Monday, February 16, 2009

Did you enjoy the Mexican candy?

Saturday was Valentine's Day, celebrated with flowers and candy, but increasingly, that candy is coming from Mexico. From jellied hearts to Hershey's chocolates, Mexico's candy exports to the United States have more than doubled since 2002 as manufacturers chase cheap labor and sugar south of the border.

The latest arrival is Hershey, which is building a 1,500-employee factory in Monterrey, Mexico. Since 2007, the company has closed or shrunk factories in Oakdale, Calif.; Reading, Pa.; San Francisco and other sites.

Hershey’s is following Brach's Confections, famous for caramels, and Ferrera Pan Candy, maker of Red Hots and Jaw Breakers. In January, Swiss chocolate giant Barry Callebaut opened a plant in Monterrey to produce about 100,000 tons of chocolate and cocoa a year for Hershey and other food makers. Mars Inc.'s Mexican branch produces Snickers and Milky Ways at a chocolate factory opened in 2007 in the northern city of Montemorelos, Mexico.

"All these companies want to make it cheap overseas somewhere, then bring it back and sell it to our people who don't have any jobs to buy it," said Dennis Bomberger, business manager of Chocolate Workers Local 464 in Hershey, Pa.

Even Mexican officials say they are unhappy, noting that chocolate factories are buying most of their cacao, the raw ingredient of cocoa and chocolate, at cheaper prices from Africa and Brazil, not Mexico.

Brach's Confections Inc. closed its Chicago factory in 2003 and moved to Linares, Mexico. Bobs Candies of Albany, Ga., a leader in the candy-cane business, moved its production to Reynosa, Mexico in 2005. In crime-ridden Juarez, Mexico, Sunrise Confections opened a plant in 2001 to make candies for U.S. grocery-store brands. For Valentine's Day, it churns out jellied hearts and cinnamon hearts.

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