|Rick and Michael Mast work on creating new chocolate.|
Gotcha! Don’t expect anything related to sex in this column, which I’m sure will be disappointing to some, perhaps many. I just used the word titillate to provide an example of how headlines these days can be both sensational as well as misleading.
The reason I say this is stems from our weekly news discussion that I and Crystal Lindell, my managing editor, had this morning. We typically review what’s crossed our transom during the past couple of days and then make decisions on what will go in today’s newsletter.
During the course of this e-mail chat, Crystal mentioned that two stories caught her eye this morning. The first, which appeared in the Washington Post, was tagged with a headline, “How many licks can Tootsie Roll take before melting away?”
The headline made it sound as if the company was about to collapse. Well, I just had to read it to find out when the death knell was going to occur. It didn’t take long for me to find out that “Candy land is in chaos..” and that Tootsie Roll, “…with its spiritless sales and slipping profits…is facing what analysts call a hard truth for the modern sweets industries: Candy makers must evolve or die.”
Holy sweets! Is it that bad, Batman, I mean Drew? (Drew Harwell is the Washington Post’s national business reporter and author of the article). I’ve been covering this industry for 14 years now and guessed I must have missed the chaos part.
As for his interpretation of Tootsie Roll’s spiritless sales and slipping profits facing an “evolve or die” ultimatum, I’m thinking that all businesses — be they in the confectionery sector or not — must adapt to a changing landscape.
Whether Tootsie Roll’s financial performance could be better is certainly a valid question, one analysts pepper ceo’s with all the time. But having interviewed the late Melvin Gordon as well as his wife, Ellen, several years ago, I certainly understood their reasoning behind a long-term, steady growth strategy versus the whims of short-term spikes. (I, like Drew, love alliteration).
During the remainder of the piece, Drew interviews several analysts who criticize the company for access, lethargy, senility and lack of acquisitions. Finally, he notes that “…demand for candy has flattened in North America, flummoxing many traditional brands. Nearly all the growth in the confectionery business has gone to splashy product launches or rebranded candy lines, leaving classic sweets behind.”
Guess I missed that trend, too. I’d better review data from Nielsen and/or IRI to see how those classic brands are faltering. And wasn’t there something earlier about evolving, which I think encompasses rebranding, new products and/or product extensions?
Oh wait, the growth in nostalgic confections, must also be a fad.
But there was one thing that I agreed with in Drew’s article. He quotes Mario Gabelli, Tootsie Roll’s biggest independent shareholder and founder of Gamco Investors, as saying he’s content with the company’s performance.
According to the article, Gabelli believes in the brand. “If she [Gordon] sells it, she sells it. She knows how to count marbles. If she doesn’t, our clients will be content to still get a little more each year.”
Ellen Gordon, together with her late husband, Melvin, built Tootsie Roll Industries into a confectionery icon patiently, strategically and smartly. Not only does Ellen know how to count marbles, she knows how to win playing the game.
So I don’t see Tootsie Roll melting away anytime soon.
And talking about melting, as in chocolate, there was that other headline Crystal caught this morning, which she passed on. This one, which appeared in Slate, read “Chocolate Experts Hate Mast Brothers.”
Personally, I didn’t think chocolate experts hated anybody. And although I haven’t had the opportunity to meet the Mast brothers personally, one of our frequent freelance contributors, Curtis Vreeland, has. They were even featured in an article in June 2013, which focused on the surge of” hipster” Brooklyn chocolatiers.
But as author Megan Giller relates, “…utter the words Mast, Brooklyn, or even beards to anyone in the chocolate industry — makers, professional tasters, and specialty shop owners — and you’ll get a ranty earful about why he or she would never recommend it.”
Last time I checked, I’m part of the chocolate industry, albeit a bit on the periphery. Hey, I even have a beard, a D’Artagnan goatee. And while I wouldn’t qualify myself as a professional taster, I have been a judge and, in general, tasted a plenty of chocolate from around the world during my time here at the magazine.
Unfortunately, I have not yet had Mast Brothers chocolate. So I can’t really dispute whether they fall in the bottom 5 percentile, which is where Clay Gordon, Discover Chocolate author, places them according to the article, or Lauren Adler, Seattle-based Chocopolis specialty store owner, who says they have a chalky texture.
I do know that the Mast Brothers, with their long beards, have become media darlings, which can make some people jealous. Most bean-to-bar chocolatiers that I have met and/or written about are genuinely passionate about their craft and more than willing to help others in the industry.
Moreover, as our news item from Taste TV and the International Chocolate Salon affirms, there are quite a few people producing good-to-fantastic chocolate out there. That, in turn, takes me to Rick Mast’s quote in the article, “We are a dangerous company because we are outsiders to the chocolate industry, never leaning on industry norms. We have achieved incredible success without paying the self-proclaimed industry chocolate experts that you have cited a penny for their ‘expertise’.”
Hey, Rick, I’ve never pictured any chocolate company as being dangerous, much less a bean-to-bar operation. Eccentric, sure. Creative, you betcha. Hard-working, most certainly. But dangerous, really?
From where I sit, the confectionery and chocolate industries are loving industries. People love our products; confectioners love making them, and we, at Candy Industry Magazine, love writing about all of the above.
Now, about that headline…