Spangler Candy Company is now the owner of Valentine’s Day staple Sweethearts, Necco Wafers, Canada Mints and also the locally historic New Era campus, adjacent to Spangler’s own 520,000-square-foot Portland Street campus.
It’s a series of moves that has Bryan’s candy maker poised for growth, according to Spangler CEO Kirk Vashaw.
“We’re very happy at the end of the day to be able to acquire these brands. Sweethearts is such a great seasonal brand,” Vashaw said. “It complements so well with what we have in Candy Canes for Christmas and Dum-Dums are obviously very popular at Halloween. So now, we have a popular treat at Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. We have that third leg of the stool.
“It allows us to become more important to our retail partners to have more products in our portfolio that are ‘must haves,’” he continued, explaining that each is the most popular non-chocolate item for its associated holidays. “We’re good at the seasonal business. It’s tricky, but it’s also one of our core competencies.”
At the conclusion of a May auction in Boston, which followed former Necco Wafers owner New England Confectionery Company’s filing for bankruptcy this year, Sweetheart Candy LLC emerged with the Necco brand. But after a series of transactions and on-and-off discussions culminating in late August, Spangler — the original high bidder in the aforementioned auction before undisclosed technicalities caused the sale to fall through — now owns iconic Sweethearts (1901), Necco Wafers (1847), Canada Mints and the equipment built to make them as well.
Company officials indicated the Sweethearts brand will be relaunched in time for the 2020 Valentine’s Day season, while Necco Wafers will relaunch in 2019.
Costs of the brands’ sale and the subsequent purchase of the New Era campus, originally owned and operated by ARO Corporation, which employed 1,000 in Bryan in its heyday, are not being released by company officials at this time. Officials noted the deal is between private entities.
When asked whether the new brands will be manufactured in Bryan, Vashaw said, “I can’t answer that because I just don’t know yet. That’s to be determined, there are a lot of moving parts.”
Spangler officials expressed excitement over the moves.
“These brands, even though they’re independent brands, these are going to help our Dum Dums sales, our candy cane sales,” Vashaw said. “It allows us to put more on a truck together, more efficiency. All the brands support each other when you get synergistic brands and I think we’ve got some here.”
Vashaw indicated the company has had its eye on Sweethearts at various junctures as early as Spangler’s second generation of ownership and as recently as 2010.
Whether Spangler’s new brands end up Bryan-made products or not, major changes are now planned on the New Era campus, as the firm itself is now owned by Spangler, and thereby the property.
New Era will continue to function under the same name, according to Vashaw.
The two office buildings housing the New Era Auditorium and Activate Wellness Clinic respectively, just off Mulberry Street, will remain intact, as will the relatively newer warehouse portion on the campus’s west end.
However, the old warehouse areas, built in the early 1900s, will be demolished in the fall to increase space and efficiency of transport operations.
As part of that goal, equipment storage at the north end of Spangler’s campus will also be demolished in the spring, with equipment moving to the aforementioned newer warehouse space on the New Era campus.
Renovation work will be undertaken at New Era’s newer warehouse space, which covers 184,000 square feet, to bring it up to food-grade standards before it can be utilized. Spangler’s existing warehouse space is about 210,000 square feet.
Equipment will be moved into the newer New Era warehouse space fairly quickly, Vashaw said.
“We don’t need all this space right now, but we will over time. We’re thinking long-term,” he said. “We’re just excited to see that campus provide additional economic benefit to Bryan ... That campus is going to be supporting more jobs and we’re excited about it.
“We didn’t acquire the property to let it sit there; We’re going to be making investments.” said Vashaw. “This is larger than what we need now, but 20 years from now I bet we’re going to say, ‘How would we operate without it?’”
Vashaw declined to put a firm number on how many jobs will be added this early in the process, but said, “I can guarantee it’s going to be more” than the company’s current workforce.
Additionally, an expansion is planned for Spangler’s sugar house as part of the transition.
In another phase of the project, the Activate Health Clinic, a private family health care services facility utilized by Spangler and other firms’ employees, will be expanded by about 800 square feet to include more exam rooms as more companies have come under its portfolio in recent years. That expansion will take place at an as-of-yet undetermined date.
Gendron, which rents out space on the campus, will now rent from Spangler through New Era and plans to stay at the space while Alex Products will be staying, at least in the short term, according to Vashaw.