Opinion

A 'Classy' Transition

August 24, 2011
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I’ll never forget how Larry Hassler described Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll to me when I visited the company back in June 2007. “It’s like eating a salad,” he smiled, noting that the peanuts, nougat center and caramel provided similar components found in a salad (legume, dairy product, sweet dressing). Although peanuts are technically a legume, I don’t think even Hassler could get away with a labeling change, even if he were to call the famous Salted Nut Roll “salad-like.”





I’ll never forget how Larry Hassler described Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll to me when I visited the company back in June 2007.

“It’s like eating a salad,” he smiled, noting that the peanuts, nougat center and caramel provided similar components found in a salad (legume, dairy product, sweet dressing). Although peanuts are technically a legume, I don’t think even Hassler could get away with a labeling change, even if he were to call the famous Salted Nut Roll “salad-like.”

Hassler’s humor and straightforward approach toward life and work is only exceeded by his love of the industry. Consequently, when I saw the press release announcing the sale of Pearson’s Candy Co. to Brynwood Partners VI L.P, I quickly dashed off an e-mail to Hassler, with the words, “Say it ain’t so.”

Now mind you, Brynwood Partners is a wonderful buyer. Our cover story on DeMet’s Candy Co. (July 2010) provides a classic example of an involved investment group that focuses on managing companies to attain success. It’s just that I knew how married Hassler was to Pearson’s, so I was curious what brought on the decision.

Well, it didn’t take long for Hassler to give me a call and provide me with some background on the sale and what prompted him to make what was a difficult decision.

As Hassler explained, he had made the decision to retire upon turning 65 this year. So last year Hassler gathered his management team together to inform them of the news. Moreover, he told them that given his decision, now was the time to take the company to that proverbial “next level.”

“I told them that the company needed to focus on new product development, on new packaging, on acquisitions,” he related. “I didn’t have those strengths.”

Noting that he had bought into the business in 1985 because “I needed a job,” Hassler told the group that he would either find the right purchaser or recruit the right person to take over.

In teaming up with Brynwood Partners, Hassler believes he’s found the right steward for Pearson’s. He notes that Michael Keller, who will take over as president and ceo of the company, besides having been the chief marketing officer for International Dairy Queen, also worked for Nestle (He was a brand manager for Butterfinger).

He also pointed out that Henk Hartong III, senior managing partner for Brnywood Partners VI and the new chairman of Pearson’s, is committed to growing the company. In the official press release, Hartong asserted that Pearson will “become a great platform for additional acquisitions in the candy sector.”

In a brief conversation with Hartong yesterday, the chairman told me that the investment group is looking to expand Pearson’s product line through new product development as well as possible acquisitions.

Given Hartong’s success with DeMet’s ― he’s chairman of that company as well ― I’m confident that Pearson’s will enjoy the same rewards from a strategic plan that focuses on investment, innovation and integration.

Prior to the consummation of the deal, Hassler saw to it that the management team – which was critical in helping him and then co-investor Judith Johnston extricate the company from near bankruptcy and build it into a $50-million (Candy Industry estimate) independent business – received a disbursement.

It was recognition for all their efforts in making Pearson’s what it is today, Hassler said. You don’t see that very often in ownership changes.

So what does the future hold for Hassler?

Well, he’s contracted for a year to be a consultant for Pearson’s, introducing Keller to customers and the industry, as well as working with Hartong in seeking out possible acquisitions.

After that, impossible to tell. Know this, Hassler has confectionery flowing in his veins, so I’m sure he’ll attend events, like so many “retired” participants do.

I’m just thrilled that the industry has people like Hassler in it, who truly represent what “class” means in this sweet segment.

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