In her Plymouth neighborhood, Christine Lantinen is known by her children’s friends as the “candy lady.” In the lower level of her family’s spacious house, there’s a closet filled with the products that she sells as CEO of Maud Borup Inc. They include all sorts of goodies: giant gummy bears, milk chocolate hand tools, and Halloween-season gumballs that look like eyeballs.
But there’s one thing you won’t find in Lantinen’s closet: the kind of boxed chocolates that you or your parents might have purchased at a Maud Borup candy store in the Twin Cities. Lantinen bought the long-time brand and its recipes in late 2005. She has decided not to reproduce those original chocolates. Instead, Lantinen has built a highly successful business with Maud Borup’s name—using a different recipe.
And her family has been by her side. Most family businesses increase the number of family members working there as the businesses get bigger, and founders’ kids decide to work for their parents’ business. Lantinen reverse-engineered this process by buying a business and then having her parents work for it. She also made some bold moves, closing the famed but faded Maud Borup candy stores and building a new kind of business from the great lady’s name. At the same time, Lantinen has made the business a reflection of her ecological and hometown values.
The company, now called Maud Borup Inc., has become one of the country’s top creators of food gifts—candy or other foods packaged for gift-giving. The “new” Maud Borup sells none of its products directly to consumers, not even online. Instead, it wholesales to Target, Walmart and Barnes & Noble, to name three of its top customers.
“The food-gift category is pretty recession-proof,” says Lantinen, who worked for Target and Minnetonka-based food gift company Bay Island before buying Maud Borup. “So most of the gifts are $20 and under. And they’re candy—everybody needs that grandma gift or teacher gift. Or at Christmastime, when you’re in the store and you need to find something—that’s the area we play in.”
In her first three months as the new Maud Borup, Lantinen brought in $2 million in orders. The company says 2013 exceeded its multimillion-dollar growth goals and brought out about 150 new products. It puts together about 3 million gifts a year; so far this year, Maud Borup has brought to market more than 150 new items. Though it develops its own products, often in collaboration with its customers, Maud Borup Inc. itself doesn’t manufacture anything. Instead, it contracts out production of its food items and packaging to others, then brings those parts together in one place, managing all of the supply chains for its customers’ food-gift products.
Those chains all come together at Maud Borup’s assembling and packing facility, which the company opened in August 2013. It’s located 10 miles east of St. Peter in Le Center, Lantinen’s hometown. Overseeing the facility is Pam Cooney, Lantinen’s mother, a no-nonsense woman who whipped the facility into shape just a couple of months after its purchase. And many members of what Lantinen calls her “hometown family” are now involved in the business. “I know 90 percent of the people there,” she says of the Le Center operation, which provides jobs to a town that Lantinen loves, and to an area that needs them. (Maud Borup also has 10 administrative, management and sales employees.)
The food-gift items that the facility’s employees assemble often feature U.S.-made food products from brands like Bigelow teas, Nestlé and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. “We take pride in working with U.S. companies and doing our packing in the U.S.,” says Lantinen, an Army veteran. She believes, and her customers seem to agree, that more and more people want to “buy from home.” What’s more, she adds, “I feel that China is getting less competitive. There are more things that you can be doing back here. A lot of that has come from large U.S. companies implementing strict standards on the China facilities.”
Lantinen comes to Le Center frequently, but her main office is in her home. Sharing that home and her business is her husband Randy, who works as Maud Borup’s operations manager. “I refer to us as ‘money and magic.’ I’m magic, and he’s money,” Lantinen says. While she works with buyers and designers, Randy oversees the back end of the business, primarily the Le Center production facility. “I’m very type A, and he’s very chill,” she says. “We balance each other out pretty well.” Though there are always business issues they need to work out and work through, “there’s nobody I’d rather be doing this with—to know that someone has your back with every decision.”
Besides her mother and husband, Lantinen relies on the advice of her farmer father, John Cooney. The Lantinens’ children, Bishop and Miia, have appeared in company marketing materials. They also play crucial roles as taste testers, their mother says.
