Candy maker expands on Sanders tradition

Owner hopes to add to venerable name with the Internet, a coffee bar and mini ice cream parlors

Maureen McDonald / Special to The Detroit News

CLINTON TOWNSHIP -- Inside the 1989-built Morley Candy Makers and Sanders Candy factory on Hall Road, Ron Rapson, 45, president of the combined companies, Morley Brands LLC, does his best to amuse children with tales of Willy Wonka and the Oompa Loompas, the candy-making dwarfs, by showing up with his own costume as Morley the Moose.

On a more serious note, Rapson strives to continue the top quality butter, cacao bean, cane sugar and secret recipes of Fred Sanders, founder of the 1875 candy maker, and the Morley family that launched its candy line in 1919. His children just call him the Candy Man.

"Everybody loves candy -- it's an affordable luxury," said Rapson. Sanders chocolate peppermint bark, cherry cordials and gooey caramel chocolates are mostly made the old fashioned way by 70 to 80 employees who cook caramel in 225 gallon kettles, fill Santa molds with chocolate by hand and oversee assembly lines with practiced skills. Workers offload 2,000 pounds of pecans a day to help produce 8,000 boxes of Sanders Pecan titans.

Candy sales rose to an anticipated $14 million in 2008, up from $12.5 million thanks to marketing strategies launched by Rapson and his new director of operations, Walter Pilon. Almost 75 percent of its annual sales occur during the winter holiday.

They hope to stretch business all year by tapping a strong Internet presence and by expanding retail sales. Rapson and Pilon concocted a $30,000-plus renovation of the gift shop, installing a coffee bar that serves Sanders caramel lattes and seasonal whipped cream and shaved chocolate atop the Sanders mocha drinks. The store opens at 7:30 a.m. to sweeten the morning traffic rush along Hall Road.

This spring, the team will offer high-end chocolate making courses, an appetite whetted by movies, exhibits and enduring appetites for candy.

Its products also are boxed and sold under private labels, including a Disney brand sold at its amusement parks. Pilon, 46, is market testing Coffee Beanery coffee and Sanders hot fudge combinations sold in crimson packages at Sanders and at Coffee Beanery stores.

The heart of traditional Sanders marketing was its retail stores, according to Rapson. Over the past five years, it has opened outlets in Birmingham, Grosse Pointe, Rochester, Eastpointe, Birmingham, Clinton Township, Livonia and Wyandotte and this spring opened a mini-parlor within Hiller's Market of Union Lake, all trading on the timeless ice cream parlor tradition of Detroit's best known candy brand.

"When the going gets tough, the tough get Sander's hot fudge cream puffs. Seriously, Sanders is a mainstay of a Michigan childhood and it's a brand that endures," said Jim Hiller, CEO of Hiller's Market, which carries a wide array of products because of the legacy -- and taste.

Sanders Candy

Specialty: Morley Candy Makers, a family held business in Clinton Township, purchased in 2002 the venerable Sanders name -- a Metro Detroit brand since 1875 -- and launched a major expansion of its brand.

Contact: Public tours occur at 10 and 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday at the factory, 23770 Hall Road. Call (586) 468-4300 or visit

Family night tonight includes candy tasting, appetizers, music and special tours.


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