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Michael Keller, new CEO/president of Pearson Candy Co., is celebrating the past -- including the beloved Nut Goodie's 100th "birthday" -- while planning for the St. Paul confectioner's future.
Keller joined Pearson in August after 10 years at Edina-based International Dairy Queen, where he had most recently been chief brand officer. His previous experience includes executive positions at Baskin Robbins and Nestlé, where he worked on the Butterfinger and 100 Grand brands.
His plans for the 103-year-old Pearson include updated packaging for the Nut Goodie, Salted Nut Roll and other Pearson treats, possible new products, and efforts to expand sales throughout North America.
This year's Nut Goodie's festivities might include the chance to tour the Pearson factory, Keller said. The idea comes from the enthusiastic response of those who have gotten a glimpse inside the plant, including his children, ages 12, 10 and 7. "Whether you're an adult or a child, you're blown away by watching this factory work. There's magic there," he said.
Keller attributes part of the excitement around Pearson to its acquisition last summer by Brynwood Partners, a private equity firm in Greenwich, Conn. The firm is investing in new equipment that will enable the company to make new products.
QWhat appealed to you about the Pearson's opportunity?
AIts long history, its brand equity and what appears to be tremendous growth potential. You look at a company that is well-liked and well-regarded by the consumer, by the community and by the retail trade. Then you look at an opportunity where investment can occur to drive growth, and it becomes very exciting to take a company like this ... and give everyone the opportunity to enjoy a growth story associated with a great brand.
QHow often do you sample a product?
AI'm a struggling triathlete, but that hasn't stopped me from enjoying Pearson's products every day. I will say, and you can certainly quote me on this: There may not be a better candy experience than eating a Salted Nut Roll as it comes off our line, where the peanuts are still slightly warm and the caramel is still slightly soft and the nougat is still soft.
QNut Goodie or Blizzard?
AAs much as I love Blizzards, [at Dairy Queen] I had the chance to eat a Blizzard every day for 10 years and I'm only [a few] months into eating Salted Nut Rolls every day. So I'd probably have to defer to the fresh Salted Nut Roll. What I'd really love to see, of course, is Pearson's products in a Blizzard.