ST. PAUL - Pearson’s Candy Co. of St. Paul, the home of the Salted Nut Roll and other popular regional confections, will have a local owner again.
The 109-year-old company announced Friday, Nov. 16, that it has been acquired by Spell Capital Partners, a Minneapolis private equity firm.
“We are very pleased,” said Michael Keller, Pearson’s president and CEO. “Spell will be a terrific partner and owner for Pearson’s because they understand both manufacturing and the importance of Pearson’s and its brands to the community.”
Terms of the sale were not disclosed.
In 2018, Pearson’s was rated 42nd out of the top 60 candy companies in North America by revenue, at $89 million. It’s best known for the Salted Nut Roll, Nut Goodie Bar, Mint Patties and Bun Bar.
Pearson’s was created as a Minneapolis candy-distributing company by P. Edward Pearson and his four brothers in 1909. Three years later, they got into candy making, premiering the blob-like Nut Goodie. In 1933, the company introduced another winner - the cylindrical Salted Nut Roll, with a white nougat center surrounded by caramel and peanuts.
George Pearson, son of founder P. Edward, joined the business in 1944 and ran the company for 20 years, moving it to St. Paul’s West Seventh Street in 1950. Pearson also bought Trudeau Candy Co. of St. Paul, famous for the Seven-Up Bar. In 1968, he sold Pearson’s to International Telephone and Telegraph’s Continental Baking Co. Ten years later, two Chicago entrepreneurs bought Pearson’s and hired Larry Hassler as a financial officer.
Soon, Hassler phased out the Seven-Up Bar because it was a nightmare to produce. The chocolate bar had seven connected pieces, each a different flavor (Brazil nut, coconut cream, caramel, maple walnut, chocolate pudding, fruit jelly and vanilla cream) and had to be assembled in a particular order.
“Usually, we had to destroy everything produced the first two hours,” Hassler told the Pioneer Press in 2009, on Pearson’s 100th anniversary. “We’d have been better off just giving everyone a quarter.”
In 1985, Hassler and fellow Pearson’s employee Judith Johnston bought the company.
When they took over, the bulk of Pearson’s business was churning out 1.5 million General Mills Nature Valley Granola Bars a day. Within a year, General Mills pulled out of the plant, putting Pearson’s on the verge of bankruptcy.
In 2011, after Johnston had left the since-stabilized company, Hassler sold Pearson’s to Brynwood Partners, a Connecticut-based private equity firm. At the time, Hassler said he had been looking to sell the company for about a year rather than try to expand it himself. Pearson needed to get bigger, Hassler told the Pioneer Press, so it could offer more candy options to its retail customers.
Keller, who had been chief marketing officer for International Dairy Queen in Edina, was brought on as president and CEO.
In 2013, Pearson’s acquired the nationally known Bit-O-Honey candy brand from Nestle and moved production from Illinois to St. Paul.
In 2016, for the first time since 1933, the company launched a new brand called 7th Street Confections that started shipping new products last year. This brand appeals to the health-conscious group with treats that combine dark chocolate and freeze-dried fruit, like strawberries, blueberries and pineapple, as well as one that combines raspberries and quinoa with dark chocolate.
While Pearson’s Nut Goodie is sold mainly in the Upper Midwest, the company’s Salted Nut Rolls and Mint Patties have more of a national following. Bun Bars, a Nut Goodie-like brand acquired in 1998 from the Clark Bar candy company, are popular in Indiana, Ohio and New York.
“Spell Capital and the significant number of Minnesota-based investors who we represent are excited to have the opportunity to own and invest in an historic Minnesota company like Pearson’s,” Bill Spell, the president of Spell Capital, said of the acquisition.
Spell said that Pearson’s management team will remain in place. The company has about 200 employees.
The firm plans to invest in the West Seventh Street plant and its facilities.
Kim Solem, a security guard at the plant, said Saturday that he couldn’t comment on the sale, but that he has been impressed by the staff at the plant.
“The employees are very dedicated to their product,” he said, opening a box in the lobby and passing out Mint Patties and Bit-O-Honeys. “I absolutely love this job.”