how are red bird mints made

Piedmont Candy, the maker of Red Bird – North Carolina’s home-grown candy – makes candy sticks and candy puffs. And while some of its candies have red-and-white stripes, and some are flavored with peppermint, it’s a completely different candy experience.

Red Bird isn’t shiny, it’s powdery, even a little chalky. It only crunches a little before it dissolves. It doesn’t stick to your teeth, it melts in your mouth.

Red Bird candy sticks have been part of Carolina Christmases for generations. Once, every lucky kid’s Christmas stocking had an orange in the toe and a stick of Red Bird in the leg.

You cut a hole in the orange, stuck in a candy stick and sucked – very hard, hard enough to make your cheeks hurt – until the pores in the candy dissolved enough to let you pull a little orange juice through the stick. (In theory, anyway: It doesn’t work that well in practice, although it sure kept kids busy on long Christmas afternoons.)

As a company, Piedmont is almost as different as its candy. It’s still family-owned, although it’s on its second family now. It has stayed here, on a side street in Lexington, instead of moving somewhere cheaper to operate, as many candy companies have. It’s even branching out, with new flavors and styles and with retro packages for stores like Williams-Sonoma and Anthropologie.

“They have performed a minor miracle,” says Jeanne Leonard, the granddaughter of Red Bird founder Ed Ebelein. “We’re just glad no one bought it and moved it to Mexico.”

For a company that makes such a colorful product, the Piedmont Candy factory isn’t a colorful place: White metal buildings huddle on a gray gravel parking lot behind a wire fence. The only color comes from small red-and-white striped awnings over a couple of doors and the Red Bird logo (“Southern Refresh-Mints”).

Before you open the door into the factory, you had better love peppermint. The smell tickles your nose and makes your eyes tingle. Neighbors near the plant say they keep their windows open in summer, to enjoy the minty smell.

Getting a look inside the plant isn’t easy. They no longer offer tours – too many regulations, says Brandon Conrad, who’s in charge of food safety and quality assurance.

Recently, though, Conrad and marketing director Jenna Paquin let us pull on hairnets and white lab coats for a walk through the candy process.

The first thing you pass are giant white sacks of Dixie Crystals sugar, 2,400 pounds each. The difference between Red Bird and hard peppermint is right there: Candy canes are made with corn syrup, which makes them hard and shiny. Red Bird uses cane sugar, water and invert sugar (a mix of fructose and glucose, the same as honey), which keeps sugar from crystalizing and retains moisture.

Watching the process that turns sugar into red-and-white-striped peppermints is overwhelming. So much is happening at once:

? After the sugars and water go through the cookers, eventually climbing to 300 degrees, they come out as a yellow goo that looks like thick honey. It curves around a metal drum, draping off the back into sheets. As it piles up, clear bits of sugar sheet off like glass, fluttering in the air, and filaments of sugar drape over anything nearby in webs.

? Every few minutes, a white-suited worker pulls off a 100-pound mound of of hot yellow sugar. First, he cuts off a 10-pound lump and drops it off on the coloring table. There, workers – who have rubbed their gloves and the table with wax to prevent sticking – grab the hot candy and add a ladle of red dye powder, kneading and turning for about 45 seconds until the lump is a deep, dark red.

? The remaining 90 pounds are hurried over to machines called pullers, with four arms that spin around each other, stretching the candy as it cools while workers ladle peppermint oil over it. As air mixes in, it turns from yellow to white, forming graceful whorls that look like manes for life-size My Little Pony dolls.

? Then the workers make the stripes: Every 4 minutes, a pillowy white mass of cooled candy gets hefted to a table and shaped into a fat pillow. The dark red candy gets cut with giant scissors – like the ones in your mom’s sewing kit, but as long as your forearm – and shaped into 4 long strips. Each strip is stretched along the white pillow, end to end.

? Next, it goes into the rolling machines, long metal rollers with bumps to keep the candy from sticking. Those spin the pillow roll, pressing in the red strips and shaping the candy into a log. As it turns, the red strips wrap around to form spiral stripes. The log stretches out, from fat as a barber pole to skinny as a pencil, then goes through cutters – short for peppermint puffs, long for peppermint sticks.

Fans blow everywhere, keeping the candy pieces from sticking together as they cool. Rattling along the assembly line, past two women with very quick eyes who pull out misshapen puffs or blobby stripes, they go into the closed humidity room.

