When Norman Love first met Dave Taiclet and Terry Mitchell from 1-800-FLOWERS.COM and Fannie May Confections Brands, respectively, three years ago, he was adamant about one thing.
“I had no interest in producing confections for someone else,” he says. “I was opening up a new store and was busy running my own business.”
Nonetheless, he wasn’t opposed to helping Taiclet and Mitchell with their vision for Fannie May, which initially involved providing advice about single-origin chocolates and the desire by both men to get involved in the ultra-premium chocolate category.
It was almost a year of back-and-forth discussions before both parties found common ground, which involved a unique way for Norman Love to lend his name, expertise and leadership to help Fannie May launch and produce artisan confections.
“For me, it was another professional challenge,” Love explains. “Here was a company not known for ultra-premium confections, but with roots that were very deep and thick with consumers.”
At a Glance
Fannie May Confections Brands
Headquarters:North Canton, Ohio
Plant: 250,000 sq. ft.
Brands:Fannie May, Harry London, Fanny Farmer
Output:10 million lbs. annually
Management team:Dave Taiclet, president of Gourmet Foods & Gift Baskets; Terry Mitchell, president; Matthew Anderson, coo; Edward Fitzpatrick, v.p. retail operations; Adam Beroza, director of business development; Jeffrey Harwood, director of supply chain; Calvin Reynolds, director of QC, R&D and process engineering; Elliott Callahan, Pastry Chef Artisan Collection; Susan Haynie, director of creative services and product management; Susan Barnett, director of retail stores; Edward Seibolt, v.p. - sales; Charlie Faust, director of operations; Stan Surmay, director of cost accounting; Lisa Matznick, director of marketing; and Alan Petrik, coo of The Popcorn Factory.
On Fannie May’s part, it was an opportunity to extend the brand into a new demographic as well as raise its confectionery competency.
“Norman Love is as good or better than anyone else in artisan chocolates,” Mitchell says. “Through this relationship with Love, whereby he taught us how to make true artisan products, we extend ourselves and our core competency. In doing so, we become better manufacturers, better confectioners.”
Of course, agreeing to supervise the production of artisan confections is one thing; executing the mandate is another. To Fannie May’s credit, Love says, the company took extraordinary steps to ensure he received full support and backing to make the debut of FM Artisan by Norman Love a success.
There were several key elements necessary to make the concept work. One of them involved infrastructure; the company needed to carve out a corner within its 250,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility in North Canton, Ohio and install an artisan kitchen.
Calvin Reynolds, director of QC, R&D and process engineering, was charged with making that happen. Having overseen a variety of food manufacturing facilities in his career, Reynolds welcomed the challenge of using his knowledge and skills within a completely new venue, artisan confections.
“Calvin was instrumental in getting the kitchen operational,” Love says. To do so required several trips by Reynolds to view operations in Fort Myers, and then procure the right equipment to create a replica of the kitchen in North Canton.
Because many of the components within the kitchen involved either European or specialized equipment suppliers, everything from vacuum mixers and tempering machines to a customized depositing line and moulds, it took about four months to complete the installation.
In the interim, Love focused on finding the right leader to oversee the operation, which, for him, would determine the success of the entire thing.
“It had to be someone who understood quality,” he explains. “In addition, that person would have to take our recipes and produce them under our direction and specifications.”
By coincidence, through a mutual friend, Love was able to connect with a former colleague whom he had known while working for Ritz-Carlton who happened to be teaching baking and pastry arts at Cleveland’s Polaris School of Culinary Arts.
When approached, Elliot Callahan didn’t take long to decide.
“It was a golden opportunity for me,” says Callahan. “I would be able to learn from Norman as well as work for a well-known brand.”
Within a short period of time, Callahan assembled his crew and began the process of training staff to work in the kitchen. The newly hired individuals, even helpers, were flown down to Norman Love’s kitchen in Fort Myers to learn from the best.
Of course, almost immediately upon signing onto the artisan confections project, Love had begun thinking about what kind of pralines the line would include.
