, Newburyport, MA


September 27, 2013

Raising the bar

Salem's Harbor Sweets celebrates 40 years, introduces new line of chocolates


“We are definitely a seasonal-driven company,” Phillips said.

Many of Harbor Sweets’ workers, including seasonal employees, have been with the company 20 years or more.

“I don’t think the workers appreciate how talented they are at what they are doing,” LeBlanc said.

While there are machines involved in the cooling, drying, coating in chocolate and wrapping of the candies (two of its foiling machines are antique), much of the work is done by hand, including Harbor Sweets’ signature chocolate, the Sweet Sloop.

To make the sailboat-shaped almond butter crunch, a worker carefully smooths out the molten butter crunch into a tabletop-sized rectangle formed by metal bars. As the butter crunch hardens, he uses rollers to cut the toffee into triangles. The factory can churn out 28,000 Sweet Sloops a day, Phillips said. It’s the chocolate that started the company.

When a ship bell rings, it’s all hands on deck. About a half-dozen workers come from various stations to help with the creation of sand dollars. A worker quickly forms dollops of hot caramel onto parchment after it is cooked in copper kettles. Before it hardens, workers sort and press pecans into the dollops. These later go to a molding area where the hardened caramel and pecan are placed in a sand-dollar mold and covered in dark chocolate.

LeBlanc said the decision was made long ago not to sacrifice the quality of the chocolates by turning to machines.

“There is a real difference between a mechanized product and one that is handmade,” LeBlanc said.

Strohecker, the founder, said it was his goal to make the best candy in the world regardless of cost. He was the marketing director for Schrafft’s Candies when he came up with the Sweet Sloop. He remains on Harbor Sweets’ board and is the largest minority stakeholder.

“The main thing, it’s been a blessing,” he said of the company’s success, which he said was built on quality, trust and a commitment to making innovative chocolate candies.

“So many things happened that did not have to do with Harvard Business School learning,” Strohecker said.

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