Elmer Candy Corporation
Elmer Candy Corporation
401 North 5th Street
P.O. Box 788
Ponchatoula, Louisiana 70454
Telephone: (985) 386-6166
Fax: (985) 386-6245
Web site: http://www.elmercandy.com
Incorporated: 1855 as Miller Candy Company
Sales: $149.30 million (2005 est.)
NAIC: 311320 Chocolate and Confectionery Manufacturing from Cacao Beans; 311330 Confectionery Manufacturing from Purchased Chocolate; 311340 Nonchocolate Confectionery Manufacturing
Elmer Candy Corporation is a leading Louisiana candy company. Best known for Easter chocolates such as the 15 million candy eggs it makes every year, Elmer’s is also the country’s second largest manufacturer of chocolates packaged in heart-shaped boxes for Valentine’s Day. Elmer’s sells candy under its own name as well as the Sweet Occasion and Guinevere Chocolatier brands.
Traditional favorite Easter egg varieties include Gold Brick, Heavenly Hash, and Pecan Eggs. The predominantly Catholic population in Southern Louisiana seems to be among the most enthusiastic customers for Easter candy. One of Elmer’s strongest markets apart from its home base is francophone Canada, the source of the Acadian exodus that brought the Cajuns south to Louisiana.
Elmer Candy Corporation dates back to a confectionary started in 1855 by Christopher Henry Miller. Its original site was at the corner of Jackson and Levee Streets in New Orleans; a later plant was leased at the corner of Magazine and Poydras.
Around 1900 the business was renamed Elmer-Miller, adding the name of Augustus Elmer, who had married into the founder’s family. It became known as the Elmer Candy Company in 1914, and was soon billing itself as “the largest candy factory in the Crescent City.”
Early products included Sun Maids, Bitter Sweets, Marguerites, Chong Sips, Lemon Drops, Honey Nougat, and Sugar Sticks. “Goodness Knows They’re Good,” proclaimed an advertisement from 1920. By this time, Elmer’s was also selling its Southland Package, a box of chocolates filled with crèmes of various Southerninspired flavors.
A couple of perennial favorites were introduced between the two world wars. The Heavenly Hash Egg, featuring marshmallow, chocolate, and almonds, debuted in 1923. Elmer’s did not invent this product, but bought the recipe from a department store. Gold Bricks followed in 1936. Resplendent in gold, blue, and white packaging, this would become Elmer’s single best-selling item. The chocolate in this confection melted at around body temperature, making it a mouth-watering sensation; it also had pecans in it. Billed as “the candy bar with a million dollar taste,” Gold Bricks were priced well above other candy bars, at five cents for a oneounce bar.
NEW OWNERSHIP IN 1963
Chicago native Roy Nelson acquired the company in 1963. It was subsequently relocated from New Orleans, which was undergoing a period of urban renewal, to the strawberry farming community of Ponchatoula, Louisiana, 45 miles away.
Elmer’s products had been distributed in other states for decades, but refrigeration was changing the structure of the candy industry, allowing large, national producers to penetrate Elmer’s sultry southern home territory with large quantities of inexpensive chocolates. Confronted with such competition, in the 1970s management decided to focus the company on the seasonal market, making items for the Christmas, Easter, and Valentine’s Day holidays. In the process, Elmer eventually dropped regional snack favorites such as the Chee-Weez cheese curls, Mint Bublets, and Coconut Haystacks.
DOMINANT IN NEW ORLEANS
Elmer’s still dominated Easter candy sales in the New Orleans and Mobile area at the beginning of the new century. Its Gold Brick and Heavenly Hash were the two most popular Easter candy items in the region, outselling national brands by a two-to-one margin. Elmer’s Pecan Eggs six-pack rounded out the top three. Elmer’s newer products such as Peanut Butter Eggs and the chocolate covered, peanut and caramel filled Eggceptionals were gaining rapidly.
The company offered about a dozen different types of Easter candy. While the chocolate bunny signified Easter for many in the United States, Louisianans were among the country’s most voracious consumers of candy eggs, and Elmer’s was making 15 million of them a year.
