Pearson's Candy Company Tour

For the first time in nearly 40 years, Saint Paul’s own Pearson’s Candy Company has opened its doors for tours of its factory this week and next. Some lucky folks found winning codes inside Pearson’s Nut Goodie wrappers while others won tours through silent auctions that were part of the company’s “Do Goodie” charity program benefitting its non-profit partners—the Ronald McDonald House of the Upper Midwest, BestPrep, and Pacer Center. All tours are filled, except for one remaining through an online bid at Cities 97—and it ends today, Wednesday, April 10, so hurry if you want to get in on it!

The remaining tour of Pearson’s Candy Factory on April 17 is for four people, so you can bring along some family or friends—or kids! You’ll get to sample treats along the way, plus winners take home 100 pounds of Nut Goodie bars (which equates to 914 bars!) to celebrate Nut Goodie’s 100th Birthday! All of the proceeds of this auction will go toward Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Upper Midwest. Visit Cities 97 to bid and catch a glimpse of a tour.

I had the opportunity to tag along on the first tour April 8. Pearson’s CEO and president, Michael Keller, who went a little “Willy Wonka” for the occasion, sporting a green blazer atop a red shirt, brown vest, and white tie (to reflect the colors of their iconic Nut Goodie wrapping), led us on the tour. After we donned our hairnets, the tour started at the center of it all—the second floor where the centers for the Salted Nut Roll, Mint Patties, Nut Goodie, and others are created. Greeted with the scent of mint amid the churning machinery, we checked out the inner workings, saw a giant bubbling bath of soon-to-be caramel brewing (they make 128,000 pounds of caramel a month!), and marshmallow twisting and turning. We then got to sample the marshmallow as well as the fresh caramel on its way to becoming part of Salted Nut Rolls. As the peanuts for these candy bars passed along a conveyor belt, a woman carefully scanned the lot, removing any undesirable nuts. After a whiff of the flavorings—peppermint oil and vanilla and maple flavoring—we headed down to the production floor.

mint pattiesThe candy magic comes together on the production floor as the nougat centers for Salted Nut Rolls land atop a bed of peanuts and get a dousing of caramel before being rolled and cut. I enjoyed a sample of this delicious combination of salty and sweet fresh off the line. Across the aisle, Mint Patties received their fresh coating of dark chocolate, made their way into little silver foil wrappers, and still cool from the line; we enjoyed a sample. (If lined up end to end, the number of Mint Patties produced in one day would stretch 19 miles!)

We stepped into the 111-degree sauna of a room that houses the chocolate (sampled, of course), saw workers busily at task in the in-house machine shop; Nut Goodies, Salted Nut Rolls, Mint Patties, and Bun Bars were wrapped in their packaging, boxed or bagged, and whisked to boxes and the storage room, which houses 10,000 cases—which will all be shipped out within about two weeks and replaced by a new supply.

We sampled new products—an Almond Nut Roll (releasing for a limited time this spring), a Peanut Butter Nut Roll (coming out this May or June), and a Butter Toffee Salted Nut Roll and chocolate-covered marshmallow elf releasing before the holidays. They are also looking at some marshmallow body parts for Halloween, noted Keller—perhaps “slime green.”

Pearson’s Candy Company was founded in 1909 by P. Edward Pearson and his brothers, and in August 2011, Pearson’s was acquired by the Connecticut-based investment firm of Brynwood Partners. Today, the company employs 110 workers in the plant as well as 40 other staff. Keller said that while they are exploring options to expand, they plan to do so at their current location on West Seventh in St. Paul.

The company receives many requests for tours, and while this is a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of the magic inside, perhaps there will be more in the future. They’re looking at the feasibility. Hopefully there will be more “golden tickets” to be won.

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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.