Marrying artisan with mainstream
Just came back from visiting Fannie May’s manufacturing facility in North Canton, Ohio, yesterday, which afforded me the opportunity to chat with Terry Mitchell, president of Fannie May Confections Brand, part of 1-800-Flowers, and Norman Love, head of Norman Love Confections and one of America’s elite chocolatiers and pastry chefs.
Last year, Fannie May and Norman Love decided to team up together and produce a line of ultra-premium chocolates under the FM Artisan by Norman Love brand. The new pralines, which come in four- 12- and 25-count boxes and range from $9.99 to $49.99, are stunning in both appearance and taste.
Upon first hearing that news last October, I’m sure that many within the confectionery industry raised their eyebrows. First thoughts for some…strange bedfellows, indeed.
I mean, how does one reconcile a consumer group steeped in Pixies, Trinidads and Meltaways make the leap to edible art?
And even though I was surprised by the announcement, I thought the alliance made great sense. Who else to transition a loyal consumer group to America’s ongoing chocolate renaissance but Fannie May?
Anyone who recalls the unfortunate bankruptcy of Fannie May and their eventual resurrection by Alpine Confections ― thank you Dave Taiclet and Taz Murray ― remembers the love and loyalty Chicagoans and Midwesterners displayed when the company reopened its first store in Chicagoland and then later the flagship shop on Michigan and Wacker.
As Allan Petrik, coo and keeper of the Fannie May flame, pointed out, the line stretched three blocks for that grand opening in downtown Chicago. Granted, they were handing out free 1 lb. boxes of candies to the first 500, but you can’t buy such devotion.
Moreover, it runs both ways. As Petrik explained, even though the line exceeded the 500 giveaways planned by the company, no one who waited in line walked away from the store without free candy.
Hence, here comes Norman Love. Having had the occasion to interview him when he was a visiting instructor at the French Pastry School several years ago, I was able to capture a sense of the man’s passion and dedication to perfection that one only occasionally stumbles upon.
In reconstructing the events that lead to Mitchell and Love coming together – and no, I won‘t give away all the details here, look for the complete story in our upcoming May issue at the Sweets and Snacks Show in Chicago ― it’s amazing to hear how both men had the vision to see beyond traditional industry and business structures and become trailblazers.
Granted, in Europe you have several chocolate companies that have an artisanal component as part of the makeup. Less so in America. In our discussions, it’s clear that Norman Love looks to provide the traditional Fannie May consumer a bridge to exploring artisanal confections. He’s doing so by creating familiar flavors in an unfamiliar manner, whereby chocolate shells shine with a gem-like brilliance, where flavors such as lemonade and chocolate-dipped strawberry reawaken smells and senses that connect grandmothers to granddaughters, first-generation immigrants with Millennials.
Mitchell, on his end, understands that for the Fannie May brand to grow and evolve, it must takes its legacy to another level. In doing so, he offers the consumer choices, which as any modern marketer can tell you, is what multichannel retailing is all about.
In our May cover story, you read about the dedication of both men, one a perfectionist, the other a pragmatist, to bring this marriage about. Having seen the kitchen and the crew in action, lead by another pastry chef extraordinaire, Elliott Callahan, a former protégé of Love, it’s a joy to see this union geared up to make an impact on the landscape of chocolate here in the United States.
A bit over the top, you say? I don’t think so. But let me know after reading over our cover story in May. In the interim, try some of the FM Artisan by Norman Love pralines to get you in the mood.