Friday, December 3, 2021
Dec. 3, 2021

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Is See’s Candies the world’s best? It’s certainly the most memorable

Shop visits are part of childhood for most Californians

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See's Candies hacks, clockwise from top left: S'mores, PB&J, holiday yams, spy the candy and make your own movie snack.
See's Candies hacks, clockwise from top left: S'mores, PB&J, holiday yams, spy the candy and make your own movie snack. Photo Gallery

LOS ANGELES — For the past 40 years, my parents have exchanged the same presents on their wedding anniversary. In addition to the concert tickets, jewelry, tennis rackets, coffee mugs and fridge magnets, the list always includes See’s Candies.

The gift exchange usually starts like this: First thing in the morning, my father puts a dozen red roses in a vase and places them on the edge of the breakfast nook. It’s strategically positioned to be the first thing my mother sees when she walks down the stairs. An appropriately mushy card awaits in an envelope propped against the vase, and a folded See’s Candies bag sits beside it.

Then my mother walks down the stairs holding a folded bag of See’s Candies behind her back as if, after years of the same routine, there’s even a slight chance she’ll be presenting anything else. In her other hand? An overly mushy card.

Each of their bags holds five dark chocolate Scotchmallows, one of See’s most popular varieties. Introduced in the 1950s, Scotchmallows are made with a disk of honey marshmallow under a layer of smooth caramel covered in a thin sheet of dark chocolate.

Especially if you grew up in California, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with See’s Candies, which celebrates its 100th birthday this month. For many, the brand’s black-and-white checkerboard motif (in stores and packaging) is associated with family celebrations, holidays and momentary escapes. The company’s more than 240 stores, most of them in California, can be found at almost every major shopping center in the state. (There are stores all over the country, including in Vancouver Mall, and 14 international shops.)

100 years of See's Candies

1921 — Charles A. See, a Canadian chocolate sales representative, opens a small candy shop in Los Angeles with wife, Florence, and widowed mother, Mary See. (Mary’s is the face on the See’s boxes.) The trio sells candy made using recipes Mary developed while running a hotel with her family on Tremont Park Island in Ontario, Canada.

1925 — See’s Candies grows to a dozen chocolate shops across California.

1928 — The company starts a motorcycle delivery service that delivers chocolate around L.A.

1931 — Charles opens the Mary See’s Sunlit Candy Studio chocolate shop and kitchen. People watch the candy being made through large plate-glass windows.

1936 — Charles sets his sights on San Francisco. Within four years, he opens 18 shops in the Bay Area.

1939 — See’s Candies hosts an exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York with a shop and a miniature candy kitchen.

1940 — A 15,000-square-foot candy kitchen opens in San Francisco. The public is invited on a tour; 8,000 people show up to the grand opening.

1942 — See’s Candies halts production during World War II due to rationing.

1949 — See’s participates in its first Rose Bowl Parade with a 15-foot Easter Bunny float.

1952 — Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance visit the See’s candy kitchen. The visit prompted the memorable “Job Switching” episode of “I Love Lucy.”

1959 — See’s starts using tanker trucks to transport its chocolate in liquid form to its production facilities.

1960 — The brand grows to include 124 shops and more than 1,000 employees. Over the next 10 years, the company develops a mail-order department that packs and ships candy.

1961 — The first shop outside California opens in Phoenix.

1972 — Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger buy the company and make it part of Berkshire Hathaway.

1976 — The first international shop opens in Hong Kong.

1985 — See’s launches truffles at all of its shops.

1995 — See’s rolls out a website with a full-service online store with worldwide shipping. Annually, the website gets 7.9 million visitors and makes 1.5 million shipments.

1998 — See’s opens a production facility in Burlingame, Calif., that exclusively produces its lollipops and Little Pops.

2012 — Guinness World Records says a 7,000-plus-pound See’s chocolate lollipop is the largest in the world.

2020 — See’s Candies suspends production for a month and a half in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, generating headlines nationwide.

2021 — The company celebrates its centennial. Activities include the launch of a new limited-edition piece every month of 2021 and a What’s Your Sweet Idea contest that leaves the next See’s flavor up to a customer vote.

See’s is far from the most popular candy brand in America — that title belongs to Mars and Hershey’s. Fans of higher-end chocolates, like Godiva and Vosges, and local favorites Compartes and LetterPress may look down on See’s as something from another time: old-fashioned, quaint and just a tad too sweet. But fans of See’s Candies are passionate about their Bordeaux chocolates, molasses chips and peanut brittle.

