Bringing back iconic candy
Barker captures unique flavor and texture with Original Candy Raisins

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

April 17, 2015

 Plant manager Steve Niece works with the candy-making machine at Lake Country Candies. 
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

DELAFIELD - For Wisconsinites who ate Candy Raisins during their manufacturing heyday, all of the recent reproductions haven’t quite captured that unique sweet taste and texture - until now.

Himself a lover of the golden gummy candy, Lake Country Candies owner John Barker wanted to bring back the sweets he remembered from childhood, but which had stopped being produced when Necco closed its Pewaukee facility several years ago.

In October, Barker turned a segment of his building at 3776 Kettle Court East into a candy manufacturer with the sole purpose of creating Original Candy Raisins. The rest of the building is occupied by Barker’s other business, Arcon Ring & Specialty Corp, of which he is owner and president. With the profit he is making as a snap and retaining rings manufacturer, Barker invested in candy-making equipment and hired two former Stark Candy Co. employees, which produced Candy Raisins before it was bought by Necco.

When Necco consolidated its facilities in New England, it decided to stop making Candy Raisins, which had previously been produced in the amount of 300,000 to 400,000 pounds per year for about 67 cents per pound. Barker said he believed he could sell it for about $2 to $3 per pound for wholesale and resale, resulting in about a $1 million annual operation.

 Lake Country Candies Original Candy Raisins. 
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

In October, Barker launched Lake Country Candies.  Its only product has undergone a name change while Barker pursued permission to use “Candy Raisins,” which he eventually received when he reached a purchase agreement with competitor Osmanium Candy Company.

“It’s a feel-good product,” Barker said of Candy Raisins. “There was such a calling for it.”

When people taste an Original Candy Raisin each one often has a different guess as to what it reminds them of because it has such a unique flavor, Barker said. It’s made with a proprietary flavoring so it shall remain a mystery. It’s a simple recipe but experimented with to make sure the flavor and texture were true to the original, Barker said.

The Candy Raisin Barker produces is a 100-percent replica of the candy Stark made, which copied one produced by Ziegler Candy from the 1930s before going out of business in the 1970s.

Sweet smile

Lake Country Candies’ logo is that of a smiling sun - similar to the one appearing on Stark’s Candy Raisins.  The candies are created and packaged in Delafield using kettles made by Pick Heaters in West Bend and a giant candy-making and molding machine from Finland.

 Sharon Arnold, left and Lake Country Candies owner John Barker at the packaging line for
Candy Raisins.

Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

After the candy is made, it’s rolled in carnauba wax to prevent the pieces from sticking together and then cured for a couple of days to remove excess moisture.

Recently, Lake Country Candies temporarily stopped production because it had enough in stock and as an opportunity for staff members to go out into the community and market the product.

Plant Manager Steve Niere worked for Stark Candy and then Necco before losing his job with their Pewaukee closure.

“If you didn’t need to pay bills, I’d do it for free,” he said of making candy.

 Sharon Arnold packages Candy Raisins at Lake Country Candies in Delafield. 
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Niere said everyone is happy to see Candy Raisins again and many people have fond memories of eating them as a kid or of grandma keeping them in a candy jar.

“I’m glad to be back in the candy business,” he said. “I love making people happy.”

Lake Country Candies produces 2-ounce and 8-ounce packages of Candy Raisins that are sold to area stores and some chains, including all of the Southeastern Wisconsin Walgreens, as well as through Quality Candy, Sendik’s locations, Half Nuts in West Allis and Allo Chocolat in Waukesha. A complete list is available on the business’s website.

Barker said both sized bags sell equally well. In the future he may add a 12- or 16-ounce package. He is also working on creating a wide variety of flavors, such as watermelon, banana and strawberry, for Barrels of Yum, which was launched in conjunction with Belly Jelly founder David Klein.