(Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the ethnic diversity of Ferrara’s plant in just Forest Park. We have also clarified the changes in ownership since 2012 which resulted in its current private ownership.)
For the last two years, Javier Reinoso has been the plant manager of the Ferrara Candy Company’s facility, located at the corner of Circle and Harrison.
In many ways, his story, and view of the world, personifies how the candy company has evolved since 1908 when Salvatore Ferrara, an immigrant from Nola, Italy, began candy coating almonds in his bakery in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood.
Of the current plant’s 450 workers, more than 80% are Hispanic or Black. “We are very diverse,” Reinoso explained. “We are a little heavier on the Latino ethnic because that’s what our surrounding community is like demographically.
“A lot of my management team is bilingual, and whenever we do communications in the plant, both oral and printed, we do them in both English and Spanish.”
Another way Reinoso embodies the corporation is how he has moved up the ladder of opportunity. He has “book learning,” having earned both a bachelor’s degree and an MBA.
But he says he learned most of his management skills on the job. After graduating from the University of South Florida, he worked for Kraft for 17 years and was employed by a pizza-making business for close to six years.
“As you grow up in manufacturing and gain more responsibility,” he said, “the leadership kind of comes with it.”
Blair Klein, Ferrara’s vice president of Institutional Affairs and Corporate Communication, connected Reinoso’s story to how the company fosters an environment where workers want to stay.
“Any good company,” she began, “is looking for good loyal employees. They want them to be happy. They want them to stay throughout their careers. There are many reasons for that. One is the cost of hiring new employees. Other reasons include the quality of work, productivity and the camaraderie you develop.”
Reinoso said his company has been paying attention to its work environment for decades. “We have a lot of folks with high seniority who have been in the company a very long time. We have 450 workers, about 150 of whom are temporary associates because of the seasonal nature of business. But the 58 salaried employees average 17 years’ experience; four have over 40 years; and 11 have over 30 years.”
Klein added that some businesses claim to have diversity and inclusion but they are referring only to the numbers in their annual stockholder meetings. Ferrara has the numbers, but authentic diversity and inclusion are reflected more in how they do business.
“Just having a workforce with diversity doesn’t mean that the employees feel listened to. Inclusion is the important piece. There are studies out there that show the increase in revenues and bottom line and long-term benefits for businesses when they have higher employee engagement.
“In 2020 incidents like the murder of George Floyd opened our eyes to understanding that maybe we had a lot more work to do in the company than we thought regarding understanding the challenges of our employee groups, the things they may face on a daily basis.”
One way her company tries to promote engagement is through resource groups. “Business resource groups,” she explained, “don’t just give input to management. They actually get a say in the decisions we make.”
Another side is engagement with the community. Reinoso listed ways that Ferrara is involved in the life of Forest Parkers.
They have participated in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade by handing out candy to thousands of spectators on the sidewalks and are looking at having a float in the event. They have sponsored the No Gloves Nationals for years and are heavily invested in the creation of the Splash Pad at the pool.
According to a 2021 article in the Review, “The scent coming from the nearby Ferrara Pan Candy Company, 7301 Harrison St., inspired the “Candyland” theme, with bright contrasting colors. The pad surfaces were patterned after game boards.”
“When you walk by,” Reinoso said with a laugh, “you’re going to smell sugar in the air. We’re part of the community. You can smell us.”
“We are the home town team,” Klein added. “We’re not doing these things to increase sales or to put on a good image. That may be a secondary benefit, but when you are the home town team, the people who work for you live in the community and by the same token people in the community should feel that you care about them. We are here as a neighbor.”
Klein pointed to the new organizational structure, which changed from a family-owned business to one purchased in 2012 by a private equity firm. In 2017 the business was purchased by private owners who operate it today.
“Although there are members of the Ferrero family who are on our board of directors,” she explained, “we are separate from the Ferrero Group. It has no ownership, although we do have business contracts in place that allow us to collaborate on some projects, and so we refer to each other as affiliated companies.”
Pedro Pedroza, the brand new senior manager for Public Affairs and Community Relations, was born in Mexico, and lives right down the street in Oak Park. “I’ve been on the job for just two weeks,” he said, “and I’m learning about all the concrete, actionable ways the company leadership is empowering its leaders to give back to the community.
“And the way my ethnic identity informs the way I work, I’m able to do so unapologetically, and I know that is a safe place where they value the perspective I bring.”
Forest Park candy production
As a company, Ferrara produces more than 500 million pounds of candy annually.
The Forest Park plant:
- manufactured 108 million lbs. of total candy last year;
- made 15 million lbs. of seasonal product last year;
- is projected to make 122 million lbs. this year;
- makes an avg. 2.4 million lbs. weekly;
- makes an avg. 343 thousand lbs. daily;
- makes the following brands: Nerds, Trolli, Black Forest, SweeTarts, and Ferrara Pan Lemonheads;
- Ferrara’s revenue in 2022 was $1.5 billion.
- 2 million pieces of Lemonhead candy are produced every day.
- In one year Ferrara produced 38 million nerd ropes, enough for every citizen of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago to have two ropes a day.
- A new product that hit a sales home run is Nerds Gummy Clusters — “sweet and chewy on the inside, tangy and crunchy on the outside.”
- Chuckles have been around longer than talking movies.