Candy Manufacturers Add Health, Sustainability to Production Operations

Buoyed by a wave of steady growth, North American confectioners are lowering operating costs and climbing aboard the healthy-eating bandwagon.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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Information management

High-speed machines and automation isn't a priority for every confectioner. Labor-intense processes are part and parcel of operations at many boutique companies that rely on "the mystique and old-timey charm of chocolate, to justify premium prices," as Penn State's Ziegler puts it. Bloomer Candy Co. in Zanesville, Ohio, exemplifies this segment.

Actually, Bloomer began repositioning itself to be part of the old-timey, new age wave of chocolatiers a few years ago, when new ownership came on board. Dark chocolate was added to the product line, and sugar-free candies and all-natural ingredients were formulated to tap into consumer trends. A modern necessity management couldn't ignore was an enterprise resource planning system update to give the firm the quality management, traceability and audit records needed to operate in today's business environment. Last year, Bloomer scrapped its legacy ERP and converted to the Tropos ERP platform.

Dismissing the legacy ERP as "a glorified bookkeeping machine (that) needed to be replaced," Bloomer controller Michael Montgomery indicates the firm lacked track-and-trace ability before the conversion. That shortcoming, along with the need for better HACCP record-keeping and a desire to move to electronic quality tracking, dictated the selection of software designed specifically for food production and distribution.

Besides its own products, Bloomer copacks other manufacturers' candies in a rebagging operation. Visibility to all aspects of receiving, inventory and production was lacking, according to Tom Muth, a senior manager with Epicor Software Corp., the Dublin, Calif., owner of the Tropos solution. The migration, which also involved an electronic data interchange system, took about eight months and gave Bloomer job-costing capabilities.

"Job costing was a huge improvement," says Muth. "That kind of visibility was important to them."

Production isn't supported with a supervisory control and data acquisition system, but staffers now scan codes and access checklists with mobile devices and use touchscreens that are "almost an HMI" for data entry, Muth adds. The staff "has a better understanding of the whole process," says Montgomery. "Tropos has inspired employees to learn all facets of the organization beyond their job-specific duties."

A more involved and knowledgeable staff is an intangible asset that will acquire magnified importance. Ownership is in discussions for a possible sale, raising the importance of engaged workers for business continuity.

Should Bloomer be acquired by another confectioner, the organization will follow a consolidation path tread by thousands of other candy companies. A handful of firms have come to dominate the segment, although approximately 1,500 companies continue to feed America's sweet tooth. If product innovation and segment sales continue to grow, U.S. confectioners should thrive.

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