That’s off limits to visitors’ eyes, but it’s where a little magic happens: Humidity, basically steam, opens up the pores in the candy, softening it a little. Before the room was created, It used to sit for four days, so Southern humidity could do the job. Now it takes less than an hour. After wrapping and packaging, the company tries to let it sit for two weeks longer before shipping it out.

It keeps softening as it ages, says Paquin. If customers complain their Red Bird is too crunchy, she tells them to leave it open for a few days.

There’s one request she can’t help customers with, though: “ ‘Do you have any sugar-free?’ Absolutely not. It’s sugar.”

Paquin has only been at Piedmont Candy for a year. It’s a lot more fun than her old job: She was in marketing for a conglomerate, working on the account for D-Con, the rodent killer. Here, she gets to work on new flavors and new packaging. Right now, she’s developing a holiday assortment for next year, with flavors like cinnamon bun and gingersnap.

Fans of vanished flavors like sassafras and spearmint still mourn, but Piedmont adds new flavors all the time, like lemon, orange and cotton candy. Paquin also is excited about a new line of chocolate-covered peppermint puffs.

“You can sell peppermint all day long,” she says. “But there’s only so much you can do with that.”

Piedmont Candy Co. celebrates 125 years, as Mary Llewellyn Cox, v.p. of sales and marketing, and Chris Reid, ceo, work to take the company to the next level. By

Piedmont Candy Co. The well-known Red Bird soft peppermint puff was once a 100-pound batch of cooked sugar. All photos by Vito Palmisano.

Then, 5 lbs. portion of the batch is divided so that the red dye can be manually added.

After that, the remaining sugar is passed through a puller, which introduces air into the mixture and transforms it from amber to crystal white.

Subsequently, the red and white sections are rolled together before being finally sliced into separate peppermint sticks or puffs.

The renowned Red Bird soft peppermint puffs are packaged in a different room following the curing process.

Although the business does sell some in bulk, some are just wrapped before being tubbed.

An overhead view shows off the entire Piedmont Candy Co. campus.

On the warehouse floor, boxes of Red Bird Peppermint Puffs are piled high.

The Ebeleins sold the business to the Reids, a local North Carolina family, in 1987. Doug Reid had worked in the textile industry his whole career, but a large portion of it was shifting to other countries.

Chris Reid has worked at Piedmont Candy Co. for almost three decades now.

When Chris was a teenager, the company was owned by his father Doug, and he would go to the factory after school to unload 100-pound bags of sugar, which serve as the primary component of the business’s well-known Red Bird brand peppermint puffs.

Then, during his time in college, he only ever attended classes for two weekends in a row; all other weekends, he returned home to assist at the candy factory.

“It was my duty to help, so I returned every weekend,” he remembers.

Additionally, in 1993, he attended the UNC-Chapel Hill commencement ceremony on a Saturday and began working at the family business on Monday morning. Since then, he has gained first-hand knowledge of every facet of the business.

“I did it all. I made sales calls, ran equipment, fixed equipment, and designed equipment,” he claims.

Having this background is really helpful to him now that he is the CEO of the well-known peppermint puffs company, succeeding his father.

“You can tell them directly what to do, which makes it so much easier to supervise the people under you,” Reid states. “They are aware of your proficiency in running it, so anytime you are able to grasp every facet of your business, it becomes more manageable and easier to operate.” ”.

He assumed official leadership three years ago, and he was happy to be on the path to CEO since he had always known that was his destiny.

“A lot of companies looked at buying us between when we bought the company and ’93 [when I graduated from college], and my dad always said, Ok, youre sure this is what you want to do? Because if not, we may get out of it,” Reid recalls. And I repeatedly told him that this was what I wanted to do. So, here we are. ”.

But Reid has contributed more to Piedmont Candy Co. than just blood, sweat, and tears. Additionally, he transformed the process of creating those well-known peppermint puffs. He came up with the concept for Piedmont’s unique curing process, which gives the mints their renownedly delicate texture.

A peppermint would require a full day to cure before Reid’s system. However, his new approach reduced that to just one hour.

After graduating from college, he had the idea, but he had to persuade his father to turn what was essentially only a theory into a functional piece of machinery.

“It was a gamble. I said, “There’s a 50/50 chance it will work.” “And it was a relief that it was effective,” he laughs.

Luckily, it was successful. The device, along with additional automations, has enabled Piedmont to go from producing 1,500 lbs. of candies per day in 1985 to almost 6,000 pounds an hour it produces now.

