Concocting Cherry Mash Candy

Food, Made in America, Traditions
on January 18, 2009
Bruce N. Meyer Norman Jones watches Cherry Mash centers move along the production line at Chase Candy Co. in St. Joseph, Mo.

In the early 1970s, Barry Yantis went to his boss at the Chase Candy Co. with an idea to redesign the wrapper of Cherry Mash, the company’s chocolate-covered, cherry-filled signature candy. The idea was immediately shot down.

“No, son, you never change the wrapper,” said William Yantis, Barry’s father and then-president of the candy company, founded in St. Joseph, Mo., in 1876.

Barry, now 63, has taken his father’s place as company president, and his own advice to his son, Brett, 40, a regional sales manager at Chase, is the same: “Never change the wrapper.”

Inside the classic red-and-white designed wrapper, Cherry Mash has stayed true to its roots–which date back to its creation in 1918–and remains Americas best-selling cherry candy bar.

“Cherry Mash is really more of a concoction than it is a candy bar, but we call it a candy bar anyway,” Barry Yantis says. “It’s really a mound, more than a bar.”

The 2-ounce mound is indeed different from most candy bars. With its pink, cherry-flavored fondant center and real pieces of Michigan cherries inside, a Cherry Mash is covered twice with milk chocolate and peanut topping. Some 50,000 Cherry Mashes are produced daily by 22 full-time employees, and sold primarily in the Midwest.

The company’s genesis dates to the late-1800s, shortly after George Washington Chase, a doctor with an unsuccessful medical practice in the frontier town of St. Joseph, began making candy in his office.

Three generations of the Chase family operated the company until World War II, when sugar was rationed, causing the Chases to sell the business. An investment company owned by Stuart Yantis, who also owned the Pepsi Bottling Co. in Kansas City, Mo., and Des Moines, Iowa, purchased the candy company.

“Uncle Stuart bought the company in order to have access to more sugar,” Yantis says. “He decreased how much sugar was in the candy so he could have more for his soft drinks. When the war and rationing ended, the original candy recipe returned.”

One of the caretakers of the Cherry Mash recipe today is plant manager Norman Jones, 71, who started working at Chase Candy Co. in 1967. Today, his duties include tasting the candy several times a day just to stay young, and maintaining the machinery that manufactures Cherry Mash and the company’s other candies–Coconut Bon Bons, Peanut Brittle and Peanut Squares.

“I never took much candy home for my kids when they were growing up, because I had to pay the dentist bill,” says Jones, a father of four. “But oh, those five grandkids of mine, they sure like to tell their friends about Grandpa’s job.”

From Labor Day to November, the candymakers use 7 tons of peanuts a day. Autumn also is when the company ramps up production for the holidays, working seven days a week and adding 15 to 20 temporary employees to help manufacture fudge and other seasonal candies.

“I’ve only been to one Kansas City Chiefs game in 40 years,” Yantis says with a smile, “because fall weekends are devoted to making fudge and I have to be here for that.”

But the payoff for his labors is when he receives letters from fans of his candy. Yantis reads a letter from Linda Conrow of Joplin, Mo.: “I’m 61 years old and Cherry Mash continues to be my favorite candy. I keep a jar on my desk and they disappear quickly.”

“It’s really something, a hard feeling to describe,” Yantis says, “to make something that brings people such simple happiness.”