See’s Candies is a timeless candy shop that makes over 26 million pounds of candy — particularly chocolates — every year! The very first See’s opened in 1921 in Los Angeles, making this year its Centennial anniversary. One of its biggest and busiest seasons since it’s humble beginnings is Easter, a time of family get togethers, egg hunts and lots of sweet treats!
“Easter is an incredibly important season for us at See’s. We love hearing stories from our customers about the memories tied to our treats,” explains See’s Candies CEO Pat Egan. “I think it’s this nostalgia element that makes our Easter product line so popular. These gifts and beautiful treats remind people of family, Easter egg hunts and community gatherings—which we all need more of, particularly now.”
Last Easter, See’s shut down for only the second time in company history since WWII due to the pandemic. Though challenging to close its doors at the start of the pandemic, particularly because tradition plays such a strong role in the company’s ethos, the health and safety of its employees and customers will always be, the number one priority at See’s explained Egan.
“On the bright side, we were able to pivot and donate candy we could not sell from stores and in our warehouses to support first responders, food banks, health care workers, and so many others, working tirelessly and ready for a sweet pick-me-up,” says Egan.
Because their candy is made without preservatives and stores were forced to shut down, the beloved candy company ended up donating nearly a month’s worth of production. “Supporting our communities during the first stages of the pandemic was an easy decision,” continues Egan. “This year, beyond being open for operation, we have expanded our Easter portfolio with the release of the Centennial Easter Tin and new Limited Time Sweet: the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Egg.”
A few of See’s best selling Easter items year after year? Its expertly crafted Rocky Road and Chocolate Butter Egg which are hand decorated with great attention to detail.
We chatted with See’s Candies CEO Pat Egan on Easter eggs, their signature Easter treats, future store plans and more. Here’s what he had to say.
Where did the idea of See’s special hand decorated eggs come from? Have they always been made by hand? What makes them special?
See’s first started making Easter eggs in our Los Angeles kitchens before we even established our first Northern California stores in the mid-1930’s. So, we’ve been hand decorating eggs like the Rocky Road and Chocolate Butter Egg for decades! The way we produced the eggs back then is almost identical to how we make them today. The level of craft, skill and time that goes into each egg is amazing. It truly is an art form!
It’s this time-tested process and attention to detail that really makes this product one-of-a-kind. Personally, I remember going to the Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo when I was a kid and being in awe of the See’s shop, and particularly the eggs. That store is exactly 10 miles south of our production kitchens where those eggs have been made since well before I was born.
What is the process for making these treats? How long does it take your decorators to learn how to do them?
From start to finish, almost every step of production is done by hand. Let’s take our Rocky Road Egg for example. The delicious mixture of See’s milk chocolate, honey marshmallow (which we produce) and California walnuts are mixed and hand-packed into mold boards.
They are then taken out of the mold and trimmed. From there, they are placed on the enrobing belt and coated in milk chocolate. After that, they’re off to the decorating department! The white border, stems and leaves are piped onto the eggs, and the candy bouquets are placed on top. The flowers are piped by hand, and it is mesmerizing to watch our decorators do this!
The decorators have a very specific skill set and have practiced their art for years. Some have been decorating Rocky Road Eggs for over 20 years! Trust me, I’ve tried decorating an egg before… and let’s just say we should leave it to the experts, it’s way harder than it seems!
How popular are these eggs? How many do you make and sell each year?
In the Easter season, we produce around 4.5 million eggs! It’s an astonishing number and I’m always so impressed by our production team during this time. Then, in terms of our hand-decorated Rocky Road Eggs, we produce around one hundred thousand each year. They are a fan-favorite and a staple for many of our customers’ Easter traditions, so it’s not uncommon that we sell out. I think what our customers love about this Easter treat is that one, it is pretty big, and two, they appreciate the level of artistry that goes into decorating each egg.
What’s in the works for See’s? Anything new?
See’s is iconic. Our candy, our store experience and our history as an American-made product that is still made essentially the same way we were made a century ago makes us one-of-a-kind. We will always stay true to that tradition and sensibility. But, we are absolutely transitioning as a company to ensure we continue to serve customers who have always loved us while bringing in the next generation of See’s fans.
Our Centennial gives us a fantastic platform to honor our founders, Mary and Charles See, while introducing tremendous new flavors, a new piece every month. We launched “What’s Your Sweet Idea” earlier this year, and received almost 60,000 votes to create the piece we will introduce in November, which is the month that See’s Candies became Incorporated in 1921. So, our customers get to lead the way for what is in fact the start to our second century in business. We are so proud of this incredible milestone and are thrilled to be able to share the excitement with our customers. I will tease out that our April Limited-Time Sweet will be something coffee lovers will enjoy.
How is it being a part of the Berkshire Hathaway family?
In 2022, we will celebrate 50 years of being a part of Berkshire Hathaway. In 1971, Mr. Buffett worked very hard to identify the first non-insurance operating business to be owned by Berkshire. We have been fortunate to have that steady and wise direction to carry on the sound business approach established by the See’s family.
Both Mr. Munger and Mr. Buffett have said many times that the lessons they learned through the acquisition of See’s and working with the operations have made them wiser in other business acquisitions and operations. This business has more to it than might meet the eye. On the one hand, our business is very straightforward… we make the best candy you can find anywhere, and provide the best service possible. On the other hand, few businesses at our scale make most of what they sell and also own and manage nearly all of their sales channels.
We have been operating a direct to consumer mail order business since 1922, and that business continues to grow at a very high rate. Our retail shops are also very profitable because we stay true to what the customer wants and avoid the traps of just chasing trends. Throughout our history, the direction has been clear and steady. I’m honored to be only the third President of the company since Berkshire Hathaway and the See’s family came to an agreement in 1972. I take the obligation to stay on course and support our customers, our employees and this great brand very seriously.