How sweet it is: Family expanding candy company
Doug Simons can do the math. While hundreds of thousands of people taste the almond toffee and other confections his Grand Junction company manufactures in a given year, that number remains a slim fraction of a potential market counted in the hundreds of millions.
So it only makes sense to the president and co-owner of Enstrom Candies to put more products on store shelves and acquaint more customers with those products.
That’s not to mention other benefits to a more pronounced push into wholesale markets, Simons says: bringing balance to what’s long been a seasonal operation and using equipment and staff more efficiently.
And as the fourth generation of the family that launched Enstrom Candies more than 50 years ago joins in the business, the effort constitutes the next logical step in the evolution of what started out as a small candy kitchen into what Simons envisions as a national candy aisle company. “We’re ready to take it to the next level. It’s really rewarding to see.”
Enstrom Candies recently expanded the line of products it sells on a wholesale basis, offering three new varieties of toffees in what Simons describes as “shop with your eyes” packaging. The line includes the company’s original almond toffee, but also butter toffee, espresso bean toffee and peanut toffee.
The toffees come in a coating of either milk or dark chocolate and individually wrapped as 0.75-ounce singles and 1.25-ounce bars or packaged in 8-ounce boxes of what are called “Petites.”
While Enstrom Candies has increased its presence in the wholesale market since 2011, the products are the first specifically designed and packaged for the market, Simons says.
The move constitutes the end result of a confluence of developments, he says. “It all kind of came together.”
While Enstrom continues to make its original almond toffee by hand in small batches using copper kettles and water-cooled tables, automated equipment allows for the continuous production of the new toffee products at 1,200 pounds an hour, Simons says. That enables the company to increase capacity to supply a national market.
As a perishable dairy confection that’s broken into pieces, the original toffee is shipped frozen and must remain refrigerated. But the new toffee products are automatically cut, enrobed in chocolate and individually packaged, making them stable at room temperature and allowing for display without refrigeration, he says.
The expansion into wholesale markets also comes as a fourth generation of the family that launched Enstrom candies joins in the business.
Doug and Jamee Simons joined Enstrom Candies in 1979 and purchased the business in 1993 from Jamee’s parents, Emil and Mary Enstrom. Jamee is the granddaughter of Chet and Vernie Enstrom, who founded the company in 1960.
Doug and Jamee Simons’ sons — Doug Jr. and Jim — also have joined in the operation.
Doug and Jamee Simons have hired a national sales manager for wholesale products. The company is working with distributors as well directly with national chains in placing products on shelves. The new products already are available at retail outlets Enstrom Candies operates in the Grand Valley, Arvada and Denver.
Enstrom Candies also is working on manufacturing products for stores packaged in their private labels as well as selling toffee as an ingredient in other foods.
The Simons also hope to one day bring their specialty ice creams to the wholesale market as well.
While the Simons have no intention of changing the mail-order and Internet business upon which their company traditionally has depended for up to 80 percent of sales, they hope to add to that operation with their wholesale products. The efforts already have helped to bolster growth and more efficiently use equipment and staffing, Doug Simons says.
If the wholesale operation expands as expected, additional staffing and shifts will be needed at the manufacturing facility in downtown Grand Junction. Eventually, a larger facility could be needed as well, he says.
Even as the wholesale operation affords opportunities for substantial growth, the change also presents challenges.
“It’s been a steep learning curve,” says Doug Simons.
Jamee Simons describes it this way: “It’s like starting a new business.”
It’s not only a matter of selling new products in new places to new customers, but also managing inventories and maintaining supply chains for just in time delivery, they say. That’s not to mention the laboratory analysis, manufacturing practices and third-party audits that assure consistently high-quality and safe products. “At the end of the day, we’re a food producer,” Doug Simons says.
Of course, the competition for shelf space in retail stores remains fierce, he adds.
But Simons can do the math, and he expects the wholesale operation to better position Enstrom Candies for continued growth. “All in all, it just makes us a better company.”
For more information about Enstrom Candies and its products, visit the website at www.enstrom.com