As today’s lead news item reveals, the city’s Frango Mints are coming back to hometown ownership. Garrett Brands, specifically. You know, the caramel and cheese corn people. Yeah, those kiosks and shops everyone finds a hard time passing by in airports or on the street because of that wonderful, sweet smell wafting through the air.
Well, those same folks have purchased the Frango Mints brand, which was owned by Macy’s. Macy’s acquired the brand when it purchased Marshall Field’s, the famed and beloved Chicago-based department store, in 2005.
I’m trying to remember the first time I ever tried a Frango Mint. As a 58-year, near-native Chicagoan, I have to think hard about that one. There's no guarantee I’ll remember, either. I do remember getting them as gifts from my aunt, however.
Of course, she loved giving them out on holidays and special occasions because my uncle worked for Marshall Field’s as a head carpenter in the company's warehouse on Diversey and Pulaski. That intersection probably doesn’t mean anything to anyone except Chicagoans and anyone who’s visited Primrose Candy Co. Anyway, she was able to get her hands on Frango Mints often, and with a good discount.
But I digress. Just like Fannie May, Frango Mints became a Chicago confectionery icon, one that connected you to the community. So when news broke that Garrett Brands had purchased the brand, it was one of the headlines that makes us hometown cheerleaders nod our head in agreement.
Now I realize that the acquisition doesn’t mean that Garrett Brands is actually going to bring back the manufacturing of Frango Mints back to Chicago. Gertrude Hawk Chocolates in Dunmore, Pa., does a fine job producing all sorts of varieties of Frango Mints.
I can personally attest to that after visiting the plant with David Hawk, chairman of the company, back when he was Candy Industry’s 2005 Kettle Award recipient. He and his crew were very proud of maintaining the quality of the piece and doing so efficiently.
I’m sure his R&D team could handle any requests from Garrett to introduce tastes and textures from its popcorn line. I'm not saying that’s what Garrett will do, but certainly would be fun experimenting, wouldn’t it?
Although I never had a chance to visit Marshall Field’s candy kitchen on the 13th floor, I did see the department store’s brief experiment with having an enrobing line on the 7th floor, a nostalgic attempt to resurrect those glory days.
The Frango Viewing Kitchen, as it was called, provided shoppers with a facsimile of days gone past, coating centers with chocolate that would be later used for sampling in the store. I loved the concept, but I don’t believe it really boosted sales for the department store.
All brands, large or small, global or local, need nurturing. When it comes to local brands — and yes, I realize that people in Seattle assert that Frango is their brand — their size sometimes precludes larger entities from giving them the proper dose of loving.
I feel confident Garrett Brands will. They’ve done it before. And actually, they’ve taken a local brand and gone global with it. It helps, of course, when you have a good product to start with. Natch with Frango. Who knows, in a few years you might see Frangos in France!
OK. Perhaps a bit overboard on the hometown stuff. But remember who won the World Series!