For decades, Britons flocking to seaside resorts have savored sweet and colorful rock candy with lettering in the center that touts local souvenir shops or the candy makers themselves.
Now, a fledgling company that opened here only a month ago is trying to sell American business on the idea that matchbooks and pocket calendars are out and personalized candy is in as a way to capture attention.
"We expect to be a success based on the fact we are a one-of-a-kind business with no competition, making candy that can't be imitated," said Alyce P. Bledsoe, vice president of Blackpool Brighton Candy Corp., with the sort of confidence and enthusiasm that a new enterprise needs.
Calls It a First
In fact, the company says it is the first American producer of custom, handmade rock candy in the English tradition.
Two major manufacturers of American rock candy say that what the company is doing is rare, artistic and distinctly English, and they do not doubt the company's claim.
"What makes it different is that they have letters running throughout the whole stick," said Robert Picken, president of Peerless Confection of Chicago. "I know of no one in America who does this."
Stephen Besse, sales manager of Dryden & Palmer in Norwalk, Conn., said he has seen this kind of candy only as an English import.
Named for Seaside Cities
Blackpool Brighton--named for the seaside cities where English rock candy originated--produces candy by special order only and customers so far have ranged from the City of Carson and the New Otani hotel to Angeles Abbey, a cemetery in Compton. They have received packaged, bite-size candies in their choices of colors and flavors, all ready to use as promotions or to pass out to friends and clients.
The candy starts as hot sheets of sugar and corn syrup, to which colors and flavorings are added. The secret of the lettering is that when the candy is formed, strips of colored and white candy are layered by hand in the center to form the letters.
Looking like a large, log-like lump wrapped in a colored casing, the candy is then forced by hand through a kind of "giant shrinking machine" where turning cylinders compress it into long tubes three-quarters of an inch in diameter. When it hardens and is cut, the lettering--whether it be a company name, "Happy Holidays" or "I love (with a heart) LA"--is clearly visible on each piece.
"The creative part of this is that you don't know what it's going to look like until it comes out because nothing is uniform," said Stewart Rennie, president of the company, who travels between England and California.
Sometimes the lettering is obliterated in the process and another batch--called a boil--has to be prepared. "It happens, but not often," Rennie said with a smile.
A spinoff of Rennie's British company, Blackpool Brighton was started after a feasibility study convinced Rennie that no one in the United States was producing traditional English rock candy. He and Bledsoe had met some years before, and he asked her to set up the American business.
"I wanted to be in the South Bay and looked first in Carson, where I live," said Bledsoe, whose business experiences have ranged from import-export to helping run a tour of the United States and Canada by England's Royal Ballet.
She eventually found an electronics factory on Prairie Avenue in Hawthorne that was for sale. It was purchased and converted with English equipment into a candy factory, where the stark white of the walls is softened only by the red-and-blue company name.
For Bledsoe, Blackpool Brighton is definitely a family enterprise. Candy maker Eddie Jackson, who has 25 years of experience in England, is her brother-in-law, and her son, Tony, is sales manager.
Aside from saying that the business has required a $500,000 investment so far, Bledsoe would not discuss company finances. But she said she expects to start showing a profit in four months. "Most small businesses take a year to do that," she said.
With five employees, the company can produce 10,000 candies a day. Its major marketing effort so far has been a mailing to 1,000 businesses, including banks, hotels and restaurants.
Bledsoe said Carson officials became impromptu promoters when they passed out candies at a National League of Cities convention in Indianapolis. "The Michigan tourist department saw them and called us," she said.
Rennie said he expects to expand in Hawthorne and perhaps open factories in other cities.