The Oprah effect: Annie B’s Popcorn and Caramels eyes expansion after celeb endorsement

By Hal Conick

- Last updated on GMT

'I think our product is a mid- to higher-end item and we’re working on packaging it as much more of a gift item,' said Annie B's owner Amanda Henke.
'I think our product is a mid- to higher-end item and we’re working on packaging it as much more of a gift item,' said Annie B's owner Amanda Henke.

Related tags Retailing Candy

Minnesota-based Annie B’s Popcorn and Caramels has expanded its product offering and hopes to grow its retail distribution after being named one of Oprah’s favorite things of 2014.

The ‘natural’ candy producer recently added a new coconut variety to its line of rolled caramels and is working on expanding its business to the coasts of the US.

Currently, Annie B’s is in all 50 states, with the Midwest being the most focused of markets. Company co-founder Amanda Henke told ConfectioneryNews the firm now aims to branch out more into the coasts of the country, and perhaps eventually into Canada and beyond.

“I think our product is a mid- to higher-end item and we’re working on packaging it as much more of a gift item,”​ Henke said. “It’s a great impulse item at the point of sale, but it’s also a great gift item. We’re working on getting it into some prettier packaging. That’s our selling point; slowly cooked caramel in copper pots with natural ingredients. It tastes like something someone might give as a gift.”

Large aspirations, small size

The brand also hopes to stay true to its traditional roots.

“The brand was sort of an impulse item at hardware stores,”​ Henke said. “We’re trying to keep that with that concept, but we’re definitely trying to show that with different packaging that [our caramels] are delicious and a really nice gift.”

annie b's coconut
Annie B's recently expanded its artisanal caramel range with a coconut flavor.

What’s next?

Although Annie B’s will stay in smaller shops, the company has certainly seen its retail presence grow. Henke said the firm used to do 95% of business in wholesale, but it’s now closer to 65%. Why? Annie B’s got an endorsement from Oprah, calling it “Oprah’s favorite gift of 2014.”

Growing the retail side is definitely an area where Henke and her husband see potential, as they have tried to update the website to allow shoppers to indulge in these caramels from the comfort of their own home.

“The interest that we saw, even just from that wonderful Oprah endorsement, I guess it didn’t occur to use to sell our caramels as gift items until then,”​ she said. “We just thought ‘Let’s just keep growing them as an impulse item,’ but that endorsement was like a light bulb. I thought ‘I guess we can content here with the higher end chocolates.’”

Annie B's roots

Henke and her husband Justin became owners of Annie B’s on the last day of 2012. She told ConfectioneryNews that at the time she was expecting a child, craved caramel and wanted to start her own caramel business. Serendipitously, the couple who ran Annie B’s since 1978 was looking to retire. From then on, they have run the show and looked to make the company’s offerings look a bit more upscale.

Small for the sake of loyalty

Annie B’s wants to remain loyal to those who have helped them get to where they are today. The No. 1 customer of the caramel company is still hardware stores, and that will continue to be true in the coming years.

Even as they grow their online retail website and have the candies featured in more gift shops, the company’s philosophy is to grow its brand within smaller shops.

“We have had such loyal mom and pop customers, I know it would upset them [if Annie B’s sold in bigger retailers],”​ Henke said. “It would upset me if I was selling these nice handcrafted caramels, then I went to Target and I saw them there ... I think it goes against our mission, mine and my husband personal philosophy. We support small businesses much as we can.”

Currently, the challenge for Annie B’s lies in the growth. But with the new coconut caramel item ready for sale, as well as the possibility of a future addition of chocolate in the coming years, Henke said she’s confident that the next many years will be fun and motivational for Annie B’s.

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