The first confectionery job Pat Huffman had more than 40 years ago was to go out into the plant, pick product samples off the line and bring them to top managers of the company. "And every place I've worked since, I've made sure that happens so we can see and understand the range of product we're making every single day," he says.
Oh, the places he's been. Huffman has worked for Grace Cocoa (now ADM), Wilbur Chocolate (now Cargill), Beich (now Nestle) and Jelly Belly Candy Co., where he was president, before joining The Warrell Corp., Camp Hill, Pa., a decade ago.
Today, as Warrell's president and chief operating officer, Huffman keeps the plant running at a steady clip all year long. The candy business is generally a seasonal affair, with 58 percent of candy sales — a projected $6.7 billion this year — clustered around Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas, according to the National Confectioner's Association. But at Warrell, outside of some specialty tins and other holiday products, business is relatively steady year-round, says Huffman, bolstered by some "counter-seasonal" production of snacks, cereal bars and other items.
Making it by the millions
The company, making fine confections since 1965, produces product under its own brands (Pennsylvania Dutch Candies and Katherine Beecher), but private label and contract manufacturing comprise the largest side of the business.
To churn out products for all manner of customers including some of the largest names in the business, the company maintains a 215,000-sq.-ft. plant in Camp Hill, which makes most products, plus a 38,000-sq.-ft. facility in York, Pa., dedicated to taffy and caramel products. The company runs eight distinct processes.
At Camp Hill, the company's chocolate enrobing operation can coat up to 17.6 million pounds per year of pretzels, cookies, peanut brittle and other goodies in chocolate as well as yogurt, caramel, peanut butter, all in regular, sugar free, low-carb and other formulations. Hot panning operations for non-chocolates have capacity for 14 million pounds per year using 16 rotating pans, or gas-fired copper kettles, which are crucial for proper sugar caramelization. A continuous brittle/crunch line, also with 14 million pounds per year capacity, mixes and blends candy with nuts, fruits and other ingredients to produce small bits through full bars.
Additionally, a batch operation produces specialties such as flaky, handmade peanut butter "pillows." Two continuous dry roasting lines handle 11 million pounds per year of peanuts and tree nuts; for that, totes of shelled nuts are dumped in, roasted, cooled and typically sent for chocolate panning, use in brittle/crunch or sold in bulk. The plant's 13-million pounds per year chocolate panning operation includes both traditional and high-capacity belt coating machines for the flexibility to apply various centers and coatings. Centers can include roasted nuts, dried fruits, pretzel balls, peanut brittle pieces, and specialty centers; coatings can be produced with multiple colors and flavors including "dusted" or "pearlized" coatings. The sugar mints operation produces up to 5 million pounds per year of butter mints, after-dinner mints and more.