According to Reid, “the entire plant is [now] designed around being able to make it and cure it rapidly.” “When youre making roughly 6,000 lbs. /hour, or 500,000 pieces, so you had better figure out a way to treat it. The logistics of managing and storing it would be extremely difficult. It had to work. ”.

In fact, the business has undergone significant transformations since its founding as the NC Candy Co. 125 years ago, in 1890. in Lexington, N. C. by Edward F. Ebelein.

The name Piedmont Candy Co. was adopted, but the company’s headquarters are still in the same city in central North Carolina. in the early 1900s. Piedmont remained under the Ebelein family’s ownership until Doug Reid purchased it in 1987.

“It was just family-owned. They didn’t wrap any candies, and they hadn’t really tried to expand. It was just a family-style operation,” Chris Reid says. And that’s how we handled it up until a few years ago. ”.

In fact, they have constructed two new buildings in the last few years, updated the packaging and logo, and made a v p. Mary Llewellyn Cox took on the role of sales and marketing representative, developing new tastes, introducing chocolate goods and an all-natural line, and expanding into foreign markets.

Additionally, the business completely rebuilt a new plant on the property, which they moved into in 2009 and now has nearly 200,000 sq -ft. under one roof.

Reid claims that during the first 15 years, “we just made that much more candy every year, however much we wanted to grow.” “Thus, we were operating for 14 hours a day, seven days a week, in 2000.” After realizing we needed to advance, we constructed a new plant where we can produce 110,000 pounds. a day [at full capacity]. ”.

And all that new capacity has helped propel Piedmont forward.

“When youve got the capacity, you want to use it. Thus, ever since, we’ve been attempting to fill that, says Reid.

The new plant is currently operating for 10 hours a day, five days a week.

The strong scent of fresh peppermint greets you and will immediately clear your sinuses. The packaging area is on the left, the room that houses the exclusive curing system Reid designed is in the middle, and to the right is where the company makes its famously soft peppermints.

It all starts with the sweetest ingredient — sugar. Reid also designed a continuous cooking system that heats dry sugar and invert sugar to 315 degrees. The business had to rely on the same kind of copper kettles that they had been using since the 1800s prior to that.

“When we first started, we used copper kettles to mix and heat the sugar.” The sugar would then be transferred to the pulling machine after we had manually poured and cooled it,” Reid says. These days, the sugar is cooked, cooled, and grouped automatically on a cooling drum. It is much more consistent. “.

Reid worked with Rodger Hohberger to make his vision of a more automated cooking system a reality. He claims that in addition to working with businesses to design specialized equipment, he occasionally even employs an internal machinist to create his concepts.

When the sugar cools after cooking, it is separated into 100-lb batches. At this point, 5 lbs. is taken off so that coloring can be added, like red for the peppermints.

The remaining portion is fed into the pulling machine, which separates the mixture and adds air to the sugar, causing it to change from an amber hue to a brilliant crystal white. This is also where the well-known, natural peppermint oil is added. Alternatively, the flavor is added in place of another one if the company is producing another flavor, such as cinnamon or birthday cake. Contrary to what most customers believe, which is that the flavor is in the colored parts, this process

Additionally, the most expensive component of the recipe is the peppermint, which is real peppermint oil rather than a flavor enhancer, according to Cox.

Reid states, “We use the same flavor profile of peppermint that we’ve always used.” “And its one of the most expensive peppermints. I mean, we use the premium peppermint. When that is the foundation of your entire business, you don’t want to skimp and use a fake flavor. So its the real deal. ”.

Once the puller is done, an employee rolls the white candy and manually adds the red stripes.

“They will never be the same because everything is done by hand,” Cox says. “This is the desired appearance, exactly as they appeared in 1890.” ”.

After that, the mixture is either fed through a machine that forms it into candy sticks or a machine that turns it all into tiny mints.

The curing room is where the puffs go through a 60-minute process that gives the peppermints their distinctively soft texture after that.

After that, the mints are delivered to the factory’s packaging department. Some of the mints are individually wrapped, while others are packaged in an unwrapped bulk.

Primary packaging is handled by the Bosch wrapping machine and the Loma metal detectors.

After that, they proceed through Matrix baggers and Markem bagger code date printers. Additionally, there are the Yamato scales for baggers and the tub machine, as well as the Domino tub code date printers and case labelers.

Eventually, a pallet wrapper from Lantech boxes and stacks them for the warehouse.

The pièce de résistance on the packaging front these days, though, is Piedmont’s newest piece of machinery—a tub machine made by Control GMC. It was installed three weeks prior to the visit by Candy Industry Magazine, and it was already improving efficiency.

