Could good old Pearson Candy Co. really be cooking up ghost-chili chocolate squares or banana-bourbon ganache?
Pearson’s, known for harnessing nostalgia with its old-timey candies, will soon stray from its Americana image with a new brand of creative, trendy chocolates.
The brand will be named 7th Street Confections after the commercial corridor that runs parallel to the Mississippi River in St. Paul, home to Pearson’s since the 1950s.
“This new brand that is coming will allow Pearson’s to grow in multiple directions,” Michael Keller, chief executive of Pearson’s, said in an interview. “It’s an umbrella brand that gives us the ability to do all sorts of trend-relevant, fun products that would not naturally fit under our Bit-O-Honey, Nut Goodie or Salted Nut Roll brands.”
Keller is not yet revealing too many details about the product mix in the new brand, but he said consumers shouldn’t expect one particular type of chocolate.
7th Street Confections could produce savory products, like chocolate with hot peppers or bacon, or snacking chocolate mixed with nuts or pretzels, or super indulgent treats that are “outrageous,” Keller said.
“Those crazy things wouldn’t be all that easy to work into Bit-O-Honey,” Keller said. “The cool and interesting part of what is happening out of the confection space right now is it’s of many minds.”
He said the new brand will be difficult to pigeonhole. “Some of the first things out the door might look one way and the next thing might look very different from that,” Keller said.
It will be the first new candy launch for Pearson’s since 1933. The company has built its reputation on the backs of its two original candies: Salted Nut Roll and Nut Goodies. Over its 107-year history, the company — through acquisitions — has added several products, like its Mint Patties, and discontinued others, like Seven Up Bar.
Pearson’s, which employs just over 200 people at its headquarters, is not a large player in candy, but it has strong brand recognition.
“It’s not like we are the only people in the world doing this, but we just don’t have a lot of layers of bureaucracy we have to go through,” Keller said. “Fortunately for a small company, it’s a pretty nimble process.”
Pearson’s was founded in Minneapolis in 1909 and moved to St. Paul in 1950.
Under private-equity owners who took control in 2011 and brought in new leadership, the company has undergone some changes. It introduced fun-size versions of its products, and in 2013 it acquired Bit-O-Honey from candy-making giant Nestlé. Pearson’s has since boosted Bit-O-Honey’s sales by about 65 percent. Pearson’s executives see 7th Street Confections as key to long-term growth.
Mary Leonard, owner of Chocolat Celeste in St. Paul, grew up with Pearson’s candies. Her mother’s beauty salon on W. 7th Street used to buzz with clients who worked at Pearson’s.
“I’m 62 and I’ve been eating Pearson’s my whole life,” said the high-end chocolatier.
While the Salted Nut Roll is still her “go-to candy bar,” she thinks forming a more innovation-focused brand is a wise move. “I think it’s perfect,” Leonard said. “I think that it is looked at as a very old-fashioned company.”
Pearson’s is still developing plans for the rollout of 7th Street Confections, Keller said. It may release a new product regionally in some cases and nationally in others. “It takes 12 to 24 months to establish a new packaged good in the packaged goods industry,” Keller said. “It’s hard to predict.”