Reflecting on Kimmie Candy's time at the White House

When President Donald Trump announced he was going to showcase American-made products at the White House during the “Made in America” week, the obvious question soon sprung up.  How were the companies to be selected?

But as Press Secretary Sean Spicer explained, the administration sought input from governors and members of Congress, “then working within the different offices here, an ultimate selection was made.”

Hence, one expected to see quite a variety of “home-made” items at the White House, everything from a Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King helicopter and Cat 966 M wheel loader from Caterpillar — Connecticut and Illinois, respectively — to door hinges from the Beehler Corp. and baseball bats by Marucci Sports, those companies representing Missouri and Louisiana.

Fortunately, U.S.-made candy was also present. None other than Reno-based Kimmie Candy Co., maker of ChocoRocks® and Sunbursts®, were chosen to represent the “Silver State.”

Joe Dutra, president and CEO of Kimmie Candy, said he didn’t know his company had been selected until Wednesday-a few days before the event was to take place.

“There was a phone call from the Western U.S. representative from the White House for me, but I was out,” he told Candy Industry. “My receptionist thought it was some kind of a scam, but I decided to call back anyway.

“When I reached the White House on the following day, Thursday, I knew it was for real,” he continued. “She told me that I’d have to have the product shipped by Friday. Of course, all of this was to be kept quiet and embargoed regarding the press till Saturday.”

As to why Kimmie Candy was chosen over — as the Las Vegas Review Journal speculated — Tesla Motors, which produces batteries at its GigaFactory in Sparks, Nev., Dutra pointed out a couple of reasons.

“First, we made a conscious effort to bring our overseas manufacturing to the United States,” to Reno, Nev., he says. “Also, we were the first candy company in 60 years to win the President’s “E” Award for Exports last year.”

The President’s “E” Award for Exports is given to firms that demonstrate a sustained commitment to growing export sales. It was created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 

Additionally, in 2012, Dutra was invited by then Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval to accompany him on a trade mission to China.

Kimmie Candy, which moved its manufacturing base from Korea to Reno in 2008, currently employs 48 workers. In early 2017, it completed a move from its 16,000-sq.-ft.-facility to a newly refurbished, 45,000-sq.-ft. plant designed to accommodate growth. Total investment, including land, construction, moving costs and new equipment topped $4.5 million.

“We will be able to produce between 4 to 5 million lbs. of candy annually now,” Dutra says.

Prior to leaving for Washington, D.C., Dutra had special red-white-and-blue ChocoRocks made as well as “Trump Rocks” candy, which was packaged in a special tube.

“We had a 10-by-6 booth in the Entrance Hall of the White House, which was next to a 1939 Steinway piano, which featured gold leaf decorations and gilded American eagle legs,” he explained.

“The President tasted our new salted caramel PretzelBites™, which he seemed to like. He thanked us for creating American jobs.”

Dutra points out that it wasn’t only the president making the rounds of the Made in America booths and displays. He was accompanied by the Vice President, Cabinet Secretaries, Members of Congress, and his senior staff.

“Vice President Pence took a liking to our Trump Rocks tube,” he says.

The farmer-turned-candy maker says that Made-in-America confectionery manufacturers do “make a difference” in the communities where they reside. “It’s good to have a strong manufacturing base, which helps make the local economy strong.”

In reflecting on his six-hour visit — “I didn’t believe it was actually happening until I passed through security in the White House” — Dutra mentioned his booth was next to a portrait of President Ronald Regan, one of his heroes.

“I was thinking wouldn’t it be nice if Donald Trump took a liking to our PretzelBites™ and did something for us as Reagan did with Jelly Belly,” he laughed. “One can dream, right?”

Definitely. Seems like one of Dutra’s dreams has already been realized.