810 Main Street, (1927-1963)
This is the original factory of the James O. Welch Company, founded in 1927 and makers of Junior Mints, Sugar Daddies, Sugar Mamas and Sugar Babies, among other candies. It is the last local factory still in operation, but it is no longer locally or independently owned. The company was bought by Nabisco in 1963, and James Welch acted as director for Nabisco until 1978 where later his son would act as president. The Welch brands were then sold to Warner Lambert in 1988 and finally to Tootsie Roll Industries in 1993. Tootsie Roll still produces more than 15 million Junior Mints a day, all from this location. Tootsie also bought out the Fox Cross company, the first stop on our tour, and continues to make Charleston Chews.
An interesting side note, James Welch’s brother Robert owned the Oxford Candy Company, a rival local confectionery that did not survive the depression. Robert moved to his brother’s business and stayed at the James O. Welch Company until 1956. When he left the candy business, Robert thought it natural to segue into radical politics. In 1958 he co-founded the John Birch Society, an advocacy group that supports anti-communism, limited government, a Constitutional Republic and personal freedom.
Anyway, my original plan was to arrange a factory tour or even a guest speaker from the plant, but that was something the company was unwilling to do. Major candy manufacturers, particularly the big three of Nestle, Hershey and Mars, are notoriously secretive, like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which Roald Dahl actually based on the exploits of the Cadburys and the Rowntrees, who routinely sent moles to spy on one another’s operations.
There are a couple of reasons that espionage remains such a big anxiety in the candy industry:
- You cannot patent a chocolate bar or piece of candy, you can patent a name and a wrapper and logo, but the recipes and ingredients are fair game, making it possible for a competitor to sell a copycat of your product.
- Additionally, the staple ingredients of most candies are quite similar, meaning the vital data resides in manufacturing processes.