- See’s Candies is a popular candy manufacturer known for its original recipes.
- The family-owned business was established in 1921 in Los Angeles, California, and has since grown into a national company with over 200 stores around the country.
- The company produces 26 million pounds of candy annually between its Los Angeles and San Francisco factories.
- I went on a private tour of the See’s Candies factory in Los Angeles and found out how some of the company’s most iconic goodies are made.
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See’s Candies is a famous candy manufacturer that has been serving fresh chocolates and other sweets since 1921.
Charles A. See was a Canadian chocolate salesman that founded the first See’s Candies store in Los Angeles, California, in 1921. Charles See began creating chocolate and other confections using his mother Mary’s homemade candy recipes for dipped bonbons, maple walnut creams, and toffee.
His motto for creating candy with fresh, high-quality ingredients was “quality without compromise,” and candies today are still made with that phrase in mind.
The iconic black-and-white theme of See’s Candies shops was originally inspired by Mary See’s kitchen.
All See’s Candies retail stores famously incorporate black-and-white decor and checkered floors in a tribute to Mary See’s bungalow-style kitchen, where she made her original recipes from scratch. The company prides itself on being an old-fashioned candy store that has stayed true to some of its earliest traditions. For instance, each packaged box of candy features a portrait of Mary See.
According to the See’s Candies website, some of the sweets sold today are still made using Mary’s original recipes, including the peanut brittle, victoria toffee, and chocolate walnut fudge. Every retail store also offers its customers free samples, just like they did in the early days.
The candy store has grown from its humble beginnings as a single shop in Los Angeles, into one of the most iconic chocolate companies in the country.
In 1972, See’s Candies was purchased by billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway company, which played a major role in the company’s expansion over the years.
Today, See’s Candies makes over 26 million pounds of candy per year. The original store opened on Western Ave, in a neighbourhood in Los Angeles, California, known now as Koreatown. The confection store is widely regarded as a West Coast staple, with about 150 out of the 250 locations based in California. Many of these locations are in airports, where travellers can easily purchase a box while on the go.
See’s has two headquarters, one in Los Angeles and another in San Francisco, as well as a small lollipop-only plant in Burlingame, California. The Los Angeles outpost specialises in making peanut brittle, handmade bonbons, and various nuts and chews, while the San Francisco factory manufactures many of the truffles and cream-centered candies.
I visited the See’s Candies headquarters in Los Angeles to see for myself how the iconic manufacturer makes 26 million pounds of candy per year.
I headed to the Los Angeles-based factory at 6 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. I was instructed to get there early so that I would be able to watch the candy-making process from beginning to end.
Growing up in Los Angeles, See’s Candies was always a staple in my household. For every holiday and special occasion that I could remember, I was always gifted a box of my favourite chocolate assortment from See’s. Some of these fond memories, in addition to my enthusiasm for chocolate, made me eager to step foot inside the factory for the first time.
Before I was allowed inside the factory, I had to put on protective gear in order to avoid contaminating any of the products.
I was instructed to “robe up” in a white See’s Candies lab coat and a blue hairnet before I was escorted inside the production area.
My group was also introduced to our tour leader for the day, Dave Chapman, who is also the factory’s production coordinator.
The first stop inside the factory was the brittle room, where the pleasant aroma of warm butter and melted sugar filled the air.
Chapman led our group to the brittle room, where each machine is specifically designed to produce the company’s signature peanut brittle, California brittle, and other candies involving toffee.
“Each machine is dedicated to producing one type of candy,” Chapman said. The designated machinery helps the factory stay on track with product demands each year.
I was in awe at how many different machines there were but was also impressed by the number of employees who were there to manage each stage of candy production.
For an early Tuesday morning, the employees on the factory floor were surprisingly lively and buzzing with energy. It’s easy to understand why, though, as I’m sure the smell of chocolate is a motivating factor in showing up to work each morning.
Giant blocks of butter were stacked on a table waiting to be churned and melted into a brittle mixture.
Chapman informed our group that the factory uses about 210 pounds of butter every day to make its peanut brittle batches. Additionally, we learned that the company manufactures about 1.2 million pounds of peanut brittle each year.
My group got to watch how the company’s famous California brittle is made. First, the brittle mixture is poured onto a conveyor belt.
The California brittle is one of See’s signature candy items. It’s a combination of toffee and brittle that’s mixed with almonds and finished with a coat of smooth milk chocolate.
The first step of the candy’s production process involves the warm brittle being flattened out on a conveyor belt.
Next, the brittle is cooled and hardened before being cut into long, rectangular strips.
The brittle goes through a cooling machine where it has the chance to harden, while a separate machine cuts it into even strips.
The long strips are then broken into smaller pieces by factory workers stationed at the end of the conveyor belt.
Factory workers separate the pieces of brittle by hand and sort them into trays to prepare them for the final steps in the production process.
My group didn’t get a chance to see the end of the journey for the California brittle, but we were informed that the pieces are placed on a conveyor belt, where they are coated in several layers of warm milk chocolate, and then left to cool.
The entire process, from start to finish, takes about 35 minutes.
For the next part of the tour, we were taken to the “enrobing” room, where certain pieces of candy were waiting to be covered in chocolate.
The enrobing room is full of conveyor belts that coat, or “enrobe,” certain pieces of candy in milk or dark chocolate. As someone who loves chocolate in any form, this was easily my favourite stop on the tour.
The factory was in the process of making their dark chocolate peppermint patties, and I got to observe the entire process from beginning to end. The inner portions of the peppermint candies were laid out on trays before workers delicately placed them onto the lengthy conveyor belts.
