Piedmont Candy Company Offers Delicious Flavor Down to the Last Stripe
If you’re enjoying Red Bird candies this holiday season, you’re experiencing a taste of North Carolina history. The puffed candies and mints even take their name and logo from the official state bird, the cardinal.
Customers young and old have been enjoying Red Bird candies since 1890, when the NC Candy Company opened in Lexington. Renamed the Piedmont Candy Company in the early 1900s, the company has changed ownership only two times since then, and the recipe for Red Bird candies has remained the same for 126 years.
“Our customer base has been enjoying our candy since they were children,” says Jenna Paquin, marketing director for Piedmont Candy.
More than 90 percent of Piedmont’s candy is peppermint-flavored, which explains the huge seasonal business the company welcomes each year leading up to the holidays.
All in the Family
The Reid family purchased the company in 1987. Today, chief executive officer and owner Chris Reid leads the business, a role he inherited from his father, Doug Reid. “Piedmont Candy Company is the only place Chris has ever worked,” Paquin says. “This includes summers when he would do the very heavy jobs of unloading 2,000-pound sacks of sugar.”
Though the bulk ingredients are heavy, the finished product is almost weightless – the candies are light, airy and melt in your mouth. The basic process for making the candy has remained the same, although they’ve added some modern advancements over the years. One of the few candy companies with production still in the United States, Piedmont employs 50 to 70 individuals, depending on the season. Some employees have worked there for more than 20 years.
In the Candy Kitchen
Each piece starts out with one ingredient – pure cane sugar. “Our candy is a simple treat with few and pure ingredients,” Paquin says, noting that everything used to make Red Bird candies is made in the United States.
The first step to making Red Bird candies is cooking a pure cane sugar mix composed of sugar and water in a large drum. This mixture, heated to 300 degrees, turns into 100-pound logs of candy from which a certain amount will be separated out to be shaped and have color applied. Once the candies are cut and applied, they go into a proprietary hothouse, a space that is off limits to anyone from the outside. Piedmont produces 55,000 pounds of candy a day.
Although peppermint is the most popular, Red Bird puffed candies and mints come in other flavors including cotton candy, birthday cake and a six-flavor fruit mix (lemon, lime, orange, grape, strawberry and green apple). “Many people think that the flavor comes from the stripes, but the reverse is true. The flavors are added into the white part of the candy,” Paquin says. “The stripes just taste like sugar.”
Though the Piedmont Candy Company facility has no retail storefront, its candies are easy to find. You can get Red Bird candies at Walmart, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Dollar General, Harris Teeter and so many other stores, or purchase them online at piedmontcandy.com.
– Zenda Douglas