The Lantinens’ Plymouth house uses geothermal energy, and Christine Lantinen hopes to use geothermal, solar or other technologies in the Le Center facility to make it energy self-sufficient. It wouldn’t be the only way her green values express themselves in her business. In 2011, Maud Borup launched Eco Eggs, Easter-season plastic eggs made from plant-based bioplastic produced by Minnetonka-based NatureWorks. The eggs are manufactured in Minnesota and sold in eco-conscious stores such as Whole Foods and Creative Kidstuff. With Eco Eggs selling well—former President Bill Clinton’s philanthropic foundation buys thousands every Easter season—the company also has developed American-made Easter grass made from recycled, crinkle-cut paper.
Maud Borup runs Eco Eggs as a separate company, with its own brand. The Maud Borup name itself appears prominently on some products, including peppermint bark and chocolate-dipped potato chips. By and large, it’s seen only in small print on its products. It works with retail buyers to customize food gifts; Maud Borup also has a creative team that develops seasonal assortments.
So why did Lantinen bother to buy Maud Borup’s name at all? Why not simply start Christine Lantinen Inc.? “I’ve always loved the brand,” says Lantinen, who sees herself as carrying on her forebear’s tradition of quality, even if she’s not producing Maud Borup’s recipes. “I love the history, and I love Maud’s story,” Lantinen adds.
Lantinen purchased the brand from Kim and Mark Kalan, who owned and manufactured two other candy brands and chose to focus on just one, Route 29 Napa. At that time, Maud Borup’s business was about $100,000 a year; its three stores hadn’t been profitable for years. “I thought about keeping one open because they had had a storefront for 100 years, and it was hard on me to see that go,” Lantinen recalls. “But I also didn’t want to take the focus off the wholesale business, and that was the biggest opportunity.”
It has been an opportunity for vendors such as Arden Hills-based Northwestern Foods, which makes flavored cocoa products, specialty beverages, and bakery items such as breads, cakes and pancake mixes for the food gifts that Maud Borup wholesales. “They’re a very visual, very creative company,” Northwestern Foods sales manager Mimie Pollard says. It’s a customer that “presents us with challenging, fun projects,” such as green witch’s-finger breadsticks for Halloween. Pollard says she sometimes wonders how some Maud Borup clients will respond to such unusual items. “But then a customer will come around and say, ‘Yep, we want it,’ ” Pollard notes.
Something that Lantinen wants is to double her company’s business by 2020. “We’ve had steady growth since year one, and we want to stay on track with that,” she says. That could entail an acquisition or some sort of merger. “We definitely want to grow,” she adds. “We’re young, and we love what we do.”
For the family of Christine Lantinen, successor to the equally entrepreneurial Maud Borup, business is sweet. Think of it as one candy lady to another.
Inception: 1907 (original company), 2005 (name purchased by current owner)
Family names: Lantinen, Cooney
What it does: Designs and assembles food gifts for retailers; bioplastic Easter eggs
Type of ownership: S corporation
Principal owner: Christine Lantinen
Number of employees: 30, with additional 30 at peak times
Number of family members in the business: 3
Number of family members on the board: 2
1907 - Maud Borup begins making her homemade chocolates.
1910 - The first freestanding Maud Borup Candies store opens in St. Paul; over the decades, Maud Borup candies would be purchased by royalty, including Queen Elizabeth.
1964 - Robert J. Henderson purchases Maud Borup from the family.
1988 - Ann Jeddeloh, a former company accountant, becomes owner of Maud Borup Candies.
2001 - Kim and Mark Kalan purchase Maud Borup Candies and open two stores in Minneapolis; the Kalans purchase a northern Minnesota factory and begin production on a larger scale.
2005 - Christine Lantinen buys the Maud Borup brand and recipes, converting Maud Borup into a food-gift company offering a wide variety of confections.
2011 - Maud Borup Inc. introduces Eco Eggs, Easter-season plastic eggs made from plant-based bioplastic.
2013 - The company opens its own packaging facility in Le Center, near St. Peter.
2014 - The Le Center facility earns Global Food Safety Initiative certification, meeting higher quality standards to pack and handle open food.
Its growth has nurtured five generations.
A strong family has built a strong business, overcoming personal tragedy and financial setbacks.
An entrepreneur prepares to pass on his company to a new generation with new approaches.
Go overseas to make its products? The family behind the Bundt pan never considered it. And their company’s thriving.
Tom Hubler, who founded the Minnesota Family Business Awards in 2008, helps families pursue their financial and emotional future.
Twin Cities Business and its partners recognize these successful Minnesota family businesses and the values they perpetuate.