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Gold foil-wrapped pieces of Brown & Haley Almond Roca fall off the production line ready for packaging.
A river of gold: Foil-wrapped pieces of Brown & Haley’s Almond Roca fall off the production line ready for packaging.
Business to Business
January 24, 2020

A sweet tradition for Lunar New Year

With three million pieces of Almond Roca® produced daily leading up to Lunar New Year, the holidays aren’t over yet for candymaker Brown & Haley.

Back in 1923, Harry Brown and J.C. Haley were searching for a name for their candy company’s new crunchy toffee creation covered in almonds and chocolate.

They knew just who to ask — librarian Jacqueline Noel at the public library in Tacoma, Washington. Her suggested name — Almond Roca® — stuck, and a Brown & Haley candy legend was born.

Since most almonds came from Spain, and the word rock translates to roca in Spanish, “almond roca” was the perfect fit.

First introduced overseas during World War II, Almond Roca candy was sent under government contract as treats and bartering tools for the troops. Today, the fortuitous moniker and the good luck and fortune represented by the gold of Almond Roca’s wrapper and the pink and red of its tins and boxes have made it a Lunar New Year gift of choice.

A celebration of ‘family and food’

Lunar New Year can fall between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20 each year, and it begins with the appearance of the new moon. This year the holiday begins Jan. 25.

Mocha Roca, Macadamia Roca, and Cashew Roca boxes like those sold in mainland China from 1995 to 2012.
Boxes of Brown & Haley Mocha Roca, Macadamia Roca and Cashew Roca like you would have found sold in Asia from 1995 to 2012.

“As the holiday season in this country winds down, the Chinese New Year in China ramps up,” said Anne Haley, chair of Brown & Haley’s board and J.C. Haley’s granddaughter.

Workers inside Brown & Haley’s 80,000-square-foot plant are racing to fill orders in a sales season that is second only to Christmas — it’s even ahead of Valentine’s Day.

“The core element of the celebration is family and food,” said Brown & Haley CEO Pierson Clair, “and the overriding expression is gifts, and one of the great gifts you can receive is either a red envelope from your family or Almond Roca.”

“As the holiday season in this country winds down, the Chinese New Year in China ramps up.” — Anne Haley, chair of Brown & Haley’s board

Clair said Almond Roca, which now comes in several different varieties, is shipped to 35 countries and sold in more than 65. Exports account for about 40% of business, he said, and Asia accounts for more than half of that.

Because of Tacoma’s port and the city’s location on the Pacific Rim, it’s actually cheaper to ship the candy to Shanghai than Boston.

The lion’s share of the Asia export business, Clair said, comes from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, where Almond Roca is the second-most popular Lunar New Year candy gift.

New equipment means more Roca

Equipment that Brown & Haley bought from Germany in 2018 has proved a boon to the international family-owned confectionary company and its growth — the company can now produce 2,520 gold foil-wrapped Roca a minute.

Wells Fargo’s foreign-exchange services helped the company make the purchase in euros at the right time to stretch its dollars and help guard against currency fluctuations.

Shipped to Tacoma in 14 crates, and lowered through a special door cut into the roof to the factory floor below, the machinery has increased production by more than 24,000 pounds of candy a day, reduced waste, and further enhanced product quality.

Unlike the old equipment, Clair said the new machines can cut the toffee into even smaller pieces. As a result, the company will soon debut the new line of bite-sized Roca candies that customers have sought for years.

The toffee center of Brown & Haley’s trademark Almond Roca candy pass through a chocolate enrober machine to get their milk-chocolate covers.
Toffee centers of Brown & Haley’s trademark Almond Roca candy pass through a chocolate enrober machine that covers them in milk chocolate.
“Wells Fargo is vital to us in terms of advice, counsel, and continually being available to us. We’re very grateful for our deep relationship. It’s wonderful being with a company that shares the same values we share.” — Pierson Clair, CEO of Brown & Haley

Wells Fargo also serves Brown & Haley with day-to-day banking needs and a line of credit. In 2015, the company temporarily tapped the line to buy more almonds — a key Roca ingredient — from California before a drought sent prices soaring.

“Wells Fargo is vital to us in terms of advice, counsel, and continually being available to us,” he said. “We’re very grateful for our deep relationship. It’s wonderful being with a company that shares the same values we share.”

In addition to buying almonds from California, Brown & Haley gets the butter for the company’s signature buttercrunch Almond Roca from Washington dairies. The sugar comes from Idaho.

Clair said the sourcing of each ingredient reflects the company’s focus on quality and relationships — why, he said, Wells Fargo has been the company’s bank for more than 70 years, and his personal bank for more than 50 years.

Brown & Haley assorted 15.9-ounce pouches of Roca candy with Almond Roca and Dark Roca varieties inside.
15.9-ounce assorted pouches filled with Almond Roca and Dark Roca candy are ready to ship.

“As a company, we value having the right people, ethical people, engaged people, and loyal people,” Clair said. “That’s what we look for in everything we do — whether it’s a raw materials supplier or banker.”

Elizabeth Dollente, Brown & Haley’s relationship manager with Wells Fargo Commercial Banking, values the candy company as well.

“It’s pretty special,” Dollente said of Brown & Haley’s culture. “Serving them for Wells Fargo, I love the people and the connection they have with their employees the most. When I’ve seen Pierson on the shop floor during tours, he’ll call out to people by name, and they’ll respond the same way. That care and thoughtfulness about their operations extends to how they work with me and approach their banking needs, too.

“Whenever I have a question, they are really quick to answer — and are usually so forthcoming with information because of our close working relationship that I rarely have questions,” she said. “When the holidays roll around, they’ll always come by with Roca for us at the office, which doesn’t last long. It’s a company that hasn’t forgotten the difference people make, and I think that’s why they have survived and thrived all these years.”

At the end of the day, the success of Brown & Haley is about more than making great candy. “Brown & Haley is an international confectionary company,” Clair said. “We ship quality and relationships around the world. It is a complete joy.”

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