Chattanooga candy companies gear up for sugar season

Chattanooga candy companies gear up for sugar season

October 31st, 2013 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam tours the M&M Mars plant in Cleveland, Tenn.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Nashville may be the political center of Tennessee, but statistics released on the eve of Halloween show that the Scenic City takes the cake as the state's candy capital.

Although the Volunteer State is well-known for the Nashville-made Goo-Goo Clusters, the Chattanooga region is a veritable Choo Choo cluster when it comes to cookie, cake and candy manufacturing, according to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

In fact, the Chattanooga area makes up a big piece of a pie for the state's candy sector, which has added hundreds of jobs across the state, and invested $127.7 million in new production since 2011, according to ECD. The area produces 330 million M&M's, 72 tons of Twix and 1 million moon pies every day. In one year, more than 30 million gummy snacks are shipped from Chattanooga, and the city has made enough Little Debbies since 1960 to circle the earth 80 times.

Mars announced a $74 million expansion in 2013 to its 650,000-square-foot Cleveland plant, which is the biggest manufacturer of M&M's in the world. And McKee Foods made headlines when it bought Drake's Cakes and added about 300 jobs in Collegedale. That company has hired nearly 800 workers since Nov. 2012. On any given day, thousands of workers are toiling away to feed the American hunger for sweet treats.

Nearly a half-dozen candymakers are located within a short drive of downtown, including the Chattanooga Bakery, a Wrigley plant, Brach Confectionery, McKee Foods and Mars Chocolate. The 109-year-old Brach Co., which bought the Chattanooga-based Brock Candy Co. in 1994, and Chattanooga Bakery, which has been producing the Moon Pie since 1917, exhibit staying power that would impress an Everlasting Gobstopper.

This Halloween, as in years past, the city's confectioners will be filling up buckets, bags and baskets across the U.S. with a dentist's nightmare: sugary snacks like Moon Pies, M&Ms, Twix, Altoids, Lifesavers, Swiss Cake Rolls, Nutty Bars, Oatmeal Cream Pies, Cosmic Brownies, Fudge Rounds and a smattering of gummy fruit candies. Those treats and snacks resonate with the Southern sweet tooth of customers in the region, who consume a large amount of the popular desserts, state officials said.

"I'm doing my fair share," joked Gov. Bil Haslam at a tour of the M&M factory in April.

With 2,545 employees in Tennessee candy factories, the Volunteer State ranks fourth among the 50 states in candy and chocolate-related employment.

-- Contact staff writer Ellis Smith, esmith@timesfreepress.com, or 423-757-6315