Northern Kentucky occupies sweet spot in the candy industry

The Easter candy season is upon us, and Northern Kentucky residents won’t have to travel far to find everything they need to stock those baskets. In fact, Northern Kentucky is home to a wide range of purveyors who have been producing sweet treats — while creating jobs and stabilizing communities — for decades.

In Bellevue, the Schneider family of chocolatiers claims 100 years of experience in candy making and operates two independent candy and ice cream shops in the NKY region.

Robert Sr. and Lillian Schneider opened Schneider’s Sweet Shop on Fairfield Avenue in 1939 and quickly cultivated a reputation for high-quality homemade confections. When the couple retired in the 1980s, their son Jack took over the business.

Schneider’s recently celebrated 75 years of operation in Bellevue, where Jack still uses his father’s original recipes. The shop’s quaint exterior hasn’t changed much from the original mid-century design, but now features patio seating for summer ice cream customers. A community mainstay, Schneider’s also ships products to chocolate lovers beyond NKY.

A few miles away and 30 years later, another Schneider, Robert Jr., opened his own family operation named Sweet Tooth Candies. The Newport shop holds true to the Schneider family tradition of quality, small-batch, homemade confections. Everything is made in a small factory on Saratoga Street and served in the West 11th Street storefront, where shelves are lined with colorfully wrapped treats and gold-leaf boxes.

Sweet Tooth has roughly 10 employees who do everything from serving up ice cream on hot summer nights to hand-wrapping flavored chocolate eggs in preparation for Easter.

‘Nobody makes candy except the boss’

Monika Kenney has work at Sweet Tooth Candies for 30 years. She works primarily at the candy shop on 11th Street but has put in plenty of hours at the factory and knows the ins and outs of the Sweet Tooth business.

In three decades, there is one thing she hasn’t done: make the chocolate.

“Nobody makes candy except the boss,” Kenney says, referring to the “candy man” himself, Robert Schneider Jr. “He makes it all, the chocolates and all of his flavors for the ice balls, plus the toppings like chocolate syrup.”

The Schneiders use their own tried-and-true recipe for every chocolate treat imaginable, plus seasonal items like ganache rabbits for Easter, caramel apples for the fall and “ice balls” (snow cones served with a dip of ice cream) for the summer months.

Although the two shops function independently, both enjoy a loyal customer base, with patrons passing down their love of the Schneider’s brand to children and grandchildren.

Easter and Christmas are, understandably, the busiest candy seasons at Sweet Tooth Candies, but summer brings in the ice cream crowd from all over the Tristate. Monika Kenney describes it as a home base for Northern Kentuckians who have moved away: “They come back when they’re in town and they’re happy we’re still here.”

NKY-made confections go global

Not every Northern Kentucky candy institution is a family name. The region is also home to two large producers — Galerie Candy and Perfetti Van Melle — that take pride in stocking the world’s Easter baskets, Halloween goody bags and Valentine’s gift boxes.

Galerie’s Hebron headquarters house the company’s design, production and distribution segments as well as a retail outlet store. The bulk of Galerie’s products are what they call “innovative confectionary gifts,” products that pair candies with novelty gift items.

Galerie CEO Richard Ross is known nationwide as a candy professional. His career began in a family-owned candy store in Dayton and took off when he became one of the nation’s first Jelly Belly distributors. In 1989, Galerie began shipping thousands of wholesale confections nationwide. Ross was inducted into the National Confectionary Sales Association’s Candy Hall of Fame in 2015.

Nearby Erlanger is home to the U.S. headquarters of Italian candy manufacturer Perfetti Van Melle. The world’s third-largest global confectioner employs nearly 19,000 people worldwide and sells in more than 150 countries. Its global brands include Chupa Chups and Mentos, and it manufactures multiple regional brands, including the popular Airheads, which are produced in the Erlanger facility.

Together, Galerie and Perfetti contribute hundreds of jobs to the NKY regional economy. But they provide much more than employment and sweet treats.

According to its company profile, Galerie donates regularly to local agencies like the Freestore Foodbank and the United Way. Similarly, Perfetti Van Melle employees volunteer with Tristate nonprofits such as the Boys and Girls Club and Keep Cincinnati Beautiful.

So, whether it’s with locally beloved opera cream eggs or world-famous mints, Easter baskets will overflow this weekend thanks in part to four iconic candy makers who are doing their part to keep NKY’s economy stable — and sweet — for decades to come.
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