Confectionery consultant Beth Kimmerle knows a thing or two about chocolate and candy. The retailer-turned-product-manager-turned-historian is the author of three books on the subject.

Beth Kimmerle

Where did you grow up, and what did you study?
I grew up mainly in Evanston (Ill.). I started college at DePaul and finished at University of Illinois at Chicago. I thought I’d be something creative. I studied to be an art teacher, but I was never really 100% convinced.

As a kid, what was your favorite confection?
I feel like because I spent so much time in the Chicago area, I was very influenced by Chicagoland confections: Tootsie Rolls, anyFerrara Pancandy - primarilyLemonheads - andFannie Maycandies. We were a hugeFannie May candies family. … It was such a recognizable name around Chicago. It was up there with Marshall Field’s and the Bears.

What’s your favorite confection now?
I make a lot of my favorite confections. Right now I’m really into making different caramels and brittles. I’ve been making Marcona almond brittle. I make a couple different types of caramels: chocolate and vanilla. They’re typically in mass quantity around the house. … I’m really into making, dare I say, trail mixes with really good pieces of chocolate and dried fruit - that might be the mom in me. But nothing’s better than a good piece of dark chocolate.

What are some current confectionery trends?
The trends of organic and single-origin and cocoa percent seem to be growing in the world of chocolate. … People are really pushing the boundaries of flavors and textures. I have to jump on the bandwagon, saying that all the candy with benefits (Omega-3 and probiotics) is continuing to be a force. It’s amazing to me how many candy lines (at the All Candy Expo) not only had beneficial attributes in them, but also had sort of a charity component attached to them.

Is candy recession-proof?
I think a lot of people have definitely felt the recession in some way, but I know for a fact this industry has some bounce to it. It does not fall flat. … You look at all these candy companies that have been around for all these generations, and that’s sort of living proof that there’s staying power in candy. I don’t think it’s always easy. I think unlike any other industry out there, there are still a lot of family-owned and -operated businesses. I think confections have always spanned that yes, they’re sort of a luxury, but they’re sort of an affordable luxury.

What have you been working on lately?
I’m working on a project for the California State Fair on candy. ... It’s 10,000 square feet and will include a store. When you come in, there will be a whole Willy Wonka-esque candy mountain with a waterfall. There will be a See’s Candy Kitchen and the See’s 1923 delivery truck, with the wooden slats on the sides. Jelly Belly’s participating and will have some vintage equipment - copper pots and moulds. Wrigley will have a lot of historical items on display about the history of their brands - William Wrigley owned Catalina Island at one point and had an estate there. They really tried to hone in on candy companies that had a history in California.

What other projects have you done?
Michael Rosenberg (president of The Promotion in Motion Companies) has one of the largest collections of candy-related items, advertising-wise. When I was researching my book on candy … he said you’re more than welcome to use anything from my collection.

I said to him, after I finish this book, we should talk about how to get this ready for a museum. ... I got myself trained in archival work … I was with a couple of interns who were museum studies majors, with the white gloves on, literally tagging everything with an ID number. …

Along the way, he bought another collection from a guy named Ray Broekel, a candy historian who wrote a couple of books, one called “The Great American Candy Bar Book” ... I worked on merging these two collections. ...

Several years ago, I was approached by somebody who saw my candy and chocolate book. I had along the way amassed quite a collection - nothing like Michael Rosenberg’s, but some pretty significant pieces, here and there. It was a collector in Japan who wanted to open a chocolate museum … concentrating on iconic American chocolate - Hershey, Mars ... That was a great project to work on for me because it meant going out and buying all this stuff, curating a collection. His company was called Royce.

We ended up putting together a museum that was amazing. It’s currently located in his manufacturing facility … He manufactures a very well-known confection in Japan and Asia, a line of truffles that are boxed and papered and come with this little pick.

After that, I worked on laying the groundwork for a chocolate museum and café in Puerto Rico for a company called Cortes Chocolate. … They have farms where they grow beans in the Dominican Republic, and they process most of it in Puerto Rico. When you order a drink down in Puerto Rico in old San Juan with yourmallorca, which is this beautiful kind of pastry, you say, “I’ll also take a Cortes,” which is a hot chocolate.

They’re family owned … and  they have incredible archives. In the ’30s and ‘40s, they used to insert these little (illustrated comic) booklets in their chocolate bars … They have a collection of those and letters from people saying, “That’s how I learned to read.”

What’s next?
I’m finishing up a book on Blommer Chocolate. … They came to me and said we know you’re an unofficial candy historian, and we’ve got all this great history. Interview the family, interview the employees, and write the story.

How did you first get into candy?
I owned a small retail store in Evanston for five years called Big Doings - cards, t-shirts, a hip assortment of jewelry and, of course, a rack of candy.

I had always fancied being a retail-er/entrepreneur. It was a great experience. I had great mentors, including my husband’s mother, who ran a retail store in Evanston called Possibilities.

I had a customer who was a headhunter … she said there is a position open at Fannie May, and they’re looking for somebody who has retail and merchandising experience who’s a buyer. Fannie May, at that point, had been family-owned, and was bought by this venture capitalist company and were looking to expand … It was a six-month contract position. So I closed my business … and ended up working at Fannie May for several years. … It was there that I sort of started thinking, how come nobody is telling the back stories behind all these candy companies?

Starbuck’s came to Fannie May and wanted a (private label) line of chocolates - this was around 1997. … I had an opportunity to move to New York and joined Starbuck’s as a product manager. At that time, they were growing to fast, they needed folks on the ground, reporting on trends, helping out with merchandise.

After Starbuck’s, I ended up … focusing on some projects not only for Starbuck’s, but also my book (“Candy: A Sweet History”). … Along the way, I did some packaging and marketing work for a couple of confectionery companies. It was sort of like I’d found my little niche.

“Chocolate: The Sweet History” followed. And then I started getting requests from folks to work on PR-related content for their companies. I worked on a book for PMCA. And I became known as the go-to-girl for anything history, content-related.