Iconic Pennsylvania Chocolatier Reveals Ambitious National Grocery Growth Plan

Gardners Candies to introduce confections to such retailers as Kroger, Publix
Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
Gardners' Westover
Gardners Candies' new COO, Jim Westover, is leading its store growth plan.

Gardners Candies Inc., the Pennsylvania-based chocolatier, is launching an aggressive strategy to infiltrate grocery and convenience store shelves across the nation.

The chocolatier’s products are already sold in more than 150 retail locations, including Sheetz, Giant Eagle, GetGo, Giant Food Stores and CVS. According to the company, sales in those outlets have surged by 30% over the past two years. The brand’s premier product, the Original Peanut Butter Meltaway, is crafted with a unique proprietary peanut butter that melts in seconds. Back in the 1960s, the Penn State food science department was involved in the product’s development.

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The brand is focusing on introducing its iconic premium confections to customers of Kroger, Publix, Wawa, UDF and Menard’s, as well as other national grocers and convenience store operators.

The time is right for expansion. The National Confectioners Association (NCA) is out with its 2024 "State of Treating" report, which affirms an enviable household penetration of 98% for chocolate, candy, gum and mints. The $48 billion in total confectionery spend reflects strong categories that resonate with shoppers. Chocolate has a large chunk of the market, ringing up $25.9 billion in total sales in 2023.

Gardners Candies’ new COO, Jim Westover, is leading its store growth plan, which includes bolstered production capabilities. Westover joined Gardners Candies earlier this year. Previously president of Pittsburgh-based LandOpt, he also has helped drive sales growth at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts and Bruster’s Real Ice Cream.

"Over the last few years, we’ve seen increased interest among regional retailers who see the value of carrying Gardners’ premium chocolates,” noted Bill Sarris, CEO of Sarris Candies Inc., which owns Gardners. “With Jim’s leadership and our new manufacturing capacity, Gardners Candies is poised to become a true national brand."

Gardners Candies was founded in 1897 by 16-year-old entrepreneur James “Pike” Gardner in Tyrone, Pa. The brand operates several stores in communities across central Pennsylvania and distributes a variety of products to retailers across three states. Beyond regional storefronts and online sales, Gardners Candies offers fundraising programs, business and custom gifting solutions, as well as private label services for various companies. Gardners Candies was acquired by Canonsburg, Pa.-based Sarris Candies in 1997. 

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