Brown & Haley History

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Private Company
Incorporated: 1914 as Oriole Candy Company
Employees: 300
Sales: $50 million (1997 est.)
SICs: 2064 Candy & Other Confectionery Products

Company Perspectives:

While still headquartered in the former shoe factory that it has occupied since 1919, Brown & Haley, the nation's third largest manufacturing wholesaler of boxed chocolates, is an industry leader in developing and implementing new technological advances. Many of these include proprietary and patented production processes that make it possible for the company to produce a wide assortment of high-quality, European-type molded chocolates faster and at a lower cost than its competitors.

Company History:

The third-largest manufacturer of boxed chocolates in the United States, Brown & Haley makes a variety of confection products but is most widely known for its Mountain Bars and Almond Roca candies. During the late 1990s, Almond Roca ranked as the largest exported gift candy in the United States, having been introduced in foreign countries during World War II. In addition to the company's three flavors of Mountain Bars and its flagship Almond Roca brand, Brown & Haley sold cream-filled chocolates under the Belgium Cremes brand name and an assortment of chocolate, nut, and cream-filled confections. Based in Tacoma, Washington, the company was owned and managed by the Haley family.

Turn of the Century Origins

The foundation for Brown & Haley rested on the business and personal relationship forged by the company's founders, Henry L. Brown and Jonathan Clifford Haley. The two co-founders met in 1908 in Tacoma, Washington, where Brown owned a small confectionery store. Haley was a newcomer to Tacoma, having left Ohio for the Pacific Northwest to start a new life where opportunities abounded and, according to infectious gossip, quick fortunes could be made. After Haley and Brown crossed paths for the first time, the two men struck a friendship that manifested itself in the business arena, where each could apply their individual talents. Of the two, Haley was the businessman, adept at sales and marketing. Brown's interests ran in a different direction. He envisioned himself as a candymaker and spent his time experimenting with different recipes for making chocolate and sugar candies. Brown and Haley began working together to develop a business venture in 1912, the year observed by Brown & Haley as the founding date for the company. Two years later, the complementary business relationship between Henry Brown and J. C. Haley was made official with the incorporation of their business, the Oriole Candy Company, the predecessor to Brown & Haley.

Two years after their 1914 incorporation, Brown and Haley had created a full line of candy products and had already created one of the two signature products that would drive sales for the remainder of the century. Originally marketed as "Mt. Tacoma," the company's signal product was a chocolate and nut confection with a vanilla-cream center that debuted perhaps as early as 1915, but was definitely an integral part of the company's product line by 1916. Quickly, Brown and Haley had developed a product that, by itself, could support their company and, perhaps more important, its introduction had occurred at a propitious time.

Not far from the company's production site, a military base named Camp Lewis was swelling at its fences with new inductees ready to join the war in Europe. The soldiers in training at Camp Lewis represented a burgeoning pool of customers for the candies produced by Brown and Haley, particularly their recently introduced Mt. Tacoma bar. Company sales quickly shot upward, fueled by the presence of a captive audience that eagerly satiated its collective sweet tooth. Brown and Haley supplied the soldiers with taffy chews, butterscotch balls, Mt. Tacoma bars, and a full list of other confections, collecting enough money to finance the relocation of their manufacturing facility to an abandoned shoe factory at the end of the war.

In the history of Brown & Haley, military conflicts proved to be a boon to the company's business. The United States' decision to enter World War I provided the company with an initial surge in sales that helped it make the frequently difficult transition from start-up business venture to established company. World War II would be equally, if not more, beneficial to Brown & Haley's financial well-being, and to a lesser extent the United States' involvement in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf would provide welcomed boosts in sales, but the company's benefits from the country's entrance into World War I turned out to be short-lived. The end of World War I reverted nearly all U.S. soldiers back to civilian life, and, accordingly, the number of soldiers residing at Camp Lewis quickly dwindled, dipping to prewar population levels. Sales at Brown & Haley dipped as well, dropping as quickly as they had risen during the war. Henry Brown and J. C. Haley, with their recently acquired manufacturing facility at their disposal, were at a loss for what to do next.

