MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — These days, perhaps the one constant in life that we can pretty much depend on is that things will change.
In fact, one would be hard pressed to find anything that has not changed drastically in the last 100 years. From our clothes, our cars, what we eat? Just take a trip down the candy aisle.
“You go into any store and see the array of candy from so many companies, and the brands from all those companies, it’s almost more than you can possibly take in,” said Michael Keller, president and CEO of Pearson’s Candy Company. “It just wasn’t the case a century ago, much more narrow in scope, and something like a Nut Goodie would be a pretty big innovation. This idea of a cluster bar with peanuts and chocolate mixed together over some kind of maple nougat center. I mean, what is that?”
Keller says the Nut Goodies that come off the line today, aside from the packaging, are pretty much the same as they were in 1912, when they first came out — and for good reason.
“There’s a bit of dynamic tension between wanting to change and improve because trends move forward, consumer preferences move forward, retailer interests move forward, but also you sort of have to be very aware of what brought you to the dance,” Keller said.
Keeping that delicate balance of honoring the past, and embracing change, is one of the main reasons this little Minnesota company is still duking it out with the much larger national brands after 109 years.
“It feels really good to reflect on the fact that so many of the candy bars, even one we acquired, Bit-O-Honey five years ago, have indeed stood the test of time,” he said.
But the story of how the famous Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll came to be perhaps best encapsulates the spirit of Pearson’s Candy Company.
“By 1933, height of the Depression, people are really struggling, and out Pearson’s comes with a candy bar,” he said.
During a time when a candy bar was thought of as a luxury item, the timing of the launch seemed suspect to some.
“But there was an insight that the folks at Pearson’s had back then. ‘Let’s just not come out with any candy bar, maybe this candy bar should be loaded with peanuts, just packed with peanuts, and that would be very satisfying, hunger satisfying,'” Keller said. “And so for a nickel, you could get this very satisfying candy bar, which would not just address maybe a sweet tooth, the luxury part, but maybe also more of like a need, sustenance.”
And the Salted Nut Roll gave sustenance to the Pearson’s Company, helping it weather the remaining years of the Depression.
The mighty Nut Roll will turn 85 this year, and is still their flagship product representing about 40 percent of Pearson’s sales.
And it is worth the drive by for those sweet smells that still waft from their West Seventh Street location in St. Paul.
“It is very satisfying to see these brands still rolling, and hopefully will for another hundred-and-nine years,” Keller said.