Bissinger’s may be a 350-year old confectionery company, but it is on the cusp of a new era.
The long-standing chocolate company is in the midst of spending $15 million renovating a 223,000-sq.-ft. building that will serve as its new headquarters in downtown St. Louis employing 100 people. A new CEO, Tim Fogerty, is at the helm along with several new key executives.
And on the candy side of things, they’re constantly exploring new flavor combinations, like the wine, cheese and chocolate featured in their Blue Cheese Wine Grapes.
Dave Owens, v.p. of taste, wears too many confectioners’ hats to count at the company, and he’s among those making sure Bissinger’s stays true to its heritage while it continues to move forward.
“I really see us rooted in the past with an eye toward the future,” he says.
Indeed, the past is very important at a chocolate company like Bissinger’s. It’s no wonder, considering it’s likely the only confectionery company based in the United States that can trace its roots back to 17th century France, where King Louis XIV granted them the title of “Confiseur Imperial” for confectionery excellence. At the time, confectioners were known as “true artisans, and were the most highly regarded of all tradesmen in their craft,” the company says.
Bissinger’s confectioners were eventually brought to the United States by Karl Frederick Bissinger in 1845. He opened the first store in Cincinnati and successfully sold Bissinger’s confections in America. Then, in 1927, Karl Bissinger’s son moved to St. Louis — where the company is headquartered today — to open a shop in the Central West End of the city.
Owens says at the time the company was still focused on what it had been making since it opened: confections like sugared nuts, and marzipan. Meanwhile, chocolate was playing more of a supporting role. Over time though, Bissinger’s transformed into what it is known as today — a premium chocolate company.
But even though the company is now based in the United States, the chocolate comes from Europe.
As Owens explains, several years ago, Bissinger’s decided to take control of its chocolate formula and their chocolate supplier, so they worked to develop an excellent chocolate liquor base.
Today, they use it for all their chocolates, including their 38 percent milk, and their 60 percent dark and 75 percent dark.
“So, everything tastes cohesive,” Owens explains.”They’ll taste like they belong in the same family.
And Owens should know, afterall he is “the ultimate keeper of the taste library.” With a trained palate, he makes sure the chocolate flavors are consistent with every batch.
Of course, Bissinger’s still crafts more than just premium chocolate. Their Gummy Pandas have a cult-like following, with flavors like Apricot Green Tea, Blueberry Acai and Lemon Ginger Yuzu.
And their signature caramel, which is made from the same recipe as it has been for about 300 years, is the star ingredient in their Bear Claws, which feature Bissinger’s chewy caramel, pecans, chopped into sizable chunks and lightly toasted to bring out their nutty flavor, and smooth milk or dark chocolate.
And their Chocolate Caramel Lollipops, are also exceptionally delicious. The old-fashioned favorite is crafted with a longstanding recipe that calls for a hint of blackstrap molasses, with soft caramel and smooth chocolate.
Bissinger’s expands bar collection
Bissinger’s old-world caramel recipe is also the perfect addition to its new line of chocolate bars.
After Bissinger’s acquired Bochner Chocolates of Iowa City near the end of 2012, they had even more equipment available to produce confections — including a line of chocolate bars.
“We had a vision, we wanted to offer a chocolate bar collection made with Rainforest Alliance Certified Cocoa,” Owens says. “We had to develop them.” But, like everything Bissinger’s does, the bars were anything but ordinary. One of the top selling flavors is Coconut Caramel Red Hawaiian Sea Salt. And, aside from their classic flavors — like 75 percent Dark Chocolate, 60 percent Dark Chocolate with Almonds — their other, more unusual flavors include Quinoa Agave Crunch and Dulce de Leche.
The fact that all of the bars are Rainforest Alliance Certified is as important for Owens as it is for the consumer.
“We were able to get our proprietary chocolate that is made for us in Europe certified with Rainforest Alliance Cocoa beans,” he explains. In addition to the certification, the bars also are all-natural, which means they’re carried in high-end grocery stores across the county like Whole Foods Market.
CEO: Tim Fogerty
V.P. of Taste: Dave Owens
Bissinger’s at Maryland Plaza,
Stores that carry Bissinger’s confections:
“We want to make sure we take care of our customer,” Owens explains, “All components are very important — the taste profile, the right packaging, and the all-natural ingredients. We want to make sure we take care of every last detail.”
Moreover, many of Bissinger’s customers don’t have to go to a retail store to buy their chocolates — the confectioners also are sold online and in catalogues.
Confections like the Bissinger’s Blue Cheese Wine Grapes which feature “a delicate layer of Original Blue cheese with Shiraz-infused wine grapes.” They’re then enrobed in Bissinger’s signature 60 percent chocolate. The confection took Owens more than two years to develop.
“Part of the problem was, “How do I take something that’s been infused with wine and coat it with our signature chocolate?” he explains. “It needs to be shelf stable and have a low alcohol content so it can be sold in stores and wineries. It was just a unique venture.”
It was worth it though, of course.
“When someone tastes them, you see their eyes light up and you watch them go through the different flavor nuances. The response has been fantastic,” Owens says. “Even people who aren’t blue cheese people are instant fans.”
And, in keeping with the trend, they also regularly hold chocolate, cheese and wine pairing events across the county.
Some of Bissinger’s other unique treats include: Handmade Marshmallows, Milk and Dark Molasses Puffs, Raspberry Cremes, Traditional French Truffles, and Pate De Fruits.
There’s also the Wine Pairing Chocolate collection that includes: Merlot Salt Caramels, Chardonnay Salt Caramels, Murray River Salt Caramels and Pear Balsamic Salt Caramels, made with old-world caramel, aged balsamic salt and an infusion of all-natural pear extract.
As the company continues to grow though, it has became clear that it needs more and more space to keep up with demand and make all those delicious confections.
New building to host tours, events
So, Bissinger’s is planning to triple its current capacity with a new building, which will have 85,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space and 38,000 sq. ft. of office and special event space.
“It’s a really incredible space,” Owens says. “It’s an historic brick building built back when buildings were built to last.”
One of the main goals of the new building will be to combine all the manufacturing equipment from both the Bochner location in Iowa City and the current Bissinger’s location in St. Louis, centralizing everything in St. Louis.
The company spent a lot of time searching for just the right building to host Bissinger’s headquarters, and Owens says it was important that they find a space in the city they have called home for more than 85 years.
“It’s in a part of town that’s on the cusp of revitalization,” he says.
One of the most dramatic features of the new place will be it’s new rooftop patio. The venue is already booking private events, ranging from 100-500 people.
The property will also have solar panels — which will help provide energy to the plant — as well as ample parking and three docks for shipping and receiving.
“We are grateful to be here carrying on the legacy that started in Paris centuries ago,” Fogerty says.