The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Breaking News

November 27, 2010

Sweet success: Fannie May back after bankruptcy

CHICAGO — A half-dozen years ago iconic chocolatier Fannie May, loved by Chicago candy devotees who passed down their affections for mint meltaways, caramels and vanilla buttercreams from generation to generation, was all but finished.

The candy company launched in 1920 was in bankruptcy. More than 200 of its retail stores were closed. Customers who worried they would never be able to buy the chocolates again stripped display cases and emptied shelves of the confections.

But six years after its 2004 near-meltdown, Fannie May has seen a turnaround and is thriving again thanks to what its executives say has been a mix of the old and the new: a strict adherence to decades-old chocolate recipes and growth and expansion in online and retail sales.

"It was tumultuous, it was crazy," said David Taiclet, president of gourmet food brands for, which now owns Fannie May. "But what survived is people who care about the product, care about the experience."

The result has been online sales that have more than doubled since 2006 for a brand approaching $100 million in revenue annually. By the end of this year, Fannie May will have opened five new retail stores in the Chicago area for a total of 85 stores in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio — nearly double the 45 stores the company opened after emerging from bankruptcy in 2004.

Genny Ryan, 43, now lives in Charlotte, N.C. but grew up eating Fannie May candies in South Bend, Ind. Ryan brought her children Jack, 11, and Tess, 8, into the company's flagship Michigan Avenue store on a recent trip to Chicago. The family's red-and-white Fannie May shopping bag was filled with meltaways, buttercreams and pixies.

"I said 'I have to stop and get some,'" Ryan said. "I haven't had any in forever."

Fannie May, which produces about 10 million pounds of chocolate a year, is as synonymous with Chicago as Ghirardelli Chocolate is with San Francisco or Hershey's is with Pennsylvania.

"I think Chicago is really rooting for Fannie May because they want a candy to call their own," said Beth Kimmerle, a confectionary historian who once worked for Fannie May and is author of "Chocolate: The Sweet History."

It's been a whirlwind past two decades for the chocolate maker opened 90 years ago in downtown Chicago by H. Teller Archibald. In 1991, the family that owned Fannie May sold to a private equity group. By 2002, the company filed for bankruptcy to restructure debt built up from several acquisitions.

Archibald Candy Corp. emerged from bankruptcy in late 2002 with creditors as owners only to file for bankruptcy again in 2004. That's when the stores and a candy manufacturing plant on Chicago's West Side closed, putting hundreds out of work.

"I felt terrible," said Dorothy Phelan, 60, of Chicago, who remembers the candies from when she was a little girl. "It's just something that is part of your memories."

Utah-based Alpine Confections Inc. stepped in and bought the Fannie May and Fannie Farmer brands for $38.9 million in 2004. That October, it reopened 45 stores, some where shoppers lined sidewalks to buy the candies.

It was that customer loyalty and Alpine's experience in the candy business that jump-started Fannie May's growth, Kimmerle said.

"They're savvy about the confectionary business to begin with," Kimmerle said. "So I think part of their growth strategy is realistic expectations as opposed to the venture capitalists who started getting more ambitious."

Two years later, in 2006, purchased certain Alpine Confections brands, including Fannie May, Fannie Farmer and Harry London for $85 million. Taiclet credits Fannie May's growth in online sales to's e-commerce experience.

Fannie May was able to transition from bankrupt brand to growing enterprise because company leaders refused to change decades-old candy recipes and used a smart, steady plan for growth coupled with increasing online sales, Taiclet said. The candies are now made at a plant in North Canton, Ohio.

"Now that we're kind of through what I would call the early stage," Taiclet said. "Now the vision is just much bigger and broader. We're convinced we have a winning formula."

That vision now includes offering franchises in areas like Florida, Virginia and Washington, D.C., Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. Taiclet said he hopes to have between 100 and 150 franchises to complement the company-owned stores.

Marcia Mogelonsky, a global food analyst who specializes in candy and chocolates for Mintel International in Chicago, said while the popularity of high-end gourmet chocolates may have hurt Fannie May, the brand's consistency cemented a customer base and allowed for stability.

"It has not tried to become trendy, which is an important thing, which is probably why it has survived," Mogelonsky said. "The brand will have to think about what to do in 20 years, but in the chocolate industry that's a long time."

In the meantime, Fannie May will continue to cater to customers like Phelan, who stopped into the downtown Michigan Avenue store to buy a box of chocolates as a hostess gift for her brother's Thanksgiving dinner.

"We couldn't have Thanksgiving without some Fannie May candy," Phelan said. "Part of our tradition is to have Fannie May."

Text Only
Breaking News
  • FEA - HB0121 - flu - 05 Second wave of milder flu hitting Northeast

    Months ago, the flu season seemed to be winding down. But health officials on Friday reported widespread flu-like illnesses in six states.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • NWS - HB0525 - marijuana - JM -pic (4).jpg Colorado deaths stoke worries about pot edibles

    A college student eats more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced cookie and jumps to his death from a hotel balcony. A husband with no history of violence is accused of shooting his wife in the head, possibly after eating pot-infused candy.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_skoreaferry.jpg Ferry captain arrested in South Korea disaster

    A prosecutor says the captain of the South Korean ferry that sank two days ago has been arrested.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Clinton visit.jpg Documents: Clinton sought GOP support for health care

    Thousands of pages of documents from President Bill Clinton's White House affirm a longtime adage: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Student struggles to recount fatal truck-bus crash

    Most of the 911 calls from witnesses to last week's fiery truck-bus collision that killed 10 were matter of fact. Then there was the one from a passenger: With shrieks in the background, the student struggled to recount how a truck came roaring toward them.

    April 18, 2014

  • Magnitude-7.5 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

     A powerful, magnitude-7.5 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday. The U.S. Geological Survey said it was centered northwest of the Pacific resort of Acapulco, where many Mexicans are vacationing for the Easter holiday.

    April 18, 2014

  • Doomed ferry's sharp turn, slow evacuation probed

    The investigation into South Korea's ferry disaster focused on the sharp turn it took just before it began listing and on the possibility that a quicker evacuation order by the captain could have saved lives, officials said Friday, as rescuers struggled to find some 270 people still missing and feared dead.

    April 18, 2014

  • Avalanche sweeps down Everest, killing at least 12

    An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides and leaving three missing in the deadliest disaster on the world's highest peak.

    April 18, 2014

  • news_horselesscarriage.jpg Proposed car to replace NYC horse carriages shown

    An electric car that proponents hope will replace horse-drawn carriages in New York City was presented Thursday at the New York International Auto Show, as critics expressed their distaste for the idea.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_southwest.jpg Flight lands safely in Indiana after threat

    An Indianapolis airport spokesman said a Southwest Airlines flight safely made an emergency landing after the airline received some kind of threat.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

Featured Ads
More Resources from The Herald Bulletin
AP Video
Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Helium debate
Front page

What do you think of Anderson's decision to have an Independence Day parade and other festivities on July 3?

That's great!
Should be OK
What a waste of money!
     View Results