A local candy factory exports its chocolates as far as China
“We’re going for overall quality,” says candy man Joe Dutra, pictured here with his son, John.
On a leisurely drive through the doldrums of Reno’s industrial district, tucked away behind the airport, the sights are lackluster at best. With bleak business buildings lining the streets—a random turn onto Reactor Way sprouts a surprising oasis. Or maybe it’s just a trick of the eye. After all, you’re driving through high desert and may not have chugged enough water. But no, that’s not your imagination deceiving you, like a lone flower—more precisely, a sunflower—standing triumphant among its barren desert landscape, springs the bright and colorful building known as Kimmie Candy Company.
As its sunglass sporting, smile flashing mascot, Kacee the sunflower, ensures, Kimmie Candy Co., a local, family-owned manufacturer planted in Reno since 2008, brings some lighthearted fun. As founder Joe Dutra would say, “Everyone loves candy!”
While the name may not ring a bell, the candy itself might. Those cutely packaged ChocoRocks-multi-colored chunks of milk chocolate shaped like, well, rocks—that can be found filling both national and international store shelves, stem from right here in Reno.
The ChocoRocks may be the most widely recognized, but it’s the company’s chocolate-coated sunflower seeds, the favorite of Dutra himself, that started it all.
Originally in the agriculture business, Dutra worked on a farm, growing and selling hybrid vegetables—which he then named after members of his family and friends.
The idea to switch from greens to cocoa transpired, Dutra says, by accident. “My friend brought in a sack of chocolate-coated sunflower kernels he was trying to sell to me, and I thought, ’This is healthy, recession proof, and a business that just keeps growing … I think I’ll start a candy company.’” And so he did.
The Kimmie Candy brand came to Dutra over a martini brainstorm.
“I said I was going to call it Gimmie Candy,” Dutra reminisces, ’And my wife’s girlfriend said, ’You name everything else after your friends and family—why not the company?’ And her name was Kim. So I said, ’All right. Kimmie Candy!’”
Kimmie Candy has its original roots in Sacramento Valley, where the Dutras were farmers, and the landscape was appropriate for growing produce. Chocolate, however, not so much. First trying their hands as oversea manufacturers in Korea, after 9/11, Dutra made the decision to move his company to the U.S. And after some deliberation, Reno won out.
“We needed a dry climate for our product because we have to control the humidity and temperature very closely,” says John Dutra, the company’s general manager and Joe Dutra’s son. “With Reno being so dry, it’s much easier to remove the moisture out of the air than somewhere in Sacramento.” Reno also has the benefit of being within a day’s transportation of Kimmie’s main chocolate supplier, Blommer Chocolate, located in the Bay Area.Candy land
Being able to provide local jobs in a bad economy was also important to Dutra, and ultimately impacted his decision to move his business to U.S. soil. The company’s modest beginnings included a staff of seven. And now boasts 29 employees, a number that’s continually growing, along with the company itself.
Gov. Brian Sandoval is a fan. With Kimmie Candy donating 3,000 bags of candy to the Governor’s Mansion for Halloween trick-or-treaters, they’ve also earned the title, “Official Candy of the Governor.”
“He has our silver ChocoBars on his desk,” says Dutra. “And we presented him with a Nevada container filled with our chocolate.”
Sandoval recently took Dutra, along with other leaders in Nevada’s business community, on the governor’s trade mission to China. The opportunity was led by the governor to encourage Nevada companies to export their products to China.
“In December, we sold our first candy into Hong Kong, from Reno,” Dutra says proudly, of the distribution destination being added to a list that already includes Canada, Mexico, the Philippines and the Middle East.
Looks like that slogan, “The Biggest Little Candy Company in the Biggest Little City,” is earning its chocolate coins.
So how do you sample some of this world traveled chocolate right here in Reno? Other than its major distributors—which include Winco, Cost Plus, Raley’s and Sweet Factory—the best place to taste it is at the source.
The factory, at 525 Reactor Way, may not feature a velvet-clad man in a top hat and an entourage of Oompa-Loompas, but it does have a vibrant atmosphere of candy-covered walls in the gift shop, as well as the option of an approximately 20-minute tour.
The tour, open to both the public and private groups on a call-ahead basis, can be done five days a week. Opening with product samples, the guide then takes viewers on a trip through the land of Kimmie Candy past—featuring the original packaging of the very first product—then through the doors of the actual factory, where the magic of chocolate—from the arrival process, to the chocolate belt, to the spray paint coating of the chocolate shell, can be witnessed. Viewers can experience the company’s specialty chocolate, named Reactor after the street on which the factory is located, get melted down. A hybrid in itself, Reactor was created through many taste tests (and probably a few stomach aches).
“We spent years developing a custom chocolate,” John Dutra explains. “It’s not too sweet, the emphasis is on the cocoa. So the sugar shell complements it really well.”
The swirling vats of multicolored chocolate are the most mesmerizing to watch, a collection which includes 20 different shades—contributing to the coats of products such as Sunbursts (their staple chocolate coated sunflower seeds), ChocoRocks (their best-seller), Kettle Corn Nuggets (chocolate toasted corn nuts) and ChocoAlmonds—as well as a variety of holiday mixes. The final product is as appealing visually as it is on the taste buds.
“We’re going for overall quality,” says John Dutra, of the aesthetic of the candy shell, to the nut or chocolate inside. “It’s much more fun—look at it next to a bag of M&M’s.”
And the tour’s aroma of toasted almonds and melted cocoa is just an added perk.
While Kimmie does approximately 15 tours a month, like the business itself, they’d like to see that number grow.
“Reno will be seeing much more of us,” John Dutra says. “We want people to know that there is a candy manufacturer here, and that they can come visit us.”