Kirk Vashaw, CEO and president, was the featured speaker at the northwest Ohio ag breakfast event. Click here for more about his talk.
BRYAN, Ohio — There’s nothing fancy about a Dum Dum pop. This tiny lollipop is about as big around as a small marble — impaled by a three-inch sucker stick and wrapped in a 3-by-3 inch square of wax paper.
It’s so simple a child can unwrap it and pop it in his mouth in a matter of seconds — roll it against his tongue and savor the flavor.
The Dum Dum might be simple, but it’s been sweet success for the 440 workers at Spangler Candy Co. in Bryan, Ohio, and the millions of children across the world who enjoy candy suckers.
The Spangler family purchased the brand from Akron Candy Co. in 1953. Today, the company makes about 10 million Dum Dums a day. That’s good for nearly 2.3 billion Dum Dums per year.
”It’s a lot of happy little kids,” said Pat Hurley, 69, a third generation Spangler family member who has worked for the company most of his life.
Lots of candy
Spangler is the second largest lollipop manufacturer in the United States. The company — which dates back to 1906 — is also the only mass manufacturer of candy canes. They make about 600,000 canes a day. And they’re one of only two U.S. companies manufacturing circus peanuts.
The factory is located in a part of the state known for its flat fields of corn, wheat and soybeans. Grain farming has helped earn this region the nickname “breadbasket of Ohio.”
In such a rural area, the massive 500,000 foot factory is a standout. But don’t be mistaken — Spangler is very much a part of the agriculture surrounding it.
Before the candy becomes candy, it’s corn and corn syrup, as well as sugar. All of those things are grown by farmers — across the Midwest and in the South.
Feature event. Kirk Vashaw, 40, president and CEO, gave an update about the company’s ag connections June 21 at the Northwest Ohio Ag-Business Breakfast Forum at the Agricultural Incubator Foundation north of Bowling Green.
The company buys about 24 million pounds of corn syrup annually, or 600,000 bushels of corn grown across roughly 3,750 acres. And they buy 28 million pounds of sugar from roughly 3,800 acres of sugar beets.
Corn syrup arrives at the factory twice daily in tank trucks weighing roughly 52,000 pounds. Workers combine the syrup, sugar and other ingredients in large kettles in the factory kitchen — a large and busy room with a year-round, all-day temperature of 98 degrees.
It’s grueling work, but it goes hand-in-hand with candy making. The candy itself is heated to a temperature of nearly 200 degrees before being kneaded, rolled and pressed into the shapes of the various candies being made.
Hurley said kitchen workers get compensated a little more because of the heat, and innovations like robotic kneaders, presses and line rollers help lessen some of the physical labor.
”It’s hard work, especially when you go up into the kitchens,” Vashaw said. “It’s (98 degrees) not because it’s hot outside; they’re always that hot.”
As president, he’s usually not the one making candy or running the machinery. But his office is centrally positioned within the factory, and to get there he passes through production and the dozens of floor workers nearest his office. In the past he’s spent a week doing each of the different jobs, so he would know for himself what it takes.
The Dum Dum got its name from the round WW I bullets called dum-dums. They looked similar to the candy suckers and had a similar ridge around the middle. The company kept the name because it had become so popular and easy to recognize — especially among kids.
“Dum Dums is this very easy word for young kids to say,” Vashaw said. “It worked for little kids.”
Spangler sells candy in markets across the United States and to nearly 20 other countries. They sell a little under $100 million in factory products annually.
They sell 16 flavors of Dum Dums, plus a mystery flavor. They have their own lab for developing new flavors and product lines, and company employees help taste-test new products.
The factory runs around the clock and with so much candy being made, it produces a multiflavored aroma throughout most of the production floor. But Vashaw said it’s something you get used to with time, and the workers don’t notice it as much as those who come for tours.
If a factory has to produce an odor, however, it’s better to have one that smells like a candy cane or a lollipop.
“It’s a nice smell versus a lot of other smells you get from industry,” he said.
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