Butterfields Candy Gives a Sweet Taste of Nostalgia
For Dena Manning, the decision to breathe life back into the shuttered Butterfields Candy Co. resulted from both diligent market research and her own personal connection to the signature hard candies known as “Buds.”
With an intense fruit flavor and creamy coconut sliver center, Butterfields Buds come in a variety of flavors, with Peach Buds as its flagship product. But after being in operation for decades, Butterfields stopped making candies for a couple of years – until 2012, when Manning stepped in.
“I knew they were very popular with a nationwide following. In talking with retailers, I found the demand for Peach Buds and other flavors was still strong,” says Manning, now president of Butterfields. “I knew how good the candies were because I kept my mother supplied with Lemon Buds when she was undergoing cancer treatment. The long-lasting, strong flavor stayed with her, soothing the dry mouth that accompanied her treatment. They were a special treat that helped lift her spirits.”
Manning, who lives in Raleigh, is a former judicial interpreter whose self-described entrepreneurial spirit led her to acquire and re-launch the company.
Originally established as the Cane Candy Co. in Winston-Salem and later Greensboro, the family-owned confectionery operated there from 1924 through the mid-1950s. The tradition continued on with the Wilson Candy Co., renamed by new owners who relocated the company to Wilson and later Rocky Mount. Sold yet again in 1989, the company moved to its current 10-acre site in Nashville in 1994. It adopted the Butterfields name in a rebranding campaign in 1998.
National attention for the candies came in 2007, when celebrity chef Rachael Ray declared them one of her favorite things in a segment on her talk show.
“At one point, the company distributed in all 50 states and several countries,” Manning says. “After Rachael Ray featured Peach Buds on TV, they couldn’t keep up with production because the demand became so great.”
The company ultimately went into foreclosure prior to Manning’s acquisition in 2012. She overhauled the production facility and retooled the manufacturing process to meet contemporary standards. Undaunted by the three years it spent non-operational, Butterfields has come back strong, producing upwards of 2,000 pounds, or 100,000 candies, each week.
In addition to the popular Peach Buds, four other flavors – honeybell orange, key lime, lemon and cherry – round out the mix of fruity treats. Its holiday mix, available year round, combines peppermint, spearmint, cinnamon, wintergreen, orange and lime buds to evoke the perfect yuletide spirit.
“Today we are featured in about 30 states, with a very strong presence in the Southeast,” Manning says. “We are steadily growing.”
Local Packaging, National Recognition
Butterfields employs eight workers during its high season, from August through the holidays. The company prides itself in using North Carolina suppliers for its packaging needs.
“We looked to Raleigh graphic designer Dan Early to create the colorful fruit art for our upgraded packaging,” Manning says. “The packaging for the gable bags is made by EastCoast Packaging out of Middlesex, and our cellophane is supplied by Global Packaging Solutions in Oakboro.”
Despite the updated graphics and production, traditionalists can appreciate that the candies are still made by hand, created in small batches in well-worn copper kettles using time-treasured recipes.
“The flavors are mixed by hand throughout the candy,” Manning says. “It’s why the flavor lasts the whole way through.”
She says one of her favorite aspects of the job is hearing from Butterfields enthusiasts far and wide.
“I get letters and calls all the time. I heard from a woman in California who tells me how great Key Lime Buds are mixed with vodka,” Manning says. “Others tell me Peach Buds make the perfect Bellini when dropped into champagne, and I’ve even heard from a North Carolina microbrewery about using Buds to create a special beer. People really love them. That’s why they’ve been disappearing from candy jars since 1924.”
Where to Buy
– Michael J. Solender