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Expansion underway at Kenny's Candy

Marie Nitke/FOCUS The walls of the new expansion at Kenny's Candy started going up this week. The extra space will be used to accommodate growth at Kenny's due to the popularity of the company's newest products, gummy candies.1 / 2
Inside the Barrel O' Fun production facility in Perham. KLN is currently seeking a location for a new, additional facility on the east coast, such as in Pennsylvania or the Carolinas, but no plans have been finalized yet.2 / 2

A great deal of growth has happened at KLN Family Brands in the last year or so, and there's more where that came from.

Perham's largest employer is showing strong signs of progress in all four of its product lines - Kenny's Candy, Barrel O' Fun, Tuffy's Pet Foods and Nutheads.

At Kenny's Candy, a new 50,000-square-foot expansion is underway, and is expected to be operational by spring, according to Charlie Nelson, Director of Sales and Marketing at KLN. The walls were going up this week.

Nelson said the expansion will accommodate an increasing demand for Kenny's Candy's newest products, gummies. The new space will partly serve as a warehouse, and will also allow for increased production of the gummy candies. There could potentially be a few new hires along with the expansion.

Increasing demand for products is also what's driving growth at Barrel O' Fun.

Nelson said KLN is looking to open up a new production facility for the salty snack foods line on the east coast. Company leaders want to find a location that's strategically located near their customers, Nelson said; somewhere that would allow them to easily ship their products along the eastern edge of the United States.

While no such plans are final yet, Nelson said the company is serious about the idea.

An east coast facility would be the second one outside of Perham; another opened in Phoenix three years ago.

This time, Nelson said, KLN hopes to find a place where there are already employees trained and experienced in snack food production, so things can get up and running quickly.

In the meantime, Barrel O' Fun has been busy with another exciting new venture - celebrity partnerships.

The company collaborated with Larry the Cable Guy on a new line of potato chips last year, and it's recently started working with Dale Earnhardt Jr., as well.

"There's lots of excitement about that," said Nelson of the new partnership with Earnhardt. "Especially in the south, with NASCAR fans."

Earnhardt will promote his own personalized brand of Barrel O' Fun products, such as a Carolina Barbeque-flavored potato chip (North Carolina is his home state). Those started coming out on store shelves just this month.

Before that, people were already seeing 'Larry the Cable Guy Tater Chips' at stores, including one-of-a-kind flavors that reflect the blue collar comedian's schtick, like Cheeseburger, Barbeque Rib, Buffalo Rib and Fried Dill Pickle. Two more flavors, Ketchup and Potato Salad, will be introduced this spring.

Larry the Cable Guy gives his royalties from these products to The Git-R-Done Foundation, which donates money to charitable organizations in need.

KLN's expanding business relationships are helping the company make more of these kinds of star connections, said Nelson.

"We are being proactive with pursuing these opportunities," he said. "Sometimes the biggest challenge is getting people to try our products, and when you get somebody known on the package, it seems to lead to some pretty good pull-through."

Before Larry the Cable Guy and Dale Earnhardt Jr., KLN had some previous experience sharing the spotlight with celebrities - the company has been working with the Minnesota Twins since 2010. KLN sells its snacks at home games and promotes its brand alongside the team. Nelson said KLN's contract with the Twins will last at least another two years, taking them through the Twins-hosted 2014 All-Star game.

It's always during the baseball season that KLN experiences its biggest rush in chip and licorice sales, said Nelson. The slower months tend to be in November and December - and that's when the company's newest product line, Nutheads, comes in handy.

During the holiday season, demand rises for Nutheads' chocolate products, and this keeps the company's work flow balanced and steady all year long.

"We're staying as efficient as we can," Nelson said.

He added that, because of growth at the relatively young, two-year-old Nutheads facility, KLN is considering a possible 10,000-square-foot addition to allow for increased production.

Construction work may be done at the Tuffy's Pet Foods facility in the near future, as well.

Nelson said KLN intends to make some improvements to the extrusion and production side of Tuffy's, which would help control any odors released into the air by the pet food factory. It's not certain yet whether the work will be done in steps or as a complete overhaul, but Nelson said it could begin as soon as this spring.

Another construction project for Tuffy's was just completed this past spring, with the opening of a new 15,000-square-foot office building.

Located next to the Tuffy's production facility near downtown Perham, Nelson said the new offices were "desperately needed," as it had been years since the last update despite significant growth at Tuffy's. Over the years, the pet food company has continued to produce more and more products - for both its own brand names and others.

"At Tuffy's, we really continue to grow our own brands, which has been really exciting for us," said Nelson. "In 2001, we had about 10,000-ton of business; we have about 150,000-ton now. Almost 50 percent of that business is our own brands."

Much of that growth is in higher-end pet food products, he explained, as pet owners are demanding higher quality foods for their animals.