Something special happens when you walk into a See’s shop. Each one, regardless of the location, feels exactly the same. Brightly lit and smelling of toasted nuts, chocolate and vanilla, the stores beckon with the promise of nostalgia. The pristine white walls and the glowing display cases are the best kind of respite from reality. Candy is ostensibly what you came in for, but each trip is a way to connect with the person you were when you first tried See’s.

See’s CEO and President Pat Egan says, “This should be our best year ever from a sales standpoint,” with 1 billion pieces of candy produced. E-commerce for the brand has doubled in the last two years, and the company expects to reach 2.2 million orders this year, most of them shipped in the next few weeks.

The candy was a fixture in my childhood, each piece a memory of Friday afternoon surprises, family trips to the mall, birthday and anniversary celebrations. This was the candy we brought to relatives’ houses for the holidays. At Hanukkah, we opened the Nuts and Chews box and tried to guess which piece was what. My sister took bites out of half of the pieces on many occasions, looking for the milk Butterchew. She put the uneaten halves back in the box. I was mildly disturbed by this but ate her leftovers anyway.

Sometimes (OK, often) I crumpled the brown paper candy cups and stuck them between my grandmother’s couch cushions. (Sorry, Grandma.)

See's hacks, fun facts, limited flavors

The following are Stacey Thorpe’s tips for how to use See’s Candies to upgrade your coffee, movie theater popcorn, Thanksgiving side dishes and more, along with some fun See’s facts from President and Chief Executive Pat Egan.

Hacks

Make your own PB&J: Cut a Raspberry Cream and a Peanut Butter Patty in half. Eat half of one with half of the other.

Make your own movie snack: Take a box of Bridge Mix into the movie theater or your living room. Buy or pop a medium popcorn and dump the Bridge Mix onto the popcorn. Shake and enjoy.

Upgrade your cup of joe: Unwrap a Scotch Kiss (honey marshmallow surrounded by caramel) and drop it into your hot coffee. Let it melt and then stir.

Holiday yams: Unwrap enough Scotch Kisses to cover a baking dish of mashed yams. Bake in the oven until the candy is melted. Serve and impress everyone.

Make s’mores: Melt a Scotchmallow onto a graham cracker square.

How to spot the candy

You can tell the difference between certain pieces by studying the tops of the candies.

A Cherry Cordial and a Double Caramel look similar, for example, but the Cherry Cordial has lines across the top, while the Double Caramel has a smoother surface.

Limited flavors

The company launched new flavors each month this year, with sales limited to that period. Here’s a rundown of what you may have missed: Dark Butterscotch Square (January), Milk Raspberry Heart Truffle (February), Dark Peanut Butter Egg (March), Chocolate Coffee Beans (April), Almond Brittle With a Kick (May), Peanut Butter Bites (June), Lemon Drops (July), Dark Salted Caramel (August), Birthday Cake (September), Dark Peanut Crunch (October) and Milk and Dark Coffee Scotchmallows (November, still available).

Fun facts

  • The most popular See’s Candies are the Scotchmallow, Bordeaux (creamy brown sugar soft center covered in milk or dark chocolate and decorated with sprinkles), lollipops and Peanut Brittle.
  • There are more than 120 holiday pop-up shops.
  • The average See’s shop is 1,200 square feet.
  • The company produces 1 billion pieces of candy annually.
  • Twenty-three million pounds of candy are covered in chocolate every year.
  • One million pounds of free samples are handed out each year.

A stop at See’s was mandatory every time we went to the mall. I often chose the pieces that would last the longest: a butterscotch lollipop or a Molasses Chip. For the latter, I’d take my time licking off all of the chocolate before biting into the chip. Everyone in the family left the store with at least two samples.

By the first night of Hanukkah this year, there will be two Nuts and Chews boxes on the dining room table after latkes in the house where I grew up. Next summer, there will be 10 more Scotchmallows, tucked into two paper bags on the breakfast nook.

I’ve sampled bean-to-bar chocolate all over the world and tried desserts from renowned pastry chefs. I’ve eaten and written about my fair share of candy. But the chocolate I want most — the one that makes me think of my family and transports me to the simpler, before times — is always See’s.

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