By Jeff Falk
Nothing has the power to jog the old memory like the sense of smell.
Do you remember driving through Hershey and smelling the chocolate?
Do you remember the specific nuances and qualities of that strong aroma?
Do you remember a sense of pride evoked when you did?
The way it turns out, we have been misled or betrayed by our noses. Because when you drive through Hershey now, the smell of chocolate isn’t as noticeable, isn’t as profound, as it once was.
But that doesn’t mean chocolate is no longer being produced in Hershey or that not as much is being made there. Actually, it seems that the opposite is true.
“We’ve got one of the largest chocolate plants in the world in Hershey,” says Jeff Beckman, director of corporate communications at the Hershey Company. “It’s just not downtown any more. If the wind is blowing in the right direction, you can still smell chocolate in Harrisburg and Palmyra.
“The technology is different today, in terms of how things are vented,” adds Beckman. “I can still smell chocolate when I’m downtown. When did chocolate stop being produced in Hershey? It didn’t. We make more chocolate in Hershey, Pennsylvania than we ever did.”
That’s partly because the ever-diversifying Hershey Company produces more things – including chocolate – than it ever has.
In 2012, Hershey spent $300 million to double the size of its West Hershey Chocolate Plant’s production capabilities – partly to coincide with the closing of its original plant downtown. Made there are Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars, Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds, Hershey’s Syrup and about 70 million Hershey’s Kisses Milk Chocolate per day.
Located right across the street is the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup plant, where Hershey’s biggest brand is produced. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups have been made by Hershey’s for more than 60 years and is the first candy brand in the world to hit $2 billion in retail sales per year.
“You probably have a range of opinions,” says Beckman. “But we have talked for years about our gem of a chocolate plant. We’re nothing but proud to talk about it. The Reese’s plant has never moved. We have a large population of employees who work in both plants and live in and around the area.
“Most people could name five or six Hershey products, on a good day,” Beckman adds. “They know Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bars and Hershey’s Kisses. They know we make Reese’s and Kit-Kats. In 2012, we doubled the size of the West Hershey plant and it kept the candy manufacturing capabilities in our hometown. At that time we launched the project ‘Next Century,’ which basically said, ‘we’ve been here for a century, we’re going to double down and make sure we’re going to be making chocolate here for another century.’”
While Reese’s may have been Milton Hershey’s first acquisition – and ultimately the biggest – it certainly wasn’t the last. Over the years, the Hershey Company has acquired such familiar brands as Peter Paul Mound, Almond Joy, Heath Bar, Cadbury, and Twizzlers.
Now, the Hershey Company produces some 80 different confectionary or snack type products and sells them in 90 countries around the world.
“We want to manufacture our products as close to our markets as we can,” says Beckman, “so we can deliver fresh products to those markets. Our biggest focus markets outside the United States are Canada, Mexico, India, China and Brazil. You can buy growth or you can grow by making good products.
“When we looked at how our business was growing, we decided we needed more plant manufacturing,” adds Beckman. “We did our due diligence and we asked ourselves, ‘Where should we build them?’ We looked at other places.”
In the United States, the Hershey Company manufactures products in Lancaster, where Twizzlers are made, in Hazelton, where Cadburys are produced, in Robinson, Illinois, in Stuarts Draft, Virginia and in Memphis, Tennessee. The Hershey Company, which boasts nearly $8 billion in sales per year, also operates two manufacturing plants in Canada, two in Mexico, one in Brazil, one in India, and one in Malaysia.
“The plant in Hershey was ‘The Plant,’” says Beckhman. “We know where we’re headed. A few years ago we created a new strategy for continued growth for Hershey called ‘Innovative Snacking Powerhouse.’ Confections are a part of snacking, but we wanted to be a more diverse provider of snacks. That has driven our acquisition strategy. We’re not a candy company. We’re a snacking company meeting an everyday need.
“It’s really changed,” Beckman adds. “If snacking is a spectrum, it includes candy, salty snacks and things that are better for you. Instead of people going to Hershey’s once a day for a snack, they might be going three times a day. We want to bring snacks together. We’re always thinking about what consumers want.”
In that way, the Hershey Company simply continues to follow its founder’s vision. With almonds, kisses, peanuts for the Mr. Goodbar and rice crisp for the Krackel, Milton Hershey was the company’s first innovator.
“He was always curious and looking for ways to differentiate and innovate,” says Beckman. “I think he would be proud of the company’s innovations. He was always a tinkerer. He was always looking to do things different and better.”
Milton Hershey built his original chocolate plant downtown on East Chocolate Avenue in 2005. In 2015, a major portion of the original plant was torn down and the remaining portion of it was restored and turned into offices.
Today, the building serves as the Hershey Company’s corporate headquarters.
“We’re still here,” said Beckman. “We’re still a dominant presence in Hershey, Pennsylvania. We’re not going anywhere. We look forward to continuing to operate in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It’s our hometown and we want to stay in our hometown.”
“When we made a decision to build our largest chocolate plant in 2012, we sent a message that we’re committed to making chocolate in our hometown,” added Beckman. “We’re still continuing to focus on our core.”
It may be that the smell of success just isn’t as fragrant as chocolate. But rest assured. They still make chocolate in Hershey.