Rejiggering the Maud Borup candy company into wholesale success
When Christine Lantinen was new to her career in merchandise sourcing with Target, she’d allow herself a treat after a particularly stressful day. She’d swing by the Maud Borup candy shop on Grand Avenue in St. Paul to answer her craving for chocolate-dipped potato chips.
“It was very unusual at the time,” she says. “No one was doing that sweet and salty combination that you see everywhere now.”
At the time, Lantinen had no idea that someday she would assume the sweet responsibility of saving, expanding and reinvigorating the legacy Maud Borup brand.
“The name always stood for quality,” says Lantinen, 42, who bought the company in 2005 and is now its president and CEO.
Landing the legacy
Born into a prominent St Paul family, the original Maud Borup began making hand-dipped chocolates in her home in 1907. She moved to a candy counter three years later, then went on to open a shop of her own; she was a successful entrepreneur before women could legally vote.
After Borup died in 1960, the company changed hands several times. One of the owners opened a few more Maud Borup shops and bought a wholesale company and factory to churn out chocolates for corporate clients using the classic recipes.
Lantinen came across Maud Borup candy while working as sales and marketing manager at Bay Island, a Minnetonka-based supplier of specialty food gift sets.
“I saw a lot of opportunity to market the brand and I asked if we could redevelop it and present it to our buyers. We pitched it and saw good placement,” Lantinen said.
Impressed with its potential, Lantinen met with the company’s owner and made a bold offer to buy the brand.
“I was on a mission and nothing could stop me,” she said.
But finding financing slowed her down. With little cash to invest, she schemed over a complicated and creative arrangement that had her guaranteeing royalty payments and a percentage of her revenue to the seller.
“I had $2 million in sales within four months, but I needed a million dollars and I got turned down by every bank in the Twin Cities,” she said.
That’s when a family friend literally bet the farm on Lantinen’s vision.
Lantinen was the fifth generation in her family to be raised on a farm near LeCenter. Her dad’s best buddy heard about her money plight and pledged a piece of farm land as collateral.
“I agreed to pay him 2% of my sales and paid him back in less than a year. I did not want investors,” she said. “Then I was able to get SBA funding
for my own line of credit.”
While hustling for cash and credit, Lantinen was reconfiguring the company. She closed the last Maud Borup store in 2006 and made a strategic decision to go from a retail-focused business model to a wholesale-focused business model, growing the wholesale and food/gift side of the business, which is where the profits are.
She landed contracts with retail giants like Cost Plus World Market, Target, Walmart, CVS, Aldi and Whole Foods, and manufactured private label confections for others. Today, the Maud Borup chocolate is produced in Canada, and Lantinen buys candies and components to go into her gift boxes and packages.
“We have a strong focus on partnerships with established U.S. companies,” Lantinen says. “We maintain high standards, that’s how we are differentiated in the food gifting world. We don’t try to be the cheapest.”
Lantinen takes particular pride in the sumptuous packaging she painstakingly chooses for the Maud Borup line. From the ceramics in the candy-stuffed mugs to the tins filled with rich confections, Lantinen is hands-on in deciding what best represents the brand.
“I’m very involved in the art direction; no piece goes to print that I don’t see and approve,” she said. “The Maud Borup brand means a great experience from start to finish. Maud was a St. Paul woman who sold candy to the Queen of England. I want anything with her name — our name — to be gorgeous.”
An iconic name carries particular expectations in the marketplace; when a resurrected brand is consistent with its past reputation, it can hit a particular sweet spot for customers hungry for its history — and their own.
“It’s not the particular product that has the magical power. It’s the context of that product, wrapped around cherished experiences, usually with family and friends,” said nostalgia expert Clay Routledge, a psychology professor at North Dakota State University.
That means that today’s adults, who shared a Maud Borup box of chocolates with a beloved grandmother or savored a childhood trip to a Maud Borup candy store, might find the pull of the brand to be almost irresistible.
“Memories that we are nostalgic about are wrapped around social events and family, and these experiences usually involve food,” he said. “Nostalgia is a particularly potent way to heighten the impact of a product.”
It’s also a way to heighten sales; Maud Borup’s gross revenues have expanded from $100,000 the first year Lantinen owned the company to $15 million last year.
In 2013, Lantinen bought a former countertop manufacturing factory in her hometown of LeCenter. The company now employs a seasonal staff of 120 who finish, assemble and package the products there, including baking kits, beverage mixes and holiday novelties.
“It’s labor intensive, but it’s a fun environment, making beautiful gifts for people,” she says.
Christine Lantinen is thinking about her own legacy. The company made a commitment to sustainability, recycling and renewable energy; this year a wind turbine began turning to power the Le Center facility.
Today, Maud Borup is a family business — Lantinen’s mother works as a Quality Assurance Manager and her husband Randy runs Operations. Though still in elementary school, the couple’s two children are interested in the business — hey, what kid wouldn’t want to inherit a candy store?
Though she concedes it “sounds crazy,” Lantinen has felt the guiding spirit of her company’s founder: “I think Maud wanted a woman to run her company. I feel like this was my destiny.”
Time to rebrand?
It’s not just legacy companies that may need to refresh their brand. A new look and logo, backed with fresh copy and key messaging that maximizes SEO, can be a real boon.
“It’s all about ROI. Refreshing a brand can bring more energy and potential sales,” says Scott Rogers, Branding and Design Director at Plymouth-based CEL Marketing|PR|Design.
What companies are ripe for a rebrand? Rogers often works with those that are changing hands or passing to the next generation. He says updated branding can also make a company more appealing as it identifies and goes after a new target market or demographic.
“Every company needs a brand. When creating a new brand or a rebrand, businesses must use visuals and messaging that reach their demographic and target market.”
The branding speaks to a business’s identity.
“A brand like Coca-Cola is timeless. The logo never changes and neither do the ingredients,” Rogers points out. “Pepsi changes its logo every five years and uses the latest pop stars to show they’re up with the latest trends.”
Rogers suggests that rebranding is more than redoing a dated logo.
“Rebranding can feel like a daunting task, but there’s a method to it,” Rogers adds. “We do an inventory of marketing materials, signage, website — and then have a rollout phase. It’s not as painful as it may seem.”
Inception: 1907; acquired 2005
Leadership: Christine Lantinen, president/owner
Employees: 120 (seasonal)
Revenue: $15 Million (2016)
Description: Manufactures and packages candies/sweets for the wholesale market