Reid is generally satisfied with the state of affairs on the factory floor at the moment.

Reid states, “We really can’t automate it anymore to make the candy the way we want it made and to look the way we want it to look.” We automated the parts that could be automated and that wouldn’t alter the flavor, taste, or appearance. “.

Furthermore, despite the availability of new technology, such as more advanced pulling machines, the business cannot use it.

He claims that while there are newer pulling machine types, they don’t provide the same taste, texture, or softness. Therefore, in order to maintain consistency with our past, we have had to retain some aspects of it. ”.

The company is developing new products and packaging in addition to keeping up its innovative work on the manufacturing floor.

Recently, Piedmont introduced a new all-natural line. Since the base candy is almost entirely composed of sugar, creating all-natural candies from core offerings is not difficult. For instance, the peppermint puffs are made entirely of natural ingredients and are made without the red stripes.

Lemon minis and peppermint minis covered in dark chocolate are also part of the all-natural lineup.

“This year, we just introduced our natural minis line to the specialty market, and in 2016, we intend to expand into more traditional markets,” Cox states. Additionally, we plan to add seasonal flavors and gift-worthy packaging to this line in the future. ”.

Additionally, they’re increasing the variety of flavors they offer overall, with a lineup of puffs that includes:

  • An assortment of the following: cotton candy, pink grapefruit, key lime, watermelon, passion fruit, lemon, orange, green apple, and strawberry cream penny (vanilla).
  • A citrus mix of lemon and orange
  • Birthday cake
  • Cotton candy
  • Cinnamon puffs

Cox states, “We work with great flavor houses [Mother Murphy’s and Wild Flavors], and they have been wonderful.” “They bring us flavors that fit that concept when we give them an idea of what we want, or we give them a specific flavor that we want.” ”.

The business also intends to introduce baking goods, which they believe will be unique due to the softer-than-usual consistency of their peppermint.

Reid says, “The majority of peppermint used in ice cream, milkshakes, or bark is crushed candy cane, which is hard.” “Compared to hard candy, our product is much easier to eat and contains no corn syrup.” ”.

Overall, they’re just hoping to better market the brand. As part of that plan, Cox was hired a year and a half ago, and the Red Bird logo and packaging were updated.

“We want Red Bird to be truly understood and appreciated by people, not just in its traditional, straightforward candy form, but also in its new flavors and formats,” says Cox. “We do all kinds of interesting things. I will therefore be focusing much more on the packaging side. ”.

A focus on gifting is also part of that, and Piedmont intends to increase it over the next few years. The week before Christmas accounts for thirty percent of the company’s sales, so it makes sense for it to produce more goods for that market.

Then there are the international markets. Companies in Europe have already expressed interest in the candy, according to Cox, since it is unique compared to other candies available in the market.

Additionally, the company actually shipped out its first significant overseas order, to Mexico, at noon on the day that Candy Industry Magazine visited the facility in late August.

Piedmont has benefited greatly from Lexington, which was once home to many furniture companies before they relocated overseas, even as Reid says they have no intention of ever moving production outside of the United States even as they look to sell Red Bird in other countries.

“Its been great. There’s plenty of workers. There are a lot of people who need work because Lexington used to be a furniture city before all the furniture was moved to China, he claims. Additionally, because of our convenient location, this is a great place for sugar. If your products are made entirely of sugar, you will need to find as many suppliers as possible in order to get a reasonable price. Plus, consumers prefer soft mints made in the U. S. A . ”.

Overall, it’s an exciting time for the Piedmont Candy Co. After 125 years in the candy industry, most manufacturers would be tempted to rest on their laurels, but Piedmont has been inspired by this achievement to grow even more, produce more, and improve.

It makes sense that the current CEO wants to see the business succeed in new avenues given that he essentially grew up at the factory.

He attributes his strong work ethic to his father, who taught him lessons like “It’s not going to fix itself,” “Do whatever it takes to make it happen,” and “Never put anything off until tomorrow that you could do today.” ”.

Reid describes his father as “one of the hardest workers that I know.”

Piedmont’s current candy company is a result of this foundation, which will undoubtedly lead to a bright, minty fresh future.

Headquarters: Lexington, N.C.

Sales: Less than $30 Million


Manufacturing plants:10


Minis:Mini Puffs are tiny and tasty, all-natural puffed soft treats.