“I wanted to touch these Fannie May customers, identify who they were and what their likes were,” he says. In sitting down with his crew, Love quickly outlined what would be the focus of the new line: simplicity, identifiable flavors, and comfort foods.
“The challenge was to convince Fannie May customers to try something new in the store, which isn’t always easy to do,” Love continues. “We wanted something that the customer could identify with.”
Adhering to his “Keep it simple, execute it perfectly” philosophy, which is at the core of Love’s culinary raison d’etre, the chief chocolatier and his team came up with 12 familiar flavors, some of which embrace a touch of whimsy: 64% Dark Chocolate; Vanilla Cake; Lemonade; Double Shot Espresso; Peanut Butter Fudge; Chocolate Dipped Strawberry; Bourbon Vanilla; Caramel; Mint Cookie; Swiss Milk Truffle; Candy Apple; and Hazelnut.
Once the kitchen was set up and the staff hired and initially trained, the Fannie May artisan team began the process of turning out artisan confections. Nonetheless, it took about three months before Love and Callahan were satisfied with their performance and consistency.
Just before the launch of the line in October 2011, Love’s crew came up to work side by side with the eight artisan kitchen employees to lend a helping hand.
“You have to remember that everything for this line was set up from the ground up, which is amazing when you think about the level of quality that’s being produced,” Love says.
The debut of the FM Artisan by Norman Love line caused quite a stir at Fannie May and within the confectionery industry. Mitchell says the initial reception by consumers, reaffirmed by sales, have exceeded company expectations.
“It’s been very pleasing and very rewarding to me to see such a very different project in co-partnering succeed,” he says. “As a leader, to see the transfer of information executed in such consistent quality is wonderful.”
But as Callahan knows, it’s not by happenstance. Love preaches continuous improvement. Hence, product samples are shipped daily to Fort Meyers for review. Love doesn’t mince words in addressing imperfections, be they in the form of aesthetics, taste, execution.
This is where Callahan’s experience as a teacher makes him so valuable as the leader of Fannie May’s artisan team, Reynolds says.
“He takes those criticisms and reviews them with his team to ensure that the same mistakes don’t occur again,” Reynolds says. “And they don’t.”
Love’s and Callahan’s confidence with the abilities of the Fannie May artisan crew has reached a point where they have already begun to produce a new line of flavors for the upcoming spring/summer season, flavors such Key Lime, Passion Fruit Orange, Roasted Pineapple, Pear Caramel, Strawberry Mint and Apricot.
“I’ve always been conservative, methodical in the way I do things,” Love says. “Let’s be perfect first. Then we can proceed. Now that they have the proper knowledge, we can do new stuff.”
New stuff, indeed. In addition to the spring/summer line of flavors that will debut May 1, Love is looking at a fall/winter line of flavors as well as a frozen dessert line. And Callahan is working on a patis fruit that will debut this summer.
Not quite your grandmother’s Fannie May store, some industry observers may say.
Well, to be quite frank, Mitchell points out, the company has been in an evolutionary mode ever since it was rescued by Alpine Confections from bankruptcy in early 2004.
As he explains, back then, the focus was on bringing the company back the way customers remembered it. Thanks to the efforts of Alan Petrik, former Fannie May coo and current coo of The Popcorn Factory, part of the 1-800-FLOWERS.COM group, the company was able to open 46 retail sites and supply those stores from the Harry London manufacturing facility that Alpine Confections had acquired earlier in 2003.
“We were able to re-launch the brand with the original recipes, the same recipes that were used during Fannie May’s heyday,” says Petrik.
And as Mitchell emphasizes, not only was the company coping with producing more than 100 flavors of candies, it also had to get a handle on thousands of packaging components.
“Keep in mind that our Colonial box alone contains 28 different pieces of candy,” he says.
The successful return of Fannie May prompted 1-800-FLOWERS.COM to acquire it from Alpine Confections in 2006, brothers Jim and Chris McCann having looked at expanding the floral company’s confectionery connection for several years (See sidebar on p. 32).
