What does a comedian from Nebraska, an entrepreneurial couple from Wisconsin and a former confectionery executive have in common? They’re all key components in the launch of Larry the Cable Guy’s new line of chocolate products being produced by Melbourne, Fla.-based Grimaldi Candy Co., that’s what.
OK, so the punch line may not make you laugh, but the three parties involved hope that the connection will keep them and several charitable organizations laughing all the way to the bank.
But let’s begin with the Grimaldi Candy Co.’s relatively new owners, Phil and Jamie Holtje, who have a remarkable story all their own. Having started their own printing business from a workshop in the back of their home in Racine, Wis. in 1984, the husband-and-wife team built up Burlington Graphic Systems into a multi-million operation. In 2004, they began the process of selling the company to its employees, a transition that took four years.
That’s when the two decided to retire in Florida, although Phil retained his position as chairman of the company. Within eight months, however, the successful business duo has their hands in another business — Grimaldi Candy Co.
A fixture on the Florida’s East Coast in Melbourne, Grimaldi Candy was known for its panned and enrobed chocolates, especially its chocolate-covered potato chips. In fact, it’s the nation’s largest producer of chocolate-covered potato chips. Founded in 1969 by Sicilian immigrant Vincent Grimaldi, the company carved out a niche amongst tourists and locals as a quality purveyor of chocolates.
As Phil explains, upon visiting Grimaldi Candy, the two savvy entrepreneurs immediately saw the growth potential in the business. Anxious to apply their business experience to selling chocolates and candies, Phil and Jamie enlisted the help of their family, daughter Celeste and son-in-law Will Ralston, establishing them in marketing and general manager roles, respectively.
Fast-forward to 2014, and Grimaldi Candy Co. now not only operates out of a new 25,000-sq.-ft. facility that features three enrobing lines and a new panning room with 12 pans — the company claims it’s the largest panner of chocolates in Florida — it is set to launch a new line of products under the Larry the Cable Guy moniker.
Grimaldi continues to develop new and innovative chocolates items to help build excitement around the brand and attract attention from national retailers for private label opportunities.
So how does a midsized chocolate company attract the attention of a national comic sensation, Larry the Cable Guy, aka Daniel Lawrence Whitney? It’s no secret that the Cable Guy has some pretty serious credentials. Aside from releasing seven comedic albums (three of which turned gold) as well as appearing in several films and his own television show, native Nebraskan Whitney has done the voice of Mater in the Disney/Pixar Cars movies.
Enter Jim Frazier, former senior v.p. at Evans Food Group and former chief operating officer for GKI Foods. Frazier, who joined Grimaldi Candy last July as president, happened to know Whitney’s lawyer through past business dealings.
That relationship quickly led to a meeting and then a contract for Grimaldi Candy to manufacture a new line of Larry the Cable Guy chocolates. The new line includes four items: Milk Chocolate Tater Chips (milk chocolate-covered potato chips); Milk Chocolate Dusted Almonds; Milk Chocolate Corn Nuggets; and Camo Crunchers, pretzel balls coated in milk and dark chocolate.
Scheduled to roll out on January 29, the new line has generated interest from a large cross-section of retailers, explains Frazier. “We are working very hard at developing a product line that will allow us to capture the attention of larger retailers that are looking for the next generation of chocolate innovation.
“It’s all about relationships,” he says. “I had a good idea of what it would take to broker the deal with Whitney regarding unique product selections and financial requirements. And I have a great number of contacts with buyers, brokers and distributors from my experiences in the confectionery industry.”
The move represents part of Phil and Frazier’s strategy of making Grimaldi Candy a national midsized chocolate company, one that can handle branded, private-label and contract manufacturing accounts.
Investing a million dollars into a new production facility in Rockledge, Fla., as well as renovating the existing retail shop in Melbourne represents part of that strategy as well. And, obtaining AIB-certification represents another milestone toward that goal.
In addition to a retail shop next to the plant in Rockledge, the company is scheduled to open a new retail shop in Port Canaveral, Fla.
“We were asked by the city to open up a retail store,” Phil says. “Port Canaveral is growing by leaps and bounds and we see this as a tremendous opportunity for us.”
The company also expects to roll out a new product within the next several months — a signature recipe of dark chocolate almond butter toffee.
“We’re constantly developing new items,” the co-owner says.
What they’re not doing is taking a salary. All post-tax profits from Grimaldi Candy go to local charities and Viera Water Network, a charity started by the Holtjes to drill and repair fresh water wells in underdeveloped countries.
As it so happens, Whitney (Larry the Cable Guy) also donates to charities, specifically through Git-R-Done, a foundation he started that provides assistance to charitable organizations that need help, particularly those assisting children and veterans.
So what does a comedian from Nebraska, an entrepreneurial couple from Wisconsin and a confectionery executive have in common? The ability to sell plenty of chocolate while simultaneously helping good causes. And that certainly brings out smiles in everyone.