Pearson Candy Co. is embarking on its largest job expansion in years as it prepares to move production of Bit-O-Honey, the sticky honey chew it bought from Nestlé earlier this year, to its main plant in St. Paul.
The company will hold a job fair Thursday to start the process of hiring 35 to 40 people to work on Bit-O-Honey when production launches in St. Paul next February or March. With the new jobs, Pearson's employment is expected to jump from about 160 to 200.
Pearson, which is owned by Brynwood Partners, a Connecticut private equity firm, is nearing terms with state economic development officials on a forgivable loan that would help transfer the Bit-O-Honey operation from a Nestlé plant in Bloomington, Ill. The exact size of the loan is still to be determined and is based in part on the number of full-time jobs the company will create in Minnesota, Pearson CEO Michael Keller said Monday.
"There is a pretty significant expense in both readying the plant site as well as physically moving and installing equipment," Keller said. "The forgivable loan will help finance the move and the reconstruction and it is a contributing factor for us."
Pearson hasn't disclosed how it is paying for the Bit-O-Honey assets from Nestlé, one of the largest makers of processed foods in the world. But the purchase is one of the most significant in a series of steps Pearson, known for its Salted Nut Roll, Mint Patties and Nut Goodies, has made since it was acquired by Brynwood in 2011.
Pearson has added about 10 jobs since Brynwood took over, created several new versions of its Nut Goodie and Bun chocolate treats and added equipment to make bite-sized versions of its candies. The company is looking at other ways to grow, including acquisitions, and just last week launched a retro-looking website that illustrates a common trait in its products — their decades-long appeal — and underscores the firm's strategic direction.
For now, Keller said, Bit-O-Honey is "a really nice fit in our portfolio and adds another high quality, well-known nostalgic confection."
A Chicago candy company created Bit-O-Honey in 1924 but it has been owned since 1984 by Nestlé, where it was a niche product in a sprawling portfolio of candies ranging from Aero bubble-filled chocolates to Wonka treats.