In doing so, it kept the management team intact, installing Dave Taiclet as head of its gourmet food and gift baskets group and retaining Mitchell and Petrik to run the Fannie May division.
As Mitchell points out, “The 1-800- FLOWERS.COM Enterprise is a group of retailers at heart; they understand retail, which is the essence of our business. They have tremendous respect for the Fannie May brand and believe it can resonate across the United States.”
Given the company’s franchising expertise, it came as no surprise that parent 1-800- FLOWERS.COM began to explore the possibilities of using its experience to create a Fannie May franchise model for the future. The company believes that the brand can grow its retail base to several hundred locations through a combination of existing company-owned stores and a growing franchise program.
That initiative dovetails with the company’s overall aim to reshape Fannie May to better compete within an ever-changing retail landscape and an ever-changing consumer.
“The leadership team at 1-800- FLOWERS.COM has challenged us to stretch the limit of the brand so we can grow the business,” says Mitchell. “Moreover, it’s provided us with the capital structure to do just that.”
Part of that multi-million dollar investment involved spending on improvements in the plant, including upgrades involving public tours (new graphics, videos, display cases, etc.), as well as packaging redesigns, new merchandising tools and product development.
For example, the company has installed a new extrusion unit developed by Imperial Design that — thanks to the developmental work done by Reynolds — has been instrumental in recreating Carmarsh, a traditional Fannie May product combining marshmallow, caramel and milk chocolate.
On a slab line used for producing bark confections, the company has installed laser levelers, reducing waste and increasing output threefold. A new cluster line from Production Techniques Ltd. has greatly improvedPixie output. The installation of a cooling drum next to the caramel kitchen has also enhanced production, adds Reynolds. New finishing equipping has expanded the company’s wrapping possibilities.
“We’ve also held Kaizen events, whereby we get feedback from our production employees about how we can improve day-to-day operations on the line,” he says.
“Sometimes, it’s as simple as improving the flow of product from the cooling tunnel to the wrapping station, which frees up the number of people we need at that station as well as speeds up the process,” Reynolds adds.
This continual investment within the manufacturing facility has opened up the doors for further product innovation.
“We spent a lot of time focused on bringing back the Fannie May products back to their original recipes,” Mitchell says. “Now, we’re turning our attention to new innovative items.”
The company is tapping into the creativity of both Love and Callahan to spur that innovation. Love is currently working on frozen desserts and a gelato program for the retail stores. Callahan is in the final stages of rolling out dessert toppings under theFannie May brand.
“We are also using Elliott [Callahan] to help innovate our Fannie May and Harry London products, “ Mitchell says. “He’s had a tremendous influence on both of those brands.”
For example, the Harry London line just underwent a makeover involving product and packaging. The re-launch comes just when the company finalized an agreement with Dillard’s department stores as the exclusive everyday supplier of premium chocolates.
Dillard’s, which has nearly 300 stores throughout the 29 states, will sell a range ofHarry London products using a new revolving merchandiser stand targeted toward specific areas within the store as well as an cash merchandisers designed for register locations. Seasonal offerings are also part of the program.
Mitchell emphasized that the Fannie May brand comprises one part of the Fannie May Confections Brands triptych, with the wholesale brands Harry London and the currently dormant Fanny Farmer brands complementing the offerings.
“About 40% of our revenues come from wholesale, the bulk coming from the Harry London part of the business,” he says. “With Fannie May, we’re generating sales through our retail stores, our franchisees, and e-commerce. On the wholesale end, we have Harry London in specialty trade outlets and we have plans to begin testing Fanny Farmer in other channels.”
With the launch of the FM Artisan by Norman Love line, the company now has multiple brands to address multiple channels and consumers, Mitchell says.
“FM Artisan is our ultra-premium line, Fannie May and Harry London represent the premium brands, and Fanny Farmer can be used to satisfy mainstream opportunities,” he continues. “With the Norman Love line, we’ve expanded our brand palette, which is changing the architecture for all our brands. It also gives us license to enter other product categories.”
