CANAJOHARIE - As Richardson Brands' Chocolate Gourmet Mints spun in a giant vat, a new machine purchased after a 2006 flood sorted them into packages of two at 656 units per minute. Across the room on Thursday, another machine, more than half a century old, boxed Beechies gum pieces two by two.
The first floor of the candy manufacturer's 180,000-square-foot facility on Erie Boulevard is a marriage of the more than century-old candy brand's nostalgia and innovation and adaptation to a changing economy.
In the same room, a massive machine, which can package more than 7,000 four-pound bags of pastel or butter mints a day, is changing the way Richardson presents its candy.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Richardson Brands CEO Donald A. Butte, left, points to the new boiler as Tom Shellooe, director of operations, looks on at the plant on Thursday in Canajoharie.
The mints have always been offered in cartons and boxes, but these 4-pound bags have a zipper Ziplock feature, "designed for freshness," Chief Executive Officer Donald Butte said Thursday.
"We actually replaced some of the technology lost in the flood, so now we have the capability of bagging larger 4-pound bags and 2-ounce bags," Butte said in a phone interview last month. "It's state-of-the-art technology that very few companies have."
Butte said the company faced $8 million worth of direct damage to the plant and $7 million worth of customer contracts.
"The employees did a magnificent job and we actually were back in operation on gum about three weeks after the flood. By Labor Day, we were pretty much back in full production," Butte said.
The advanced packaging machines purchased after the flood are just one element of the company's expansion, which will allow it to increase its work force by about 50 jobs by next Easter, bringing the company's employee count to approximately 200.
About 150 people currently work at Richardson Brands.
Since Richardson relocated its headquarters from Miami to the village in 2006, it has withstood the flood and the unexpected departure of the Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. to the Florida Business Park.
The candy manufacturer - which makes rock candy, Beechies gum, after-dinner mints and Gravy Master - is now operating independently of Beech-Nut after purchasing a new steam generator. Previously, it purchased steam produced at the Beech-Nut plant and piped it underground to the plant.
"We use steam to cook. Though we do it in much bigger sizes, we do it the same you would in your kitchen in big steam kettles," Butte said. "That's why our dependence on [Beech-Nut] was important."
The new high-efficiency boiler, which arrived in April, is one of four in the United States. It can process 7,000 pounds of steam per hour.
In October 2009, Richardson was awarded a $1.7 million state grant to expand. In August 2009, the company acquired Kansas City-based Bogdon Candy from Dynamic Confections Group, which is famous for Reception Sticks, a hard candy dipped in chocolate. In 2006, Richardson acquired Gravy Master Inc., famous for Gravy Master and flavored rock candy.
Gravy Master production was moved to the village in 2007, but the company had still been operating a plant in Connecticut to make both rock candy crystal sticks and strung rock candy. The candy was then shipped to the village plant and packaged there.
Crews were preparing the third floor Thursday for the company's consolidation of the two manufacturing facilities to the village site.
"That gives you an idea of how big this facility is," Butte said. "We're able to consolidate two [manufacturing operations] to one floor of our facility."
By the end of July, Butte said Richardson plans to manufacture rock candy on the third floor and expects to hire 20 of the 50 expected new employees by then.
Only about 30 percent of the company's four-story plant is in use, leaving a lot of room for growth, Butte said.
The company's warehouse alone takes up about 30,000 square feet, housing a distribution operation that serves retail chains from the East to West coasts.
Butte said the company will not change any of the names of the products it acquires.
Richardson also manufactures novelty foods and candies like Space Food Sticks, a throwback from the late 1960s Space Age.
In January, a camera crew from the Food Network's "Unwrapped" series filmed production of the Space Food Sticks, which are actually sold by Eric Lefcowitz and his company Retrofuture Products, of Long Island.
Company officials said the segment is expected to air in September.
Richardson has been featured on "Unwrapped" before for its mints.
The company also plans to launch its new website, which it has been working on for two years, in a few weeks, Butte said.
Canajoharie-Palatine Chamber of Commerce President Dolores Jacksland said Richardson is a major selling point when marketing the village to businesses.
"They are very helpful and doing a lot of innovation inside," she said. "We're definitely advertising the fact that Richardson is here.
She noted the plant is an excellent addition to the village, which includes Wintergreen Park.
"We're very very happy they're here with us," she said.
Mayor Leigh Fuller, who has lived in the village since 1957, said said Butte and Richardson have been a tremendous help as the village continues through Beech-Nut's departure, which is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
"We can't lose Richardson, no matter what happens," Fuller said
Amanda Whistle covers Montgomery County. She can be reached at email@example.com.