How St. Paul-based Candyland stays in the sweet spot

Twin Cities BusinessRenewed interest in retro candies — most successfully marketed by the upscale chain Dylan’s Candy Bar — has led to candy boutiques cropping up across the country in recent years. But to St. Paul-based Candyland, old-fashioned candies defy trends.

When Candyland opened in 1932 it sold popcorn exclusively, but by 1950 it had added candy to the selection. “We’ve always tried to keep the real old-fashioned candy — until they discontinue them,” says Brenda Lamb, who owns the four-store chain with her husband, Doug.

Candyland by the numbers

1932
Founded as Flavo Korn

c. 1950
Added candy and changed name to Candyland.

1981
Brenda and Doug Lamb purchase the business.

4
Locations (2 in Minneapolis, 1 each in St. Paul and Stillwater).

1,000–1,400
Square feet per store (Minneapolis’ Seventh Street largest, Minneapolis’ Eighth Street smallest).

60
Employees (fluctuates).

200–250
Types of candy stocked per store.

50/50
Popcorn-to-candy sales ratio.

$9–$11
Average sale.

Best-selling candy:
Chocolate-covered peanuts, pecan snappers, Swedish fish.

Best-selling popcorn:
Chicago mix (cheddar, caramel, and seasoned popcorn).

Selling candy has always been a volume play. But even though defunct brands continue to be brought back to market, selling candy, even at high volume, isn’t enough to sustain a mom-and-pop shop like Candyland. “The products that we buy, the candies,” Lamb says, “those are not our higher-profit items.”

The bulk of Candyland’s earnings come from popcorn. “Popcorn has always been a high-profit item,” says Lamb, who laments that rising corn prices in recent years have put the squeeze on margins. “Our raw popcorn prices tripled. Oils went up terribly. You might want to do somewhat of a price increase, but you don’t want to kill your market. So you take less profit.”

When the Lambs purchased the business in 1981, Candyland’s chocolate-covered peanuts retailed for $3.99 a pound; today they’re $10.99 a pound. The wholesale price of nuts has gone up considerably, she says, forcing them to raise prices. “You can’t still charge $3.99 a pound for something that is costing you that or more.”

Seventy-five percent of fine chocolates, fudge, and caramel products Candyland sells are made on-site daily at each location, as is the popcorn. The candy that Candyland buys is in such large quantities — 1,000 to 5,000 pounds per order — that Lamb orders directly from the manufacturers, nabbing better wholesale prices and ensuring it is fresher than that of stores that purchase from a distributor.

The chocolates and popcorn that Candyland makes also serve as the chain’s best marketing tool. “When you walk by, you smell it on the street,” says Lamb. “That pulls people in.” “It certainly isn’t a dying industry,” assures Lamb. “People like treats and sweets. They like coming into an old-fashioned candy store that makes product — it has a nostalgia to it. That’s what keeps our brick-and-mortar shops going so well.”

This article is reprinted in partnership with Twin Cities Business.

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