Mints may again be Chicago-made

Tribune staff reporter

The loss of the Marshall Field’s nameplate may be a bitter pill, but Field’s new owner is sugarcoating the news with the prospect of returning Frango mints to Chicago.

Terry Lundgren, the head of Federated Department Stores Inc., met with Mayor Richard Daley on Tuesday and told the mayor that he was looking into “our contractual obligations” to determine whether Frango production could be moved back to Chicago.

Meeting later with the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, Lundgren said such a move would capitalize on one of Chicago’s long-standing strengths. “Isn’t this the Candy Capital of America?” he asked. “This isn’t going to break us, so my guess is if I can figure out how to do this economically ... and the talent base is here and the tradition is here, then it’s a good idea.”

Frango, the signature candy of Marshall Field’s, was long produced in giant melting pots on the 13th floor of its State Street flagship. But six years ago, Dayton Hudson Corp., which owned Field’s at the time, outsourced the manufacturing to a Pennsylvania firm and laid off 157 workers, many of them veteran candymakers.

The move irritated Daley for several reasons, including the loss of jobs and the setback to Chicago’s reputation as a candymaking center. But he also was irked because no one from Dayton Hudson had given him a heads-up.

This time around, Lundgren clearly had done his homework about how the City That Works works. It paid off for him in a muted response from City Hall.

“Things change in life,” Daley told reporters Tuesday. “If you’re not willing to accept change, you stay in the past.”

Sweetening his reaction was the possibility that Frango mints manufacturing may return, said Jacquelyn Heard, Daley’s press secretary. The mayor also was heartened that none of the 6,200 layoffs announced by Federated on Tuesday would be falling on the Chicago area.

Pressed by reporters, Lundgren said he had not promised to bring Frango production back to Chicago but would investigate the possibility. Federated spokesman Jim Sluzewski said the retailer would explore whether Chicago candy companies could handle the added work of Frango production and also would consider taking at least some of the work back in-house.

He promised the fate of the Frango mint won’t be lost in the major restructuring that Federated is undertaking in the coming year as it incorporates May Department Stores Co.'s almost 500 stores into its operation.

“We are making a serious commitment. We are talking about it publicly,” Sluzewski said. “We asked Chicagoans about what traditions they respected, and Frangos came up in every conversation.”

So will Marshall Field’s Frango mints be transformed into Macy’s Mints?

That won’t be necessary, Federated said, because Frango has become its own brand name.

Some boxes of Frangos already are sold in Macy’s stores in Seattle without the Field’s name on the box, a Macy’s spokesman said. That makes sense given that Seattle is the true home of the Frango, where the mint was created in 1918 by the Frederick and Nelson Co.

More than 1 million pounds of Frango chocolates are sold annually to customers around the world, according to the Marshall Field’s Web site. Although a variety of new flavors have been added, the classic Frango mint chocolate is the best-seller.

Will Frangos be sold throughout Macy’s chain? It’s too soon to tell, Federated says. It all depends on how “expandable the Frango brand is,” Sluzewski said.