Sweet and multi-sensorial
By Neil Steinberg —
For all the decades I’ve been driving through the Old Post Office, particularly during the five years I lived in Oak Park, I’d never actually been inside the sprawling deco complex, not beyond a quick 30-second dash into the lobby to mail my taxes.
That changed Friday, and I found myself sitting in the sixth floor funhouse splendor of the Ferrara Candy Company headquarters. That itself is an amazing development. There is no way I could ever get inside, say, Wrigley headquarters. Not through any imaginable process that didn’t involve me swimming ashore at Goose Island, shedding my wetsuit, scaling a wall, knocking out a guard, then shimmying through the ventilation system.
But Ferrara invited me. And as soon as I settled in a conference room, I could see why. They’ve invented a new type of candy.
“The hot product right now is Nerds Gummy Clusters,” said Greg Guidotti, chief marketing officer at Ferrara, standing before a conference table piled with bags of candy. “You can open it. Give it a look, and try it.”
He didn’t have to ask twice. I tore open a small bag, suppressed my first thought — “They kinda look like candy coronavirus spheres” — as indecorous, and popped one in my mouth.
“Essentially it’s classic Nerds wrapped around a gummy deposit,” said Guidotti.
I wish I could buy bags of Guidotti’s enthusiasm — a seasoned marketing pro, who spent time at Kraft and sold Duracell in Asia — to munch throughout the day. Or better yet, send packages to the PR sorts that I generally have to try to wheedle information from, who narrow their gaze and worry, in a chill voice that sounds like it’s coming from the woman in “American Gothic” — “You want more information about our product? Why would you want that?” It’s such an unexpected joy, to meet somebody who is actually good at what he does.
Ferrara candy moved its headquarters from Oak Brook to the Old Post Office, 433 West Van Buren, in November of 2019. About 500 employees work there, though far fewer on Fridays, when this photo was taken. Photo by Neil Steinberg
“We launched this in 2020” at the National Confectioners Association Sweets & Snacks Expo, Guidotti said. “This was Best Innovation. This has doubled the size of the Nerd business. Up 130%. Growing household penetration, and repeat is well above 55%. It’s amazing. An amazing product.”
“It’s fantastic,” I agreed, chewing.
“We took all that was beautiful and great about the classic Nerds, the shake,” he said, giving a box of tiny Nerds candies an illustrative rattle — “and wrapped it around a gummy deposit so it has this beautiful, multi-textural, multi-sensorial. It’s really next level.”
Speaking of next level, I took a quick tour of the Ferrara headquarters, a gorgeous state-of-the-art urban workspace, that honors its past — light fixtures crafted from copper candy kettles, wall murals made of steel gummy bear mold forms — while providing all the new bells & whistles that creative kids demand to soften the indignity of actually going to work, including a Trolli sour gummy worm-themed gaming room.
“Trolli is about being weirdly awesome,” explained Guidotti. “Trolli is all about gaming and gamers. When we think about Trolli consumers, they are very much Gen Z gamers. They’ll play XBox and play Halo and eat Trolli.”
Remodelled lobby of the Old Post Office, 433 W. Van Buren, home to Groupon, Cisco, Pepsico, and Ferrara, a Chicago candy company started in 1908, maker of Lemonheads, Boston Baked Beans, and other beloved sweets. Photo by Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times
Ferrara moved its headquarters to the Old Post Office in November 2019.
“Coming downtown was really about talent,” said Guidotti. “There’s so much vibrance.”
COVID-19 began shutting down the city three months later, but Ferrara kept busy.
“We innovated through the pandemic,” said Guidotti. “Sweet Tart Chewy Fusions — it’s a gummy deposit with a sugar crisp and sugar shell. Multi-sensorial ...”
I wish I could go on, but you get the idea. Honestly, my visit wasn’t supposed to end up in the paper at all; just stopping by to introduce myself and try to set up a factory tour.
But I had so much fun, it felt wrong to keep it to myself. I can’t speak for everybody, but sometimes a person wants to read something in the paper that isn’t horrible. Lest I get lost in sugar-stoked enthusiasm, I do feel obligated to find some kind of negative aspect to all this. Hmm ... OK. The package of Nerds Gummy Clusters I opened at Ferrara purports to contain three servings. In what world? Even manfully struggling to hold back, and tightly closing the bag, and hiding it from myself on the trip home, the Nerds Gummy Clusters still were all gone by the time the train reached Mayfair.