Things have quieted down quite a lot in the past week. We stopped production last Thursday for a few weeks. It will give our staff time to be with their families at home and stay safe as, hopefully, the worst of it is going to pass and we get some maintenance projects completed. It's strange how quickly everyone has adapted. When we go for a walk people automatically cross the street to make room so no comes into contact with each other. Speaking to neighbours from the curb is the new normal. The ritual of sanitizing groceries is now a way of life. People are coming together to help each other. When our online grocery order didn't go through this week (there is a week delay for an appointment in our area), a friend reached out and asked if we wanted to add on to their order that was going to processed in a couple of days. Zoom has become the new standard of keeping touch. I would never have thought that a video call could lift my spirits, but it does.
Some people are together with family, some are isolated by themselves. As Easter and Passover are coming up this week, family has been on my mind a lot. Families will have to celebrate in ways they have never had to before. These holidays will not be the same, but it doesn't mean they do not have to be any less important or celebrated. While we will compromise and adapt this year. We will do what we can. These will be the holidays that will be remembered forever. This will be the story our children tell their children. The time when the world stopped and we were not able to connect in person. A reminder, etched in our collective memory, that personal connections cannot be taken for granted.
I was responding to someone that I have known for years that sent me a nice email about my last article. She was a retail buyer that has supported our products for years and is now a broker of ours. It got me thinking about how small our industry is and how family is at the root of so much of what we do and who we are. The companies, the people, the products, it is all about family.
Many of the companies in our industry are family businesses, from our largest multi-nationals to our independent confectioners. Mars is a family business. Milton and Catherine Hershey were unable to have children. They started a school for orphans and left a large part of their wealth to it to ensure that those children were not alone, without any family.
I finally joined my family's business, on a full-time basis, 15 years ago. As part of the decision to join the company, I thought it would be good to join the team at the Sweets and Snacks Expo (it was the All Candy back then) to learn more about the industry. I remembered my parents bring back bags of candy every year when I was growing up. I was interested in seeing what the industry was all about. We got to the show to set up and our pallet of samples was brought out. It was all melted, completely destroyed. The team at home came in and worked to the middle of the night to remake what had originally taken them a month to prepare and got it shipped the following morning. There was nothing to show for the first day and a half. The booth was empty. One of our brokers happened to have one of our flower pops with her, so we put that single pop on the counter. Coming from the consumer electronics industry, I thought the show was a write-off. In that industry, everyone would have walked right by an empty booth. It would have been invisible. I was shocked when I stood there and EVERY buyer and colleague that my father knew stopped by, talked to us and made plans to get them the samples they needed after the show. It was amazing. They told me how they had known us for decades, their parents knew my father, they had bought from my father when he first started. That was the moment that sealed my fate. This industry was a family that supported each other and I was already part of that family, I just didn't know it yet. Every year at the show, I spend the time to visit people that I have known since I was a kid or who have known my parents for decades. When the show is over, we have a few beers with guys who used to be at the shows with my father. When tragedy struck one of our colleague's factories, we felt it personally. We knew what it meant to them and their staff. As businesses changed hands to the next generation, we have connected. While we are competitors, the industry has always come first. There will always be other orders, but friends are hard to find and reputations are tough to rebuild. We look out for each other.
Splendid Chocolates is a family business. My grandfather, Jacob, apprenticed in Europe and became a Master Chocolatier in the 1930's. After surviving WWII, he went through Belgium and Germany making chocolate before coming to Montreal. Jacob started Liberman's Splendid Chocolates in the 50's in Montreal and his brother later opened a store in Toronto. He made everything by hand in the back of the shop and sold it in the front. While it was exciting to see the larger scale manufacturing my father had built in the 70's, visiting my grandfather's shop was special. It was a real candy store. I loved seeing how things were made. Seeing all of the pieces lined up on baking racks. The jellies, dark chocolate covered orange peel, gianduja, coffee cream, mints, they were all my favorites! Many of you grew up the same way. This is not a unique story in our business. Your business has a story of how someone has a passion for confectionery and built a company around it.
Our staff is family. Splendid is very fortunate to have many staff who was have been with us for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and even 30 over years. They make our company what it is today. Their dedication, loyalty, commitment, creativity and desire to serve our customers is what makes Splendid strong. They are my family and I am lucky to have them. You are lucky too. You have the same thing in your company. Confectionery companies large and small are full of lifers. Your company is a family.
Many of our customers and suppliers are family. We have worked with many of them for years, even decades. Enjoyed time together at trade shows and nights out. Our businesses have grown together. There have been good times, and times, like now, that haven't been very good. Supporting each other has gotten us through it all. We have known buyers that have gone from one retailer to another or changed portfolios and then have come back. You have the same relationship with your partners. People working for decades in our industry isn't the exception, its the norm. Our industry connects to people and keeps them engaged for years. We are an industry of families.
Of course, we do all of this for the families that enjoy our products. For the kids who celebrate with holiday confectionery gifts, the new love who gift our products to each other, or the parents that just need a little break. Our products bring joy to families.
The world we are used to disappeared quickly. As quickly as it changed for worse, it can change again for the better. The world will come back. Will it be the same as before? I don't think anyone knows right now. I do know that things WILL get better. Now is the time to persevere and be resilient. This is hard. I don't know when or how it will get better, but I know that it will. When it does, we will be ready. As an industry, a family, we need to support each other now more than ever.
Independent confectioners are the cornerstone of our industry. All of the big companies started as independent confectioners. Having the breadth of selection and the creativity of entrepreneurs and their teams is what delights our consumers. They are families.
Retailers, independent confectioners needs YOUR help for Christmas 2020. A space dedicated to independent confectioners or even just a reallocation of a few POs from the multi-nationals will keep these companies strong for years to come. A PO that represents a single-digit decrease in sales for a season for the big guys is a lifeline to an independent confectioner right now. These companies are creative, adaptable and will not let you down. Will you commit to supporting independent confectioners for this Holiday season?
Brokers, collect groups of products from different independent confectioners and present a section to your retailers. Supporting small and medium-sized businesses is good business. Many of their consumers work for companies that size. The public will admire their leadership and support.
Independent Confectioners, I want to hear from you. Share your story. Tell the industry what you need. Work with us getting companies like yours supported at retail this year. Connect with me. We are in this together.
Stay Safe, Happy Holidays!
Proud Independent Confectioner
Doug Liberman is president of family-owned Splendid Chocolates. Splendid Chocolates is BRC, Organic, Gluten-Free and Kosher certified. It offers truffles, bars and molded novelty items in solid, pop, and hollow forms made with real premium quality chocolate. Products range from small truffle pieces to 2ft hollow pieces. All of our chocolate decorating is done by hand. The company's retail focus is on premium seasonal novelty items, but we also offer contract manufacturing and private label opportunities. We are a proud independent confectioner. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.