Consider the following: This spring Fannie May will launch its fruit bouquet line, which features fresh fruit dipped in Fannie May chocolate. The company had already resurrected its past connection to ice cream, with about 30-plus stores having dipping cabinets, but looks to increase that with a gelato offering mentioned earlier.
Fannie May also looks to expand its frozen desserts offerings, which now consist of a Fannie May cheesecake produced by Chicago’s well-known cheesecake manufacturer, Eli’s Cheesecake.
But that’s only the beginning, says Mitchell. He sees the company continuing to expand its capabilities in chocolate, perhaps introducing single-origin products.
Love, together with Jim McCann, dreams of evolving the artisan concept into another retail concept, a hybrid dessert café featuring chocolates, pastries, gelatos.
“We’re just getting started,” says Mitchell.
Lest anyone forget, Petrik points out that Fannie May will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in seven years.
Expect one very sweet party.
Chris McCann, president of 1-800-Flowers.Com, is no stranger to change. As he explains, he and his brother Jim, chairman and ceo of the company, are experiencing their fourth wave of change.
“We started out with brick and mortar retail stores, starting with our first shop in Manhattan in 1976,” he says. “Then we saw the emergence of 1-800 telephone service, which started shopping over the phone. That allowed us to create a brand around the phone.
“In the early 1990s, we began experiencing the Internet, people going online,” McCann continues. “We were the first retailer to sell flowers on AOL in 1994 using e-commerce. In 1995, we had our first website.
“The fourth wave is social and mobile commerce,” he says. “We’ve been active in it for five years, which has allowed us to engage and interact with our customers. As a company, we’re constantly trying new things and adapting to technology.”
Hence, it’s somewhat ironic that 1-800-Flowers.Com is spearheading the charge for Fannie May Confections Brands to open more brick-and-mortar retail stores through franchising.
Nonetheless, the effort makes sense, McCann says, since it’s the SoLoMo (Social, Local, Mobile) social commerce movement that’s driving customers to shop local.
Moreover, 1-800-Flowers.Com knows something about franchising; it has 250 floral shops throughout the world.
Thus, it’s natural for Fannie May to take advantage of its parent company’s expertise in the area to follow that same path, says Dave Taiclet, president of 1-800-Flowers.Com’s Gourmet Foods and Gift Baskets division.
Currently, Fannie May has 93 stores, of which 72 are company-run and 21 are franchise operations. Last year, it signed an agreement with GB Chocolates, LLC, a newly formed partnership consisting of several successful franchise operators.
During the course of the next three years, GB Chocolates will open 45 new Fannie May retail shops. In addition to the franchise development agreement, GB Chocolates acquired 17 existing Fannie May stores.
As Terry Mitchell, president of Fannie May Confections Brands points out, the company at one time had more than 250 retail locations throughout mid-America. He envisions the company expansion through franchising to reach a total of 300-350 retail stores.
“We’re focused on multi-store opportunities in franchising,” Taiclet says. As part of that effort, the retail store concept has been contemporized, with new stores now featuring lighter colored woods and offering ice cream and frozen desserts as part of the mix.
This year, Fannie May will roll out fruit bouquets, fresh fruit dipped in Fannie May chocolate.
The addition of FM Artisan by Norman Love ultra-premium chocolates last October not only expanded the company’s range of products at the store; it’s engaged a new range of customers, a younger, more sophisticated demographic.
Thus, the ultra-premium line, coupled with the company’s line of twist-wrap chocolates, Fannie May Delights, allows customers to choose from a broad array of confections, be it handcrafted artisan pralines or bulk candies.
The company also is experimenting with pairing its Cheryl’s cookie retail shop next to a Fannie May store as a means of providing consumers more choices and more brand experiences.
“We’re in the business of delivering smiles,” says McCann.
In today’s retail environment, companies have to offer multiple choices through multiple channels to be successful, Taiclet says.
That way, everyone’s smiling.