Factory Floor: A Sweet Statement
Supplier Chocolate Inn | Lanco is onboard with expansion, but that’s because of the leadership team’s acute focus on meeting distributors’ evolving needs, and its own employees’ dedication to upholding that commitment, time after time, order after order and bite after bite. One of the major ways it’s moving forward currently is with the announcement of a rebrand this month to NC Custom.
“This will provide some cohesiveness and, to some degree, a little more segregation, so that the different customers will know that they can come to us for food, for hardgoods, and they know that both are under the one family name. This will further instill confidence that we are specialists across many different categories and made it much easier for us to be top of mind with distributors,” says President David Miller.
Chocolate Inn | Lanco is part of a team of companies that operate under NC Custom, the promotional products arm of Nassau Candy, a Hicksville, New York, manufacturer of confections and snacks, an importer and distributor of gourmet foods—such as cheese, sauces and nutrition bars—and one of the largest specialty confectionery distributors with thousands of clients throughout the U.S. The companies that will fall under the NC Custom banner include Chocolate Inn, also in Hicksville, which manufactures custom edibles; Lanco in Ronkonkoma, New York, which manufactures hardgoods, such as lip balms, hand sanitizer, microfiber and candles; Brampton, Ontario-based Taylor & Grant, which is a free-on-board (FOB) shipping point in Canada; and ACE USA, a premium collection apparel and hardgoods brand that is further set to be launched in fourth quarter of this year, and will be housed in the Ronkonkoma factory. One of the ongoing goals of Miller and CEO Lance Stier is to establish NC Custom as a one-stop shop for distributors whose clients are looking for edibles, hardgoods and apparel, as well as kitting, which can include items from all three product categories.
But like many of life’s greatest moments, it all began with sweets. David Miller’s parents, George and Joyce Miller, founded Chocolate Inn in 1979, which began as a small manufacturer of custom-molded chocolates selling to niche markets, and then segued into the corporate market. “We were the first chocolatier, and one of the first people selling food into the industry,” says Miller. Looking to expand the range of products offered, Miller looked into where his competitors were purchasing edibles, and realized much of the product was sourced from Nassau Candy, which was located nearby. Miller met with Lance Stier, head of business development and co-owner of Nassau Candy, his family business, and spoke about the potential for a partnership. In 2010, Nassau Candy acquired Chocolate Inn as its first leg into the promotional products industry, and marked the start of NC Custom. Soon after, Chocolate Inn started entering into partnerships to exclusively offer brands such as M&M, Godiva, Jelly Belly, Lindt and Mrs. Fields to the promotional products industry.
Stier’s father, Lesley Stier, purchased Nassau Candy in 1984, and in 2010, following the recession, Stier—who has a background in finance—got involved in the business and immediately saw a potential in the promotional products market. “We were looking to get active in the promotional products space because we saw a really interesting niche market that was buying our products,” says Stier. As the business grew, Nassau Candy acquired several companies—including Big Sky, Hobbs & Dobbs, McClain’s, J. Sosnick, Island Natural, Classic Snacks and Exotic Gourmet—and NC Custom acquired five companies of its own in a further effort to expand. Nassau Candy now manufactures upwards of 20 million pounds of candy each year and imports gourmet food items for privately-owned stores. The acquisitions also dramatically grew NC Custom’s customization, printing, embroidery, kitting and packaging capabilities, and added an impressive selection of more than 10,000 SKUs.
With such a superior level of production, it is almost difficult to wrap one’s mind around the scope of operations at the suppliers’ facilities. Visitors at Chocolate Inn are welcomed by the aromas of fresh-made treats, first of chocolate, then of winter-fresh mint—and experience a factory constantly buzzing with activity, not only related to fulfilling orders, but also from the staff’s enthusiasm about their work. The team, which spans about 1,000 employees across its facilities, work intently to ensure the confections—which include chocolates, truffles, candies, mints, gumballs, chocolate-covered nuts and pretzels, jellybeans, saltwater taffy, toffee, mixed nuts, sea salt caramel candies and more—meet the highest standards set by the Safe Quality Food (SQF) Institute, of which Chocolate Inn is certified, regarding food production, processing and handling. Quality assurance steps include weighing the food, individually packaging and wrapping much of the product, and processing the food through metal detectors.
Over at Lanco, which is about a half-hour away from Chocolate Inn, the supplier manufactures hardgoods, including lip balm, candles, microfiber sheets and hand sanitizer—a product that skyrocketed in popularity during the pandemic, but remains a staple in kits, programs and giveaways today. Here, as well as at Chocolate Inn, time and expertise are devoted to kitting, which include ready-made and custom-ordered kits, with the option to select from hot-stamped, pad-printed, digitally-imprinted, silk-screened, embossed or lasered packaging. Because of the range of products produced by the companies under NC Custom, kitting is not only available, but it’s offered on a shorter timeframe and includes access to a wider range of products.
“We received a huge amount of kitting orders during the pandemic and are very familiar with retail products via storage and perishability,” says Miller. “Nassau Candy is one of the largest distributors of food items in the county, so they have the infrastructure to support these needs. Kitting, in which we were/are able to couple edibles and hardgoods is huge for us.”
Most importantly, the goal is for all NC Custom’s capabilities to result in a top-of-the-line custom product to serve its distributor clients, and in turn, major industries including banking and finance, autobody and real estate. “We’re trying to create moments, we’re trying to create memories, we’re trying to make sure people use our products,” says Stier. “[Distributors] are in the business of doing what they do well … What we do well is we understand customization.” He adds, “We also understand—because we’re in the retail business—about experiences. So, how do we make this stuff fun, exciting and engaging? Because what’s ultimately going to happen? You’re ultimately going to have people talking about [your brand or product].”
- A polycarbonate mold is produced based on the artwork received and in the desired shape.
- The gourmet chocolate is poured into the mold.
- A conveyer belt “walks” the chocolate through a cooling tunnel where the chocolate hardens and receives its shine.
- The chocolate is released from the mold and packaged in a high-end presentation box or tin.
About NC Custom
- Founding date: 1979
- Principals: Lance Stier, CEO, and David Miller, president
- Number of orders filed per month: 20,000
- Most popular items: edibles, lip balm, hand sanitizer and microfibers
View NC Custom’s production processes for other products at the links below:
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.