Mount Franklin gives Candy a High-Tech Swirl
Apr 06, 2018 03:26PM
By Makayla Gay
By Richard Breen
They came to Sumter looking for some candy-making equipment and ended up buying a 100,000-square-foot factory.
And then investing more than $10 million.
And now they’re working toward a goal of creating 225 jobs.
“We look forward to being a long-term resident there,” says Curtis Whetten, a senior vice president with Mount Franklin Nutritionals.
Mount Franklin Nutritionals, a division of Texas-based Mount Franklin Foods LLC, is putting a high-tech spin on candy manufacturing at the Sumter facility. Plans call for taking gummy candies and packing them full of nutrients.
“We don’t intend to stop with multivitamins,” says Gary Ricco, Mount Franklin’s president and chief executive. “Our DNA is confections. We definitely know how to make a great gummy product. We want to take our confectionery abilities and make a product that is better for you.”
Recruited by Sumter
The story of Mount Franklin in Sumter begins with an ending for another company. Au’some Candy Co. closed its facility there in 2016 after having been in operation for barely four years.
The facility made gummy candies, which attracted the attention of Mount Franklin, which produces confections and nut products for retailers, wholesalers, co-manufacturing customers, and foodservice distributors. The company employs more than 2,800 workers and already had facilities in Texas and Mexico.
“We intended to buy some or all of the equipment in the building,” Ricco says. “The plan was to move the equipment back to El Paso.”
But when Ricco visited Sumter, things changed. He found that the Au’some plant was larger than the one in Texas that Mount Franklin was going to move the equipment to.
Then Jay Schwedler, president and chief executive with Sumter Economic Development, reached out.
“He suggested to Mount Franklin’s leadership that before hauling equipment away, would it be of value to meet with our team,” recalls Erika D. Williams, manager of communications and strategic initiatives for Sumter Economic Development.
By the time talks were completed, Mount Franklin had agreed to expand.
“The people in Sumter recruited us and convinced us,” he said. “They’re really interested in job creation.”
Since then, Mount Franklin has been busy upgrading the plant and preparing it for its new mission.
“Almost everything in the building is brand new,” Ricco says. “The kitchen is top-of-the line equipment with full automation. It has been modified to handle sensitive ingredients with varying degrees of stability within temperature extremes. In addition, our cure rooms all have automated controls to manage temperature and humidity in very tight ranges.”
Most importantly, he says, is the system Mount Franklin is installing that will ensure the accuracy of the dosage in the gummy.
A study by ConsumerLab.com found that many brands of multivitamins–including some gummies–contained inconsistent amounts of the ingredients shown on the label.
“The most important processes when making vitamins are flexibility, accuracy, and extremely tight controls on production variations,” Ricco says. “Standard candy facilities do not have all of these capabilities.”
The facility is going through several rounds of certifications and audits, including being certified for both organic and kosher production. The facility is also following NSF International’s Certified for Sport program, which will assure teams and athletes its products don’t contain unsafe levels of contaminants, prohibited substances, or masking agents.
In addition to multivitamins, the Sumter facility could produce energy gummies, prenatal gummies, gummies with melatonin, and gummies with biotin.
“We’re just barely ramping up and getting started,” Whetten says.
Plans call for the facility to produce more than 11 million gummies per day. While chewable multivitamins geared toward children have been around for years, gummy-type vitamins and supplements have taken off with all ages over the past decade.
“There’s a lot of different types of them,” says Caroline Dunn, a registered dietician and doctoral candidate at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health. “Adults, I think, enjoy a gummy multivitamin more than they enjoy swallowing a rather large multivitamin or multimineral pill.”
Dunn advises that consumers be mindful of the sugar content in gummies and not to treat them as candy and overuse them.
Mount Franklin plans to produce the bottles of generic gummies sitting next to the bottles of name-brand gummies on the shelf at the drug store or grocer.
“We’re going to be making private label products for large retailers,” Ricco says, but adds, “We also hope to be the gummy in the branded bottles.”
Meanwhile, Mount Franklin is settling in as a member of the Sumter business community.
“They are a perfect fit with our other advanced manufacturing industry partners,” Williams says.
And Sumter officials say they’re happy to share what they call their “Mount Franklin moment,” when a company came looking for equipment but found a new home instead.