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Andrew Schuman / photos Jonathan Castner

Hammond’s Candies

by Eric Peterson on December 16, 2014, 09:45 am MST

www.hammondscandies.com

Denver

Founded: 1920

Privately owned

Employees: 300 (200 in Colorado)

President and CEO Andrew Schuman has led a charge towards efficiency, new products and better branding and merchandising. As they say, success is sweet.

Carl Hammond started making candy in Denver in 1920. He came up with the Mitchell Sweet, a caramel-coated marshmallow named for a friend, in the 1930s and it soon became the flagship candy at Hammond's -- and it still is today.

Schuman led a group that bought the company in 2007 after selling off a photofinishing business and double sales in four years. He says his background in specialty retail "was really helpful with the transition” to Hammond's. "I felt I could really understand our customer," he explains.

The staff grew from 60 employees at the time of the acquisition to 300 today, 100 of whom are in Virginia at Old Dominion Peanut Company, acquired by Hammond's in early 2013.

After growing at 20-percent clip for several years, Hammond's grew sales by about 16 percent in 2014. "We're still growing and we're growing fast," says Schuman. "But now it's manageable."

Since Schuman took over, branding and merchandising have been key areas of improvement.

Before 2006, "We didn't have anything that could go into high-traffic retail," he says. The company developed a number of point-of-sale displays and worked to unify a "fragmented” brand.

And Schuman has pushed the newly unified brand into new categories like candy bars, which it manufactures with a partner in California, while adding caramel corn and cotton candy to an in-house selection that includes a wide range of hard candy, taffy, and chocolates.

Retailers now include Whole Foods, Target, World Market, and others, and the company also has a retail store at its factory that sees 100,000 people go through on tours every year. (As many as 20 percent of those visitors come to the Candy Cane Festival in December.) About 80 percent of sales are domestic, and Canada is easily the company's second biggest market.

Hammond's also produces private-label candies for customers like Williams-Sonoma. ”We listen to our customers and try to produce unique things for them that we don't for any other customers," says Schuman. For Williams-Sonoma, Hammond's makes a chocolate-dipped peppermint stick, and it reworked its packaging for Target, a new account as of 2014.

But as much as things change, they also stay the same. Hammond's still uses a lot of the same copper kettles and other candy-making equipment its cooks worked with in the early days, and many of the company's machines were made in the 1800s. Every piece of candy is made and packaged by hand.

There's not much staff turnover either. "Our core group of cooks had been here 10-plus years," says Schuman. "This is truly an art and a a trade and you have to learn from someone who knows it."

And, with 300 different candy recipes to learn, new cooks can't learn everything overnight. Apprentices work at Hammond's for two full years before any of their handiwork leaves the factory floor -- their candy is melted back down and recycled into the cooks' creations.

"It all goes back to Carl and his team," says Schuman. And there's a direct line to Carl -- Emery Dorsey, his great-grandson-in-law, leads product development.

While candy-making methods haven't changed much at Hammond's in its nine decades in business, that doesn't mean the company isn't innovative.

"Innovating for us is taking our chocolate-filled candy cane and creating a marshmallow-filled candy cane," says Schuman of a new candy cane with a miniature Mitchell Sweet at its core. "That's innovation at Hammond's."

All that candy requires a lot of sugar -- about 2,500 pounds a day, plus a tank that holds 30,000 pounds of corn syrup that can be refilled twice a month during peak holiday season -- and about 90 percent of ingredients are sourced from local suppliers.

Challenges: "We always have challenges with our employees," says Schuman, "keeping them happy and making hard decisions to keep the right ones."

Another one: The changing retail landscape. Schuman says the move from brick-and-mortar and specialty stores to e-commerce and mass-market retailers is just getting started, and Hammond's needs to continue to change and evolve with the times.

Opportunities: New products and acquisitions. "It's important for a business like ours to have new products every year," says Schuman, noting that Hammond's has a new, yet-to-be-named snacks brand set for launch at the spring 2015 Sweets & Snacks Show in Chicago. Nut clusters of cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds and pistachios will be one of the first products.

Needs: "A higher-level management team, which we're building right now," says Schuman. "Excellent management is always a big need." Packaging equipment is another area of need, he adds.

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