The president of Sanders Candy, Ron Rapson, caught up with ConfectioneryNews on the firm's 2016 business strategies, as how it will overcome the difficulty of keeping up with growth the company has seen in recent years.
Tell me about your company’s latest products.
RR - We’re quite well known for our kettle-cooked caramel and recently introduced our new Caramel Mini Bites and Three Piece Collection Caramels to celebrate our famous caramel. These items are extensions of our popular sea salt caramels that took the industry by storm when they were introduced a few years ago. In the next couple months, we’ll also be introducing several new unique ice cream flavors to the market.
Which are your bestselling brands?
RR - While we do maintain a few key private label partnerships and produce Morley Fundraising items for sale throughout our national fundraising distribution network, Sanders is the only brand we offer for retail. The Sanders brand got its start in Detroit back in 1875 and can now be found in retail outlets throughout the entire world. Iconic items like Hot Fudge Dessert Topping and Bumpy Cake have been around for more than 100 years and still remain some of our most popular products today. Then there are new items like our sea salt caramels that now also top our list of bestselling items.
What’s currently in your development pipeline?
RR - Small batch, fine chocolates with unique characteristics are definitely on this rise. Adults have become much more discriminatory about what they eat. People are looking for better ingredients and retailers are demanding them. We never stopped making our candies the old-fashioned way which involves less processing, and the use of more real ingredients. Our partners can expect us to continue striving for clean ingredient decks.
Who are your key competitors? How will you compete with multinationals confectioners like Hershey?
RR - It’s difficult to pinpoint a main competitor. There are other chocolate companies, other ice cream makers and other baked goods suppliers. However, very few companies can offer all of these items under one brand as we do. We like to believe our capabilities and product lines separate us from other companies. We truly make work easy for buyers and category managers because they are able to have only one point of contact for multiple product lines.
As a manufacturer of single-batch, handcrafted chocolates, we stand in a category different than those larger companies that mass produce items without the personal touch of a human. Consumers seeking a product like ours understand and appreciate the fact that we use real, high quality ingredients to deliver an exceptional product they are proud to share with others. We remain competitive by paying close attention to what shoppers are seeking, and then delivering on those wishes.
Are there any particular challenges your company is facing right now?
RR - Ours is actually quite a good challenge to have. The biggest problems we face are related to keeping up with the growth we’ve seen in recent years. We’re still in the process of improving internal efficiencies to better serve our customers during this time of growth. In just the last year-and-a-half we’ve enhanced internal operations by launching our new Plex Systems cloud based ERP software, upgrading our telephone system, adding a new equipment to double our production capacity and hiring several new key employees.
What are your main distribution channels?
RR - We are lucky to operate in various arenas. Most of our business comes from wholesale accounts, but we also have our own retail shops in Michigan and our ecommerce sales are rapidly growing. We also work with specialty outlets including hotels, airlines and food service outlets. With us offering so many different types of confectionery items, we have products that meet the needs of many different types of companies.
Where are your export markets?
RR - We are able to ship all over the world through our website, SandersCandy.com. Our product is also sold at select retail stores in Europe.
Are there any white spaces or missed opportunities for your company?
RR - We still have tons of opportunity both in the United States and overseas. Many former Detroit residents have left the area and moved to other places. Each time these ex-Michiganders share our product with new friends, it gives us another opportunity to move into a new market as demand increases for Sanders products.
How’s the Midwestern market different from the rest of the country?
RR - The Midwestern market definitely is most familiar with the Sanders brand, but we have found that most of the shoppers’ wants and needs related to confections are not extremely different throughout the country. When most people decide to indulge, they just want to indulge in a product that is worth it – meaning they want something that not only tastes better, but is made better. No matter if we’re talking to someone from Michigan, Florida or Arizona, they usually say they’re looking for real ingredients and consistent quality at a reasonable value.
Can you tell me about your company’s strategic priorities this year?
RR - We’ve been in business for more than 140 years by staying ahead of industry trends and utilizing our most valuable resources – the people who work at our company. Our primary strategy for 2016 is to continue recognizing our strengths and capitalizing on them in every area of the business – product development, production, distribution, and customer service, etc.
In addition to increasing the number of items offered through our current retail partners, we also keep our eyes on potential future partners to help us further grow business and increase product presence throughout the country, and world.
What’s the biggest upcoming trend you see in the confectionery market?
RR - Consumers have realized candy is not evil and it is okay to enjoy in moderation. In many cases, chocolate is now seen as an adult indulgence to enjoy with fine wines and craft beer. Education about what makes gourmet chocolates different from everyday candies found in checkout aisles will continue to become more important to help people to make better decisions about the treats they choose to enjoy.