There are a few foods we claim as uniquely Nebraskan — Runzas, Dorothy Lynch dressing, and reuben sandwiches come to mind. And then there’s the tasty meltaways made by Bakers Candies, a family-owned chocolatier in Greenwood, Neb. Their story is a fascinating one of engineering-meets-gourment-chocolate, and it’s one that’s going to make you crave a taste before the end of this story.
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A Brief History of Nebraska’s Unique Bakers Candies
Walk into the Bakers Candies Outlet Store and look up. There’s an upside down plane hanging from the ceiling, and that is the first clue to how things started for the candy makers. It’s a story of how a bunch of engineers built a chocolate factory.
Bakers Candies was started by Kevin Baker, who was an aerospace engineer first and foremost. That plane was a designed by Kevin.
The engineer moved on to make manufacturing equipment and that was where he had his Big Idea. At the time, gourmet chocolate makers weren’t using mass production equipment. And he figured, there’s got to be a better way to make something better for cheaper.
And with that thought, Bakers Candies was born. In time, he created a fully-automated process to make gourmet candy (the first candy company in the world!)…but he didn’t have a recipe just yet. In time, a delicious, tailor-made recipe was created for the production equipment Kevin had already created. Four flavors of chocolate meltaways were initially in production.
His son, Todd Baker, took me on a tour of the factory and laughed that the company was created by “piss poor business men” who reverse-engineered chocolate. But the joke isn’t really a joke. It’s a successful company now, and every machines on the Bakers Candies factory floor was invented by them. The machines are sought after but they never started building them for other companies.
Todd and his brother now head up the company, and when you visit Nebraska candy store today, you can see a collage of photos near the store’s restrooms detailing the journey. The third generation of Bakers have already started working there.
The famous chocolate meltaways
Without a doubt, Bakers Candies’ best-selling produce is their chocolate meltaways, which comes in several flavors. From the way they’re made to the way they’re marketed, meltaways are uniquely Nebraskan, Todd explained to me. There’s a gourmet chocolate category just for chocolate meltaways, that’s how unique they are. It’s called: Blue Collar Gourmet.
“It’s kinda how you have to do it in the Midwest,” said Todd.
The meltaways are blue collar because they’re affordable. Like really affordable. Bakers Candies doesn’t spend much on marketing, and they mainly package the candies in bags. Todd told me they were the first candy manufacturer in world to put gourmet chocolate in a bag.
And they’re gourmet because the chocolate is, in fact, on par with the major players in the gourmet chocolate industry. As a member of the National Confectioners Association, they didn’t fit nicely into a low price point category because the quality was too good; but they also didn’t fit well into the gourmet category because of that low price point. Hence, the Blue Collar Gourmet was born.
It fits, though.
Part of what makes the Bakers chocolate candies so affordable is the whole automated process they’ve mastered. I toured the chocolate factory and surprisingly there are very few people needed to run all of it.
The Ins and Outs of Shopping at the Bakers Candies Outlet Store
The Bakers Candies Outlet Store is located in Greenwood, Neb., a quick jaunt from Interstate 80. It’s Nebraska’s largest candy outlet store, and frankly, there are several reasons to visit:
- You can purchase factory seconds at a discount. Chocolate meltaways that didn’t pass inspection for whatever cosmetic reason that are still fine to eat are sold at a bargain.
- You can purchase bulk candy at the outlet store (as well as online).
- You can purchase a lot of Nebraska-made items or products sold by Nebraska small businesses.
If you sneeze while driving through Greenwood, you may miss the store. Maybe I exaggerate, but Greenwood is a tiny town. The outlet store has done wonders for bringing in people to the town, though. Todd told me about 300,000 people came to the store in 2022.
What makes Bakers Candies so special?
Bakers Candies and their chocolate meltaways have become the de facto candy of Nebraska. The factor produces about 2,500 pounds of chocolate a day, equaling about 100,000 meltaways each day. The family estimates that the average Nebraskan consumes about 20 to 25 meltaways in a year.
Those creamy smooth chocolate meltaways aren’t the only thing Bakers Candies is known for these days. They invented the chocolate potato chip cluster, which now has a fierce following, according to Todd.
Ask 10 different people from Nebraska about Bakers Candies and they’ll tell you 10 different reasons why they keep returning to Bakers Candies. Todd said the loyalty of their customers is the reason the company continues to thrive.
“If you make Nebraskans proud, you’ll have the most wonderful, supportive base to build a company.”