Made in Tri-States: Growing Dubuque candy company in spotlight

Drew Siegert is president of Betty Jane Candies in Dubuque. The candy company’s presence has grown nationally in the past few years. As a result, Siegert says that he has been assessing his options to be able to increase production. PHOTO CREDIT: NICKI KOHL

During the course of the past few years, Drew Siegert has watched his Dubuque-based candy company blossom into a reputable brand with a nationwide presence.

Even so, the company’s president believes the essence of Betty Jane Candies has not changed.

“Even with all the growth, we are still a small-batch candy company,” he said. “There really is a personal touch to it. The recipes and the way we make things is still pretty much the same. A lot of our products are literally made by hand.”

Both locally and nationally, the early weeks of February provide a time for the company’s products to shine. Siegert said Valentine’s Day is among the biggest holidays in the candy business.

“We start building up to Valentine’s Day right after Christmas is over,” Siegert said.

In addition to making sure the products are ready to go, employees decorate stores and create unique packaging to spark a sense of excitement as Feb. 14 approaches.

The preparation is paying off.

Paul Hoppman, store director at the Hy-Vee on Northwest Arterial, said Betty Jane Candies produces the best-selling chocolate in the store. He noted that the products are particularly popular in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day.

“Obviously, we sell a lot of chocolate every year for Halloween,” he said. “But people are more particular about what they buy on Valentine’s Day. They are looking for chocolate that is a higher-quality, and that’s what (Betty Jane) makes.”

A LANDMARK DECADE

Founded in 1938, Betty Jane Candies has long been a favorite among area residents.

In addition to selling products out of its Asbury Road location, the business has a retail location at 3500 Dodge St. in Dubuque.

The company has seen its national reputation and footprint explode in the past decade.

In 2013, People Magazine named Betty Jane’s trademark Gremlins as the top culinary gift in Iowa. One year later, the company’s products were included in gift bags awarded to nominees at the Academy Awards. Betty Jane’s treats also were handed out at the Grammy Awards in 2017.

The company expanded its facility at 3049 Asbury Road in 2015 and has spent the past half-decade beefing up its product selection and its presence nationwide.

About five years ago, Betty Jane Candies rolled out a diverse line of snack products that included a chocolate Gremlin Bar and a bite-sized offering dubbed Betty’s Bites.

This snack line expanded to each of the Fareway grocery stores across the county in 2017. And during the past couple of years, Betty Jane Candies went from having its products in just a handful of Sam’s Club locations to having them in nearly 150.

The booming popularity has been a pleasant surprise to the company’s leader.

“We were already shipping to doorsteps across the country, but in the past year or so, this is really the first time we have had a national presence in terms of our wholesale division,” he said. “We’d been doing well in the Midwest for a while, but it has been surprising how well we’ve done in other parts of the country, where people really didn’t know us at all.”

What’s ahead?

Growth demands hard decisions and raises big questions.

Siegert said the popularity of the snack line compelled him to scale back its variety, cutting out lower-selling items — such as the peanut Gremlin — to focus more on the selections with the highest sales.

Betty Jane Candies continues to produce all of its products out of its location on Asbury Road.

The business employs about 50 workers at the peak of its season, and Siegert believes this number likely will increase in the years ahead.

As demand continues to grow, it’s becoming clear that the company can’t operate out of the same footprint for long.

“We really want to keep up with the growth, and now we’re debating what the next move is going to be, in terms of how we’re going to expand,” he said. “We’re not sure if we’re going to try to do some things at the existing location or if we’re going to look at building a (new) facility.”

And while questions about future growth loom large, both Siegert and local partners occasionally take a moment to reflect on how far the business already has come.

“Sometimes your head gets stuck in the weeds and it can be hard to appreciate it,” he said. “When you stop and think about it, it is really amazing and really rewarding.”

Hoppman, of Hy-Vee, has observed the company’s growth with a sense of pride.

“Working with people like Drew is the highlight of my job,” he said. “I enjoy seeing local products and entrepreneurs succeed.”

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