Of Skittles and Candy Corn
West suburban candy makers on a quest to make this Halloween even sweeter
Despite the ever-earlier retail décor of red and green, it’s not even Halloween yet. And that’s a key day for national candy companies with west suburban roots.
The clock-towered Wrigley Building has reigned at the north end of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue bridge since 1921. But Wrigley — now a division of Mars, Inc. — has been making candy in a modern bright-blue-and-white Yorkville factory since 1994. Just last year, the plant completed a “$50 million, 145,000-sq-ft expansion, which included the addition of 75 new, full-time jobs,” says Factory Director Brian Pardo of Naperville.
This “fruity” growth was prompted by the need to produce more Skittles, the country’s #1 non-chocolate confection and a Halloween staple.
But nothing is more popular on trick-or-treat day than candy corn. Seventy-seven percent of buyers choose Ferrara’s Brach’s brand, said Brandon Sagotz, senior manager of customer marketing and trade relations. That’s the highest loyalty rate for any non-chocolate candy and has made Ferrara the largest maker of candy corn in the country.
While candy corn is made in Mexico, Ferrara Candy factories in Forest Park and Bellwood manufacture gummies, Lemonheads, chocolate-covered raisins, Chuckles and more. Ferrara boasts an “anchor brand” for each season. Besides Halloween candy corn, there’s Bob’s candy canes for Christmas, Conversation Hearts for Valentine’s Day and Brach’s jelly beans for Easter. Reaching out to local candy lovers, Ferrara recently re-opened its Forest Park factory store, filled with bulk and packaged treats. And to share the sweetness, the company sponsors Brookfield’s “Boo at the Zoo” trick-or-treat event each year.
Our farther-west sugary treat is popular year-round. Skittles originated in the UK in 1963, and were originally called Glees. In 1974, Galaxy Candies’ Skittles Fruit Chews were first exported to the U.S.
They were designed to be a fruit version of M&Ms.
In Yorkville, Micah Bosley of Oswego is the key point person in charge of a team that produces Skittles literally 24/7, with two night and two day shifts.
It all starts in the kitchen, where ingredients are combined in five large mixers to create the signature five flavors. Every Skittle goes through a “panning” process to add its color, which takes a lot longer than your average baked dessert — four to six hours.
From the mixing station, groups of pieces of each color travel on a conveyor belt to the panning station, where the many separate colors combine to become the well-advertised “rainbow.” In fact, Skittles’ tag line, “Taste the Rainbow,” is celebrated throughout the factory with ceiling beams painted each of Skittles’ five colors as well as a mural with the Skittles logo that says, “Make the Rainbow.”
Next, Skittles are pushed through tubes into a packaging machine based on pack size. According to Mars’ candy gurus, every bag of Skittles has 371,292 potential flavor and color combinations.
Before the Yorkville expansion, American Skittles were manufactured only in Waco, Texas, where Starburst and Snickers are produced. Yorkville’s plant also makes Life Savers candies, as well as Doublemint and Juicy Fruit gum.
The Yorkville team is breathing a small sigh of relief as their busiest season winds down a bit. During late summer they geared up for the Halloween demand of fun-size Skittles and the year-old Skittles Cauldron — Halloween-themed Skittles with names like Bogey Berry and Lurking Lemon.
The plant kicked off a new product this fall: Skittles Trick Plays, a special NFL edition. The football-field decorated bags are filled with Skittles which are incognito — the colors on the outside don’t necessarily match the flavors inside.
So in the Trick or Treat spirit … some trivia: Though known in these parts as Ferrara Pan, Ferrara Candy Company is now the firm’s official name. “Pan” comes from the panning process through which many of its candies are made.
Out in Yorkville, the question most people ask Pardo and Bosley is: “Do you get to eat all the Skittles that you want?” The answer? Yum. (That’s yes in candy-land.)Edit Module