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Sweet success.

THE VOICE IS MELLOW but the eyes of Blake Morden flicker with determination and independence. Six days every week Morden drives 44 kilometres from his home in Selkirk, Manitoba, to his factory on Sargent Avenue in Winnipeg - a windblown artery where many shops lurk behind bars over the windows. At the factory he makes Morden's chocolate. Lots of it.

During the past 35 years Morden has melted, poured, molded and sold tons of the sumptuous sweet. He and his father opened Mordens' Candy Manufacturing Ltd. in 1955 and have survived to make a good living. Four competitors have all melted away because "they expected too much, too fast," says Morden. He points out that good chocolates require attentive craftsmanship. "It took me 20 years to learn how to work with chocolate... I'm still learning."

There is much to know about the personality and character of chocolate. The respect and care starts with the cocoa pods grown in West Africa and South America. The pods are cut open and the almond-sized beans inside are fermented. Later comes roasting and crushing which yields cocoa cake and the real prize - the chocolate lover's golden fleece - cocoa butter. These are blended with sugar and milk in different combinations to make raw chocolate. It is not a process that happens on Sargent Avenue though. "You either make chocolate or you make chocolates," says Morden. "To do both you'd need a place the size of Eaton's."

Mordens' factory is surprisingly small considering it has annual gross sales of more than $1 million. The main floor is jammed with equipment, water-cooled tables and large boxes filled with chocolate-covered nuts and raisins. Upstairs, employees jostle for space with more boxes and conveyor belts.

A small shop next to the factory has large glass display cases crammed with 70 different sorts of chocolate and brittles. Huge pottery bowls filled with mountains of golden nuts squat on a shelf behind glass jars of colored candy. Here lurks a powerful sales weapon, leading customers by the nose. The salivating aroma of warm chocolate and roasted nuts wafts like at bouquet of passion in the shop. Spending restraints crumble. At Mordens' an investment in chocolate temptation is $7 to $8 for 454 grams. Blake points out this is far cheaper than the $18 to $20 per 454 grams charged for imported chocolate. "People think something is better because it comes from another country," he says, his eyes flashing with anger. "These people who think if they pay more they get a better product should stop and give something a taste test."

Taste-testing could start with Russian Mints. They cover every available space in the workshop. They are a big seller and up to 500 kilos are made first thing every day. Blake makes the creamy centres on the main floor. Upstairs, Fred, his 31-year-old son, covers them with tempered chocolate. To temper raw chocolate it must be heated to I I 0 degrees F, slowly cooled to exactly 86.5 degrees, then raised one degree. Get it wrong and "the chocolate gets streaky and cloudy," says Fred. He is a latecomer to the family business. "I got a good-paying job out of high school and I couldn't afford to work here... but I always knew I would be back; there was no question." Fred saved his money and when he joined his father, his mother Shirley and his sister Cara Lee, be bought 38 per cent of the business. "So nothing was handed to me on a silver platter," he says.

Behind Fred, some of the five employees were putting Russian Mints into boxes by hand. During the Christmas rush, 35,000 boxes were painstakingly hand-packed for market. Next comes Valentine's Day. Another room is crammed with cartons of raw peanuts and almonds from California and cashews from India. About 500 kilos a week are roast, ed; near Christmas that rises to 1,500 kilos a day. Some of those nuts end up in brittles that can only be made in Winnipeg. A cool, dry climate is needed for good brittle and Morden says We use tons of cold air every day."

The family is assessing an offer to open a store at Winnipeg International Airport. They have a busy outlet in the Winnipeg Convention Centre but the market is open for expansion. Their only competition comes from boxed chocolate sales in drugstores. Blake does not like drugstores. He figures chocolates should not be there. After all, he says, "I don't sell drugs." But he adds that "professional chocolate-eaters don't go to drugstores." According to Morden, if your "chocolate budget" exceeds $25 a month, you've gone professional.

And is the chocolate man a chocolate man? "It is not unusual for us to take four to five pounds of chocolate home at Christmas and by Boxing Day wish we had more," says Morden with a rare smile. "In fact, I couldn't afford to be out of this business."
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Mordens' Candy Manufacturing
Author:Ryan, Bramwell
Publication:Manitoba Business
Article Type:company profile
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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