When Easter fell later in the year, as in 2000, sales were even sweeter. More time between Valentine’s Day and Easter allowed the appetite for candy to recover. The timing of Valentine’s Day also affected sales; if it fell on a weekday, shoppers were more likely to pick up a box of chocolates on the way home from work. Elmer Candy was considered America’s second largest manufacturer of chocolates packaged in heart-shaped boxes for Valentine’s Day—it sold up to 40 million of these a year. Elmer’s also cooked up a sweet new idea for Valentine’s Day: customized candy hearts. Customers could specify their own witty two-word sayings via a web site order form.
KEEPING UP WITH TECHNOLOGY AND MARKETING
Elmer’s has upgraded its manufacturing technology over the years. In 1993 the company spent $2 million on a refrigerated, 55,000-square-foot addition to its Ponchatoula facility. Another 30,000 square feet of temperature and humidity controlled storage was added four years later, bringing the facility to about 280,000 square feet.
In 2003, the plant was expanded for the third time in ten years, adding a 75,000-square-foot refrigerated warehouse and distribution center next to its main plant. It cost $4 million, financed by a $4 million state bond. This upgrade added more cooler space as well as more efficient production equipment allowing the company to raise production 50 percent, to 150,000 pounds of chocolate per day.
Though firmly rooted in nostalgia and tradition, Elmer’s has attempted to update its marketing message to keep pace with changing times. In the late 1990s, it made candy inspired by the “Animaniacs” cartoon series. A 2004 campaign using hip-hop slang implored parents to “make it Gold Brizzle fo’ shizzle” (translated as “Gold Brick for sure”).
Elmer’s, the oldest family-owned chocolate company in the United States and a leading manufacturer of quality chocolates for seasonal sales. Since 1855, Elmer’s has been a Southern holiday tradition. Through the years, Elmer’s has remained committed to making quality chocolates while embracing new cooking techniques, manufacturing innovations and marketing strategies. Today, Elmer’s products brighten millions of “Sweet Occasions” across the country.
While some of the candy-making process had been automated, certain steps, such as perching fresh Louisiana pecans atop marshmallow-filled chocolate eggs, still had to be done by hand. The company’s success made keeping up with demand a challenge, particularly finding inexpensive labor. Elmer’s had slightly fewer than 300 full-time employees; for about 100 other jobs it needed temporary help which it paid less than $6 an hour. The company said it received few applications for these positions from within the U.S., so after attempting to meet its need with local temporary help it began to hire Mexican migrant workers in 2003. However, available H-2B foreign-worker visas were usually gone before the August peak when the company began gearing up for Christmas. Other Louisiana industries, such as the sugar refineries that Elmer’s relied upon, were also vitally interested in maintaining a supply of seasonal foreign workers, and lobbied Congress for changes to the legislation governing the H-2B program. An emergency bill temporarily extended the number of visas available in 2005.
The company’s 150th anniversary year, 2005, began as a good one. Elmer’s made 17 million Easter candies, a new record. However, a few months later, Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana’s sugar fields and shut down the company’s main sucrose source, the Domino refinery in Chalmette, for three months. The storm also complicated distribution of the finished product by spreading Elmer’s most loyal buyers across the country.
The Nelson family still owned and operated the business. After the death of Roy Nelson in 2006, the company was led by Robert Nelson, who had earlier told the Baton Rouge Advocate he had worked “every position in the entire plant,” including housekeeping and loading trucks, since originally joining the company in 1983.
Frederick C. Ingram
Big Easy Chocolate, Inc.; Cadbury Schweppes plc; The Hershey Company; Mars Inc.; Nestlé S.A.; Russell Stover Candies Inc.
- Christopher Henry Miller starts candy company in New Orleans.
- Business renamed Elmer Candy Company.
- Heavenly Hash Egg introduced.
- Best-selling Gold Bricks introduced.
- Chicago entrepreneur Roy Nelson acquires the company.
- Elmer’s relocates 45 miles from downtown New Orleans to Ponchatoula, Louisiana.
- Ponchatoula plant expanded with 55,000 square foot addition.
- Another 30,000 square feet of temperature controlled storage added.
- Ponchatoula plant is expanded for third time in 10 years, to close to 350,000 square feet.
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