Forced to rethink their approach, Brown and Haley decided that the key to survival in the competitive candy market was to be innovative: to distinguish their company from competitors by developing one great product that could win the hearts of consumers. It was time for Brown to retreat to the kitchen to create such a confection. For several years, various recipes were developed, as Brown struggled to find the solution to the company's financial ills. As the search was on, however, the company already had a product that was performing admirably. The company's flagship Mt. Tacoma bar was a hit, selling well in the region encompassing the company's offices in Tacoma and winning over customers in neighboring regions as well. By 1923, the sale of Mt. Tacoma bars had spread geographically far enough to justify a name change of the brand. Mt. Tacoma became the less geographically specific "Mountain," the brand name under which the company's cream-filled candy bars would become famous. The same year Brown & Haley rechristened its flagship product, the years of experimenting to develop another flagship product came to an end. The result would constitute the essence of Brown & Haley during the 20th century.

Almond Roca Created in 1923

From Brown & Haley's kitchen emerged a crunchy, log-shaped candy with butter inside and a coating of chocolate and diced almonds on the outside. Unique, the creation fulfilled the company's objective of developing an innovative product to distinguish itself from competitors. For a name for the small, log-shaped candies, Brown & Haley took the suggestion of a local librarian, who proposed "Roca," which meant "rock" in Spanish. Considering that almonds came primarily from Spain during the 1920s, the name was a logical selection and its sound had a catchy ring to it, giving birth to the Almond Roca brand name that would flourish during the ensuing decades.

Almond Roca candies proved to be an immediate success, but fundamental refinements had to be made before the candy's full potential could be unlocked. Although consumers in the region surrounding Tacoma were eagerly grabbing Almond Roca candies off store shelves, it quickly became clear that the product's short shelf life was limiting sales and barring widespread distribution. An alarming percentage of the candies were turning rancid, which forced the company to devise a packaging solution. Haley found one, drawing inspiration from the way in which coffee was packaged. In 1927, Brown & Haley began packaging Almond Rocas in airtight tin cans, thereby extending the candy's shelf life three-fold. Owing to its distinction as the first candy in the world to be packaged in a sealed tin can, Almond Roca's suitability for distribution was greatly enhanced by the packaging change. In the decades to follow, the importance of the packaging innovation became manifestly clear, as Almond Roca candies were distributed across the globe and developed into the largest exported gift candy in the United States.

World War II Fuels Growth

Before Almond Roca developed into a globally-distributed product, it enjoyed popularity as a regional favorite in the Pacific Northwest, remaining a local secret throughout the Great Depression. This, however, would soon change. The end of the 1930s witnessed the start of another war in Europe, and like the Great War 20 years earlier, World War II would shower a wealth of business on the small, Pacific Northwest candymaker, Brown & Haley. When the United States entered the war in 1941, the prospects for candy manufacturers looked bleak, Brown & Haley included. Sugar was among the numerous items that fell under rationing restrictions at the beginning of the United States' involvement in the war, which promised to severely damage the business of candymakers throughout the country. Brown & Haley was making as many as 25 different candy products when World War II started, but once sugar rationing was announced the company decided to substantially trim its product line and concentrate on producing its greatest money winners, Mountain Bars and Almond Roca. As it had 20 years earlier, the population at nearby Camp Lewis mushroomed as the country braced itself for another protracted military struggle. This time, however, Brown & Haley was not dependent on the burgeoning number of recruits pouring into Camp Lewis. Packed in air-tight tin cans, Almond Rocas could be shipped to troops wherever they went, and Brown & Haley was quick to take advantage of this ability by signing a contract with the U.S. War Department to supply Almond Rocas to military personnel stationed overseas. What followed made Almond Rocas a national treasure and an international delight.

During the war, Almond Rocas were shipped to troops in Europe, the Middle East, and the Pacific, popping up wherever U.S. soldiers were camped. A coveted treat, the hard, crunchy candies took on a legendary stature during the war, their presence so pervasive that the almond-covered candies were the subject of an entire chapter in a government historical study of World War II. At one point during the war, U.S. generals refused to hand over responsibility for an occupied country to other Allied forces until they were guaranteed that three railroad cars of Almond Rocas could be taken with them, a stipulation that pointed to the widespread popularity of the candies. The armada of Almond Rocas sent overseas during the war, which would not have been possible without the 1927 introduction of tin packaging, did much to strengthen Brown & Haley's business. Not only did it give the company a thriving business during the years of sugar rationing, it also transformed the candies from a local favorite to a national favorite. When U.S. soldiers returned from overseas after the war and resumed their civilian lives throughout the country, many yearned for the candies made in Tacoma. As a result, the postwar years would see Brown & Haley's customer base broaden from the Pacific Northwest region until it embraced the entire country.