Puffs:Regular Puffs are Piedmonts traditional soft puffed candy. An assortment of strawberry, cream penny (vanilla), lemon, orange, green apple, watermelon, passion fruit, cotton candy, pink grapefruit, and key lime flavors are among the many flavors available. Other flavors include cinnamon puffs, a citrus blend of lemon and orange, birthday cake, and cotton candy.

Sticks:Old-fashioned 4-in. and 2-in. candy sticks made from 100 percent pure cane sugar. Theyre available in peppermint, cream penny (vanilla), lemon and cinnamon.

Brands: Red Bird

Management: Chris Reid, ceo; Mary Llewellyn Cox, v. p. of sales and marketing; and Heath Cagle, cfo.

Founded in 1890 as the NC Candy Co. in Lexington N. C. , the name was changed to Piedmont Candy Co. in the early 1900s.

The son of German immigrants, Edward Ebelein relocated to Lexington in 1919 to work at the NC Candy Co. Born in 1873, Edward started as an apprentice in candy at the age of 15. Later on, he took over as the company’s sole proprietor and managed it as a family enterprise.

To make Red Bird candies, pure cane sugar was heated to 300 degrees in open copper kettles. On average, about 500 lbs. of candy puffs and sticks were made each day.

The Ebeleins sold the business to the Reids, a local North Carolina family, in 1987. Doug Reid had worked in the textile industry his whole career, but a large portion of it was shifting to other countries.

Piedmont Candy Co. grew further, and in 2000 it expanded once more to help meet demand. The basic process remained the same, but new modern production processes were added. Since each candy stripe is still hand-molded and applied, no two finished sticks or puffs are exactly alike.

Red Bird peppermint sticks and puffs are still made with just a few basic ingredients, such as natural peppermint oil and pure cane sugar. Additionally, more flavors have been added to the lineup as of late, such as cotton candy, key lime, and peppermint covered in dark chocolate.

Number of Red Bird mints consumed every second.

The quantity of the tiny batches into which Red Bird candies are split Each puff and stick is then individually shaped and striped by hand.

Amount of candy the Piedmont Candy Co. produces per shift.

Number of pieces made per shift

Sales of Red Bird bags, tubs, and sticks occurred during the week preceding Christmas.

Number of years the company has been in business.

Weekends that Chris Reid missed from work over his four years at UNC-Chapel Hill Since the Monday following his graduation in 1993, he has been employed full-time at Piedmont.

Number of individual 100-lb. bags that, on days when sugar was delivered, Chris Reid, the CEO, and Heath Cagle, the CFO, had to unload after class in their junior and senior years of high school

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That’s when Doug Reid stepped in. He had worked in textiles, so he knew manufacturing equipment. Eberlein kept the candy store a family business by selling him the factory. Reid was to learn how to make candies from Eberlein. But Eberlein died suddenly in a lawn mower accident. Employees taught Reid what he needed to know. His manufacturing expertise allowed him to increase production from 2,000 pounds per day to 6,000 pounds per hour. Reid’s son, Chris, is now the CEO.

Carolina Christmases have long included red bird candy sticks. A Christmas stocking with an orange in the toe and a stick of Red Bird in the leg used to belong to every fortunate child.

She is unable to assist customers with one particular request, though: “Do you have any sugar-free? Absolutely not.” It’s sugar. ”.

As the candies cool, fans blow everywhere to prevent the pieces from sticking together. They rattle along the assembly line, pass two quick-witted women who remove blobby stripes or puffy patches, and enter the closed humidity room.

After making a hole in the orange and inserting a candy stick, you sucked very hard—hard enough to hurt your cheeks—until the candy’s pores disappeared sufficiently to allow you to extract a small amount of orange juice through the stick. (In theory, anyhow: While it kept kids occupied on long Christmas afternoons, it doesn’t function all that well in reality.) ).


What are the ingredients in Red Bird mints?

Cane sugar, invert sugar, oil of peppermint, Red 40, Red 40 Lake. Cane sugar, invert sugar, oil of peppermint, Red 40, Red 40 Lake.

Why are Red Bird mints so good?

MADE WITH 100% PURE CANE SUGAR Each mint is handcrafted using 100% pure cane sugar – never corn syrup. The beautiful thing about Red Bird candies, is that they are handcrafted much like they were in 1890. We make 100 lbs at a time and do most of the process by hand, so every single piece has a unique size and shape.

What are the ingredients in Red Robin mints?

Bag contains about 243 pieces, about 81 servings. Ingredients: Pure cane sugar, invert sugar, natural or imitation flavor, red 40 lake, yellow 5 & 6 lake, blue 1 lake.