There are several belts in the plant, all of which stretch a bit longer than a football field, according to Chapman.
Each belt in the enrobing room is designed to produce a different variation of candy.
The mints stay on one path through the various stages of production, including going through two layers of chocolate coatings, a scan for debris, a cool-off area, and sorting and packaging.
Row by row, the peppermint patties are covered in melted dark chocolate.
The candies were coated from top to bottom in a layer of creamy dark chocolate, and the process was mesmerising to watch.
On the other end of the waterfall, the coated peppermint patties were moving over a vibrating surface that knocked off any excess chocolate.
Chapman told us that the company’s coating process is extremely efficient because any chocolate that drops from the assembly line is “recycled and is constantly being mixed and used for the next batch.”
Though the equipment has been updated, the candy conveyors still look a lot like they did in the early days.
Surprisingly, not much has changed since the company first started using assembly lines for the production of its candies.
After a bit of cooling, the patties are covered in yet another layer of dark chocolate.
Prior to seeing this process, I was not aware that some candies received two layers of chocolate.
At this very moment, I would have loved to try a piece fresh off the belt – but I resisted.
A machine blasts the patties with air at the end of their journey, creating a signature design on the top of each piece.
All of the peppermint patties end up with a ripple-like design to indicate what’s inside. Each variation of candy has its own signature marking, which helps them stand out in an assorted box.
The cooled chocolates go through a metal detector before they are carefully boxed up by hand.
The candy is checked carefully before it reaches the end of its conveyor belt journey. A metal detector scans for debris and irregular pieces that may have fallen into the mixture at any part in the process. Factory workers then sort and package the patties into small boxes.
Metal detection is not a step in the candy-making process that I would have expected, but I’m glad that it’s a precaution that’s taken to ensure consumer safety.
Including all of the routine checks, Chapman informed us that it takes around 30 minutes for each piece of candy in the enrobing room to reach the final step of being packaged.
I got the chance to try a fresh peppermint patty at the end of the production process.
I never imagined that the process of making delectable pieces of chocolate could be so personal. Although the factory’s machines are responsible for the creation of thousands of candies each day, it’s clear that the operation wouldn’t be as successful without the intervention of humans at certain points.
Seeing how the workers quickly analysed and sorted the peppermint patties into their boxes showed how skilled they are at what they do.
After watching its creation from start to finish, I was even more excited to try the finished peppermint patty.
The patty was still warm to the touch when it was handed to me. The moment I put it in my mouth, the dark chocolate melted on my tongue, and the peppermint was refreshing.
On our way to the next stop — the bonbon room — we walked through a massive warehouse filled with racks of ingredients.
The warehouse contained pallets stocked with large bags of ingredients, such as peanuts and granulated sugar. Some of the bags were almost as tall as I am (5 feet).
While many See’s confections are made on a production line, I was surprised to learn that everything is produced by hand in the bonbon room.
“Everything that comes out of this room is made by hand,” Chapman said as he led our group inside the bonbon room. “There are no machines in this room.”
One employee was busy hand-dipping maple bonbons one by one, and skillfully putting a decorative S-shaped swirl on top of the candy.
The precise flick of the wrist seems like it would take years of practice to perfect. According to See’s website, the signature swirl is a highly individualized process as “bonbon dippers say they can identify the maker of each piece based on the distinct style of the twist.”
On the opposite side of the maple bonbon station, another employee was hand-dipping See’s Scotch Kisses.
One worker on the other side of the table was making Scotch Kiss candies – a candy that has a fresh, fluffy honey marshmallow centre that’s dipped in vanilla caramel. I was surprised at how each Scotch Kiss appeared to be an identical copy of the one made before it, showcasing the mastery of the factory worker’s dipping technique.
Once cooled off, the Scotch Kisses are wrapped in paper by hand.
Before leaving the bonbon room, I got to try a warm Scotch Kiss.
I appreciated this candy much more after I saw the process that went into making it. I took a moment to savour my bite and enjoyed the warm caramel mixing with the gooey texture of the marshmallow.
The tour concluded with a stop inside the See’s Candies retail shop, where I was immediately offered a sample of one of my favourite chocolates: See’s Milk Bordeaux.
We made our way back toward the front of the factory and into the See’s Candies store.
I hadn’t been in a See’s Candies retail store in months prior to my visit, but it was good to know that the old-fashioned candy shop still continued the tradition of greeting each customer with a free sample.
Some of the candies that I had just witnessed being made on a conveyor belt were on display in the store.
As I was browsing the store, I noticed that some of the candies I saw on the conveyor belt were packaged on the shelves and ready to go for customers.
In my experience, after watching the intricate production process and witnessing the effort that goes into the creation of each piece, I have a deeper appreciation for the See’s company as a whole.
The day ended with me picking out my own one-pound box of assorted candy.
See’s Candies makes over 150 varieties of candy, and many of them are centered around chocolate. With so many options to choose from, I had a hard time deciding which candies would make it into my assortment. I ended up choosing a variety of flavours that included chocolates like milk molasses chip, white chocolate key lime, and toasted coconut.
According to Chapman, the most popular and most requested piece of candy (which also happens to be my favourite) is the Milk Bordeaux. The popular candy features a buttercream filling with a milk chocolate coating and sprinkles.
Chapman noted that his favourite piece is the butterscotch square, which is essentially a brown sugar soft-centre candy that’s dipped in milk chocolate.
Despite its large factory production, See’s Candies still incorporates a handmade element into the candy-making process.
Nowadays, See’s Candies sells 26 million pounds of candy each year, but my visit to the factory showed that the company hasn’t abandoned traditions that have been around since its start in 1921.
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