Before the war ended, the legacy of the Brown family's involvement in the candy business came to an end. In 1944 the Brown family sold their interest in the company to the Haley family, which was led by Fred Haley, the second generation of Haleys to guide the fortunes of the company. Under Fred Haley's tutelage, the company reaped the rewards of its World War II activities, gaining a national presence as demand for Almond Rocas spread throughout the country. Business grew steadily during the 1950s, 1960s, and into the 1970s, driven by the popularity of the company's two signature products, Mountain Bars, and the considerably more successful, Almond Roca candies. Although the company marketed other candies, nothing matched the sales strength of its two leading brands.

With nearly all of its growth underpinned by the success of Mountain Bars and Almond Roca candies, Brown & Haley concentrated its marketing and distribution efforts on those two brands for decades. Essentially a two-product company, the company was content to rely on its leading brands for its sales growth. During the 1970s, Brown & Haley made two moves that boosted the sales derived from Mountain Bars and Almond Roca candies. Originally, Mountain Bars had a vanilla-flavored center, the only flavor available until the end of World War II when Brown & Haley's Cherry Bounce brand was rechristened Cherry Mountain Bar. In 1974 a third flavor was added, the Peanut Butter Mountain Bar. Its debut marked an increase in the sales derived from Mountain Bar production. The company's second major achievement during the 1970s provided a considerably more powerful boost to sales, making the Almond Roca brand an internationally recognized name.

Export Business Begins in 1974

During the early 1970s, Fred Haley began looking seriously at building overseas business, and Almond Roca, which had traveled the world during World War II, represented the logical choice for extending the company's presence into foreign markets. The push overseas was given life with the first substantial order in 1974, when a Japanese wholesaler agreed to buy $250,000 worth of Almond Roca candies. From there, Brown & Haley's export business grew steadily, developing into a significant arm of the company's business and accounting for a substantial portion of total annual sales.

A decade after Fred Haley began developing Brown & Haley's export business, the next generation of the Haley family assumed control over the company. In 1984, Mark Haley, Fred Haley's son, took over as president, inheriting a business that still drew much of its strength from its two leading brands. By this point, Brown & Haley was producing up to 400,000 pounds of Almond Roca each day and exporting an estimated 20 percent of its production total to 40 countries on six continents, having achieved remarkable progress on the international front. Once settled into his new position, Mark Haley began making subtle changes, endeavoring to make Brown & Haley known as something other than "the Almond Roca company." His efforts bore fruit in 1990, when the company introduced Belgium Cremes, a line of molded chocolates with 12 varieties of cream fillings. Belgium Cremes proved to be highly popular, with orders quadrupling during the product's second year of availability.

Encouraged by the success of Belgium Cremes, Haley furthered his efforts toward broadening Brown & Haley's image as the 1990s progressed. Part of his strategy included a thorough redesign of the packaging and labeling of the company's staple products to emphasize the Brown & Haley name. Additionally, the company was stepping up its marketing efforts to highlight the other candies in its product line. Although more attention was being paid to other products manufactured under the Brown & Haley banner, the company by no means abandoned sales support for its two signature products. Almond Roca candies and Mountain Bars had fueled Brown & Haley's growth since their development, and they figured to do so in the future.

By the late 1990s, Almond Roca was sold in 63 countries, reigning as the market leader in several foreign nations. The brand was a market leader for imported gift confections in Hong Kong, China, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, the Philippines, and Taiwan. Much of the company's future success hinged on continued worldwide demand for Almond Roca, which did not appear to be diminishing. Accordingly, as Brown & Haley prepared to enter the 21st century, its future growth seemed as secure as the time-tested demand for its most popular product. Seventy-five years after the company made its first batch of Almond Roca, Brown & Haley was churning out 800,000 pieces of the candy each day, still occupying the converted shoe factory purchased by Harry Brown and J. C. Haley in 1919.

Further Reading:

  • Brown & Haley, The Brown & Haley Story, Tacoma: Brown & Haley, 1997.
  • "Brown and Haley Celebrates Eight Decades of Candymaking," Candy Industry, August 1994, p. 58.
  • "Candy Firm Not Sweet on Tacoma, Wash., Region," Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, October 18, 1993, p. 10.
  • Haley, Mark, "When Quality Is the Bottom Line," Candy Industry, June 1994, p. 77.
  • Liebman, Larry, "Brown & Haley Aiming for Upscale Market," Puget Sound Business Journal, December 18, 1992, p. 16.
  • "Product Parade," Candy Industry, June 1996, p. 10.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 23. St. James Press, 1998.