For as long as I can remember, my parents and I have celebrated the winter holidays with Cella’s — those milk chocolate-covered cherries with the liquid centers (also available in dark chocolate, my mother is happy to note). I only recently learned that Chicago-based Cella’s Confections, maker of this Cassell family treat, is owned by Tootsie Roll Industries — ironic, given that my favorite everyday candy is the ever-popular Tootsie Roll.
I share an affinity for this latter confection with my British friend Sarah, whom I met while studying in York, England, my junior year of college. Sarah had never tasted Tootsie Rolls, so I asked my parents to bring over a bag when they visited. She’s been hooked ever since. I still send Sarah the occasional plastic bank full of Midgees and memorabilia such as decorated tins, pencils and coin purses, or even Tootsie Roll-flavored lip balm.
With the exception of a certain devotion to Cella’s and Tootsie Rolls, I’ve never been a big candy person. That said, the past few weeks have been eye-opening.
At the ECRM winter confectionery event in February, I saw first-hand the many innovative products in the marketplace. Chocolate-covered cranberries, blueberries and other fruits are signatures for brands such as Harry & David and Wolfgang, while cleverly designed and packaged hard candies are the calling card of Elegant Gourmet. Meanwhile, entrepreneurial companies such as Shakespeare’s breathe new life into crossover creations — take its hollow Easter egg-shaped rice krispie treats, which are dipped in chocolate and filled with jelly beans. Another ECRM fave that got me all shook up: Brand New Products’ giant Elvis Presley PEZ Dispenser. And who can forget Scripture Candy’s biblical Harvest Seeds and Fish Mints? The list goes on and on ... As a retailer, if you’ve never attended an ECRM meeting, visit www.ecrm-online.com today. The Candy Annual Planning Efficient Program Planning Session will take place Oct. 19-23 in Atlanta.
I shared what I saw at ECRM with my mom (the dark chocolate junkie) and dad (a black licorice fan), whose mouths watered over my descriptions of bonbons and caramels and toffee — oh my! It’s hard to say who’s more excited about my new role as editor of Confection & Snack Retailing — me or my parents, who have dedicated an entire kitchen cupboard to chocolate everything, from candy bars to unique concoctions from retailers such as Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge (mmmm ... Earl Grey chocolate), New York City’s aptly named Chocolate Bar and Heath, Ohio’s own Goumas Candyland (where Mom and Dad live).
The only thing my mother enjoys more than dark chocolate is Jelly Bellys, so imagine her delight when my first field trip for CSR was to North Chicago-based Jelly Belly Candy Co. There, vice chairman Bill Kelley showed my staff and me behind the scenes of one of the best-known candy makers on the planet. The brand’s latest introductions include its caffeinated Extreme Sport Beans (not for kids), the Cold Stone Creamery Ice Cream Parlor Mix and BeanBoozled, a line of Jelly Belly pairs that look alike, but taste very different (buyer beware).
As I become more familiar with this interesting industry and am exposed to even more candy and confections, I’m sure my list of preferences will grow to include items other than Cella’s and Tootsie Rolls. That said, you never forget your first loves.