When you enter the ’s production facility, the first thing you notice is the aroma of chocolate.
The 85,000-square-foot building is Buffalo Grove’s answer to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Inside, pretzels, caramels, nuts and other treats roll down conveyor belts, as they journey to a chocolate-covered future. (See video.)
“People don’t have any idea how much work goes into a piece of candy before they get to eat it,” said Ann Holterman, the confectionery’s human resources manager.
While absent of Oompa Loompas, the factory on Lexington Drive does employ a staff of 120, which includes about 70 who work in production.
The factory uses 1 million pounds of chocolate each year, Holterman said. While candy centers, such as caramel and marshmallow, are produced in house, the chocolate is purchased from Blommer Chocolate Co. in Chicago. It arrives in solid 10-pound blocks or as a liquid transported to Buffalo Grove in tanker trucks.
From there, the chocolate is warmed, mixed, drizzled and molded to create Long Grove Confectionery’s popular sweets, which range from chocolate-covered pretzels to solid chocolate wrenches and holiday-themed treats.
“There aren’t a lot of candy companies in the U.S. who do it as handmade as we do,” Holterman said, noting that molds are filled and emptied by hand and details such as the colored eyes on chocolate Easter bunnies are hand-painted.
The family-run confectionery opened in 1975 under the direction of owner John Mangel in Long Grove, where the candy was made and sold. A decade later, the factory relocated to Buffalo Grove, and in 2002 a 60,000-square-foot addition was built, resulting in larger kitchens, warehouses and the tour facility.
While Long Grove Confectionery products continue to be sold in the store in Long Grove’s business district as well as in an outlet shop on the Buffalo Grove campus, 80 percent of the company’s business is wholesale, Holterman said.
“We private label for a lot of companies,” she said. “We ship across the country. We even have a customer in Dubai.”
For that reason, the factory always is planning. “At the end of July, we’ll start really producing for Christmas, Hanukkah and Halloween,” she said.
The factory makes only solid chocolate. Most candy, with the exception of that containing marshmallow, is kosher.
“Our No. 1 seller is our Myrtle, which is like a pixie or turtle, but ours are better because our caramel is the best in the world,” Holterman said.
Long Grove Confectionery has its own product development team, but all employees are encouraged to sample new products, provide feedback and pitch ideas, said Holterman, who came up with the name for the “Hippity Hop Pop,” a chocolate sucker shaped like the Easter bunny.
“I think everyone here eats chocolate every day. We have more chocolate on the table upstairs that most people eat in a year,” she said.
Long Grove Confectionery conducts between 3,000 and 5,000 tours each year. Visitors include individuals as well as school groups, Holterman said. Visitors can watch through glass as candy is produced, while overhead video monitors narrate the process.
Down the hall, guests can admire chocolate reproductions of famous works of art, including eight Monet paintings. Even the frames were created from chocolate. Visitors will also notice a reproduction of the Statue of Liberty, carved from 2,500 pounds of chocolate.
Tours, which begin at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are $2 per person. Reservations are required. Free tours are offered on Saturdays, beginning each hour between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Visit http://www.longgrove.com for more information.