Dubuque candy maker eyes sizable expansion, relocated retail space

A Dubuque-based candy business plans to double its production, augment its staff and establish a new, flagship retail location.

Betty Jane Candies soon will start an expansion project that will allow the company to keep pace with skyrocketing demand, according to President Drew Siegert.

“In the last 16 to 18 months, we have seen demand vastly outgrow what we are capable of producing,” he said. “We’ve focused on our best-selling products and making sure we can keep those in stock all the time. That means some of our other products have been missing.”

The plan hinges on a renovation to the company’s facility at 3049 Asbury Road, which currently serves as its production facility as well as its primary retail space. Siegert said Betty Jane Candies plans to discontinue retail sales at that location and, instead, use the entirety of the building for production.

This renovation project will allow the company to install a second chocolate coating line and double its production output.

The plan got an important stamp of approval earlier this week, when City Council members approved a request to rezone the property from a C-2 Neighborhood Commercial Shopping Center district to a C-3 General Commercial district.

Dan McDonald, vice president of existing business for Greater Dubuque Development Corp., said he is “thrilled” to see the company continue its growth.

“They are a local staple, an iconic Dubuque brand,” he said. “They have a very loyal following of local customers, and they are also known nationally and internationally for their product.”

Siegert said portions of the renovation could begin as early as next month, noting that the relatively simple project primarily involves taking down some walls and turning the structure into more of an “open shell.”

The precise timeline of the project primarily will be influenced by how long it takes to obtain new production equipment and locate a new location for retail operations.

“The new (facility) will be a prominent location and be our flagship retail space,” Siegert said. “At this time, we do not know exactly where that will be. We are looking at several different properties.”

Betty Jane also operates a retail location at 3500 Dodge St. However, Siegert said, the Asbury Road spot is easily its highest volume retail spot.

Siegert emphasized that the expansion wouldn’t interrupt retail operations, saying the company will select — and move into — its new flagship location before conducting renovations that would close the retail space on Asbury Road.

Betty Jane Candies currently employs 25 full-time year-round workers, according to Siegert. He anticipates the project will allow the company to add 10 more full-time employees.

The expansion also will enable Betty Jane to hire more seasonal staff during peak production times. The business already hires 10 to 15 additional staffers during the holidays, Siegert noted.

The rezoning classification needed to push the project forward did draw some objections.

Stan and Linda Irwin, who own the residential property adjoining to and south of 3049 Asbury Road, formally expressed concerns in a letter to the city’s planning services department.

In it, they voiced worries that rezoning the property would lead to extra delivery truck traffic and premature degradation of residential streets. They also pointed to the long-term implications of rezoning to C-3, noting that it could open the door for more than 30 additional commercial uses going forward.

Dubuque Zoning Advisory Commission members decided to condition the rezoning by striking 15 of the “more intense commercial uses” typically permitted in a C-3 district, including bar or tavern, gas station, hotel or car wash.

Speaking during this week’s City Council meeting, Stan Irwin acknowledged lingering concerns.

“While it is understandable that you want to help a growing business, please keep in mind the interests of the surrounding residential neighborhood,” he said.

Council members acknowledged Irwin’s concerns and encouraged him to continue providing a voice for neighborhood residents. Even so, they unanimously approved the measure to rezone the Betty Jane property.

Betty Jane Candies was founded in 1938. Over the past decade, the company has expanded its product line and seen its national profile explode.

In 2013, People Magazine named Betty Jane’s trademark Gremlins as the top culinary gift in Iowa. In subsequent years, the company’s products were handed out to attendees at the Grammy Awards and included in gift bags for nominees at the Academy Awards.

Siegert anticipates that 2021 sales will nearly double those from 2020, adding that Betty Jane Candies is seeing growth in its retail, wholesale and online sales.

He noted that many of Betty Jane’s wholesale partners have a national presence, and this substantial footprint has turned new customers on to the product.

“People are being introduced to our product while they are shopping at one of our wholesale partners, and from there, they are learning about our company and becoming online customers,” he said. “So, we are seeing our wholesale growth fueling our online growth.”