Virginia Beach Saltwater Toffee Maker Plans Massive Expansion Virginia News

By: Virginia Pilot STACY PARKER

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — Last year at Forbes Candy Factory in Virginia Beach, hulking machines produced more than a million pounds of creamy, chewy brine taffy.

The nearly 100-year-old iconic Virginia Beach candy maker is expanding. It’s beyond the company’s building on Taylor Farm Road. An agreement is being reached to build a new factory that will increase toffee production and meet demand.

Forbes’ toffees — previously only found in East Coast souvenir stores — are now on grocery store shelves nationwide. It’s going out into the world. The company will export to Canada this summer and to Europe and Australia by the end of the year.

“We’ve been ramping up wholesale,” said owner and president Martin Cochran. “We always thought it was a tourist candy, but it has some legs.”

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Forbes Candy Company is buying land from the Virginia Beach Development Authority in the Enterprise Landing Business Park near Booth Avenue. Construction of the new plant will begin in late summer. It will be designed to accommodate public tours and include a retail store that will replace the company’s Hilltop store, which will close after Easter.

Cochran’s career at Forbes Candies began in the mid-1990s at the store’s miniature golf course on the Outer Banks. He worked his way up through the company, which he acquired from the Forbes family 13 years ago.

The original owner, Charles Forbes, was first introduced to the wonders of confectionery at the Old Dominion Peanut Co. in Norfolk, where his uncle was a confectioner. He sold candy bars in a downtown bank building as a child.

In 1930, Forbes and his then-new wife Marion converted the wine cellar in Marion’s parents’ home into a candy kitchen, where they crunched peanuts and sold them door-to-door to make ends meet. The house on Colonial Avenue in Norfolk is now the Williams School.

Forbes’ Homemade Peanut Shortbread is a hit. In 1932, local grocery stores and drugstores sold it for 10 cents a pound or 25 cents for 3 pounds, according to newspaper ads.

The following year, the couple opened their first candy store at 21st Street and Atlantic Avenue on the Virginia Beach waterfront. Two months later, a hurricane destroyed it, “with four feet of water in the store and most of our candy floating in the street,” recalls Charles Forbes in a 1972 Beacon article. In subsequent years, they opened several more stores on Atlantic Avenue.

Most people know that Forbes Candy is one of the oldest retailers in the resort.

“We’re much more than that now,” Cochran told members of the Development Agency at a meeting in March.

While Saltwater Toffee is still available in classic beach-themed boxes at souvenir shops, it’s also mass-produced and packaged in bags, not boxes, for grocery use. The company recently signed a contract with Wegmans.

“The big players in the market,” Cochran said at the conference. “A national chain that really gives us distribution right away.”

Forbes has more than 100 employees during the summer, including seasonal employees at the Waterfront and Outer Banks candy stores.

Easter is one of the busiest times of the year. Hand-decorated candy ducks, bunnies and eggs are stacked neatly on the factory shelves, floor to ceiling.

“Here, we cover everything with chocolate,” Cochran said during a recent tour.

In the toffee room, a mixture of sugar, corn syrup and other ingredients is cooked in a copper pot.

So what about the brine nickname?

“There’s salt, there’s water,” Cochran joked. “We don’t have a direct pipeline to the Atlantic.”

The star of the show is the Toffee Stretcher. Its mechanical metal “arms” pull 60 pounds of toffee in different directions, giving it a chewy texture. The thick rolls are then fed into a cutting and packaging machine. The factory can produce 1,200 pieces per minute. The new building will double production.

At the end of a long room, slices of toffee, neatly wrapped in green and pink watermelon flavors, slid off a long branch into a deep box. Cochran reached for a scoop.

“It doesn’t get any fresher than this,” he said.

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