption of ice cream, replacing Philadelphia, Pa. I'm not hesitant to say that's party becuase of the quality of ice cream made by Snelgrove's. We are the standard for good quality ice cream. I take pride in that."
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||report on confectioners located in Utah; see related articles on sweet success for Utah candy companies and Snelgrove's Ice Cream|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1992|
|Previous Article:||Service as if your business depended on it.|
|Next Article:||Relight the lamps: an interview with Malcolm Forbes Jr., publisher of Forbes Magazine.|