Sweet Success

The Annabelle Candy Company

This family owned Hayward, California based candy manufacturer is one of the largest independently owned candy bar manufacturers in America. The company manufactures a range of five different candy bars and is currently ranked among the top selling chocolate bars on the west coast of the United States.

Sam Altshuler was a Russian immigrant who came to America in 1917 and he started making candy in San Francisco in the early 1920s. After many attempts at creating a masterpiece, he finally found a hit with the now well known Rocky Road candy bar. In 1950 he incorporated his company, named after his daughter Annabelle Altshuler Block, and there have been good things coming ever since.

Rocky Road gained popularity almost instantly by enveloping the taste buds in chocolate, marshmallows, roasted cashew nuts and crunchy malt. Consumers couldn’t get enough of this great product and soon the Annabelle Candy Company needed a bigger factory. In 1965 the company moved across San Francisco to a different location in Hayward, where it still operates today.

After Mr. Altshuler passed away in 1971, he left the company to Annabelle, who ran the operation for many years. Her son Gary managed the business for a length of time before handing it down to his sister, Susan Gamson Karl, who still runs it today. “There were generations moving through; I came on board in 1996 and took over for my brother in 1997,” explains Susan.

The company which, up until the early 1970s, only produced one product, had more products join the family when Annabelle Candy Company purchased The Golden Nugget Candy Company which was another small candy company located in San Francisco, responsible for the LOOK! and Big Hunk candy bars. Then, in the late 1970s, Annabelle acquired Cardinet Candy Company which made bars called U-NO and Abba-Zaba. After purchasing the companies, production of all candy was moved into the Hayward facility.

The famous Rocky Road bar is still handmade to this day. The marshmallow centre is made first then topped with roasted cashews and crunchy malt bits and enrobed in chocolate. Unlike its siblings, this delicious candy bar comes dressed in a distinctive red wrapper. There are actually a number of Rocky Road candy bar varieties. Rocky Road Dark has the same inner layers but is topped with dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate; Rocky Road Mint has a mint flavoured marshmallow under its dark chocolate and the youngest sibling of Rocky Road is the Rocky Road S’Mores which is a milk chocolate version that comes with a graham cracker layer in the middle.

Big Hunk is honey-based nougat mixed with peanuts and is similar to LOOK! with its molasses base for a slightly different flavour. U-NO is a completely different flavour; it has a truffle center and is coated with milk chocolate. Last but not least is the ever popular Abba-Zaba, which is white taffy with a layer of peanut butter in the middle.

From time to time, the Abba-Zaba recipe has been changed to bring special edition flavours to the market. These have included Sour Apple Abba-Zaba and Chocolate Abba-Zaba. Currently, you can find Strawberry Abba-Zaba which Susan describes as, “sort of like peanut butter and jelly.”

Every year, the Annabelle Candy Company makes roughly nine million Rocky Road bars, about ten million Big Hunk bars, around two million LOOK! bars, two million U-NO bars, and finally about three million Abba-Zaba bars – not including the snack size. “All of the products come in a variety of package types; they come in regular sizes and snack sizes,” says Susan. That’s roughly twenty-six million candy bars that have all been handmade with quality and care.

According to Susan, “We have brokers all over the United States who are the ones responsible for our sales. We just got a new one in South Korea and we have one in Mexico. Those are the front line people; they sell to many distributors.” With the company’s candy also available at bulk retailers like Costco, in essence any small mom and pop store could become a distributor as well; indeed, Susan has seen Annabelle Candy being sold right around the world.

Chocolate is delicious and obviously Mr. Altshuler picked the right kind of profession; who can honestly say they don’t love chocolate? For so many people, this simple food can bring back warm memories of childhood or provide a bit of a pick-me-up during a rough day. Certain types of chocolate have even been proven to lower bad cholesterol and even to act as a mild anti-depressant by raising the endorphin levels in the brain.

“Who wouldn’t enjoy making candy!” laughs Susan. “It’s a fun business; it’s a great business and, for me, it has historical resonance in my family which makes it even sweeter.”

In fact, chocolate itself has a long history. More than two thousand years ago, the Mayans in Central America used cocoa as currency. They considered it a gift from the gods and they called it the ‘god food.’ The name chocolate we use today comes from the original Aztec word xocolatl which means ‘bitter water.’ Back then, cocoa was typically mixed with water, chilies, achiote, cornmeal and other ingredients – perhaps not quite as tasty as a nice marshmallow centre.

As for Annabelle, the company continues to branch out; sales are increasing in Central America and the aim is to send more business down to South America as well. The company has also been doing business in Asia, with a new sales representative in South Korea, and has also sold to Japan.

Next year, Annabelle Candy is planning on attending the big time candy show in Germany, hoping to share products and expand its footprint even further. “American candy is very popular over there,” explains Susan. “We’ll see how it goes!” Annabelle has also recently been filmed for the Canadian Food Network television show, Food Factory.

For Susan, it all really comes back to the customers, and the company makes it a point to remain engaged and involved with its customer base. Visitors to the Annabelle Candy Facebook pages can give their feedback and even win prizes. “We ask people to do things like write a poem about Rocky Road and people submit their poems. I pick the winner and we will send them a box of candy and a t-shirt,” says Susan. “We also have a website that we are actually redoing this year so that it will be a lot more interactive.”

The main ingredient of chocolate, in many cases, is the love that goes into making it. No one makes good chocolate without putting time and thought into how it will be received and how many people will enjoy it. After all, it is quite simply the single most enjoyable food on the planet.

November 18, 2017, 10:49 AM EST