Business

Buyer of Oakdale Hershey plant 'just top-notch'

The company that is buying the vacated Hershey plant in Oakdale is highly respected in the confection industry, with popular candies and a rich family tradition.

Sconza Candy Co. announced last week that it outgrew its Oakland factory and decided to relocate to Oakdale, where the firm will initially employ about 100 people. It expects to begin production in October.

Michael Allured, the publisher of candy industry magazine The Manufacturing Confectioner, said Oakdale is "lucky" to have Sconza Candy moving to town.

"They're known for their quality products and the way they treat their customers and employees like family," he said. "They're as honest as the day is long. They're just top-notch people."

Allured said he's known the Sconza family members for decades through his work in the confection industry. The firm is considered a midsize operation in comparison with the hundreds of other candymakers in the United States, he said.

Sconza Candy was founded in Oakland in 1939 by Vincent and Mary Sconza, who made peanut brittle in their kitchen. They soon expanded and added other lines of candies, and in 1948 began making panned candies, which have become the company's trademark.

The firm makes jawbreakers, Jordan almonds, Boston beans, chocolate-covered nuts and fruit, toffee-covered nuts and other items. It is run by third-generation Sconzas.

"This move will enable us to continue the tradition of quality that my father established 69 years ago," said Chief Executive Officer Jim Sconza, adding that the company plans to continue making candy for "generations to come."

Family-owned firms, such as Sconza Candy, tend to operate their businesses differently from publicly traded companies such as Hershey, said Alan Tonelson, a research fellow with the U.S. Business and Industry Council, which represents family-held manufacturing companies.

Most importantly, he said, there is no pressure to make shareholders happy. Owners typically use bank financing rather than issuing stock, he said, a move that is much more "patient" than shareholders or analysts who demand fast returns.

Family members are hands-on operators of their business, he said.

"They are at the factory every day. They are familiar with the work force, and they interact with them every day. When something goes wrong, they are called in," Tonelson said.

Such companies often become pillars of their community. The owners develop emotional ties to the region that managers of large, multinational companies might not, Tonelson said.

Sconza's candy line is known for its quality, according to those familiar with the industry.

"Top of the line, a top product," is how Sconza's candies have been described to Bill Bassitt, chief executive officer of the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance.

One of the company's signature products, panned candy, is a growing niche product in the candy industry, said Susan Fussell, senior director of communication for the National Confectioners Association.

"They are among some of the most popular nonchocolate candies," she said.

Panning is a time-consuming process that starts with a tiny center, then builds the flavor of the candy around the center by rotating it inside a panning machine, Fussell said. Some panned candies take days to make.

Another of the company's products, Jordan almonds, is a staple candy at Easter, holidays and weddings, Fussell said. Jordan almonds are a fresh nut in a candy shell. It is a traditional Italian wedding candy that gained popularity in the United States with the influx of Italian immigrants in the early 1900s.

Candymaking is considered a "mature" industry because the largest brands have been around for nearly 100 years, Fussell said. It typically sees growth of 1 percent to 3 percent a year.

Sconza's move to Oakdale is a win-win for the company and the town, Allured said. "I'm sure they will be good neighbors," he said.

Bee staff writer Christina Salerno can be reached at csalerno@modbee.com or 238-4574.

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