Ganong Bros. Ltd.: Sweet success

Written by Jack Kohane

What do a retired banker, a former telecommunications VP, a pizza president and a chief of chocolate have in common? Answer: They govern the future of Ganong Bros. Ltd., a company as old as Canada.

“We believe that our board of directors represents some of the best business minds in Canada today,” says David Ganong, president of the New Brunswick-based privately-run company. “Partnering with the right people is an absolute prerequisite for the success of any company.”

Ganong, the fourth president in the 130-year-old family-run chocolate factory, says he’s in total agreement with his grandfather’s philosophy of corporate governance: “When a company’s ownership and management are the same, you need a board that checks the company’s business strategy, investments and spending on behalf of its shareholders. Then as now, this approach to leadership remains the cornerstone of our company’s success and longevity.”

Along with a strong board, David Ganong cites product innovation, dedication to employees and a solid relationship with the community as important factors in the company’s success and growth.

Innovation is fundamental to sustained growth in any business, but perhaps more so in the confectionery market, where consumer tastes and brand loyalty seem to waver with each successive sweet-tooth assault. In fact, the Ganongs have helped revolutionize the candy category with such product innovations as the first five-cent chocolate nut bar in North America, the first heart-shaped box for Valentine’s Day chocolates and the use of cellophane wrap. As well, the fruit snacks Ganong produces under its own name and under its Sunkist division have the highest fruit content of any similar snack on the market.

“Innovation over the years means we’ve been able to adapt to changes because we understand our business environment,” explains Ganong. “Because of our uncompromising focus on the quality of our products, and because we know our market, we’ve survived through price spikes, commodity shortages, consolidations within the industry and fierce competition from multinational competitors with vast marketing budgets.”

Ganong credits the long relationship the company has had with the local community of St. Stephen, N.B., where the company is based, as another dynamic for success. “We’re a large company in a small town,” he says. “So community involvement is essential. We help fund events, such as the Chocolate Fest held annually in August, and our chocolate museum helps draw thousands of tourists each year.”

And from the management offices to the loading dock, Ganong emphasizes that employee loyalty to the company is also critical. “We have made a commitment to our employees — they’re with us in the good times, and we’ll be with them through the bad ones,” he says. Ganong places high importance on hiring, training and motivating staff.

What’s in the future for the firm? A recently completed $6-million expansion of its processing plant has set the stage for further market penetration across North America. The only Canadian-owned chocolatier that currently distributes nationally, Ganong Bros. also exports 31% of its product base to the U.S. (primarily fruit snacks and jelly beans).

“This is the fastest growing segment of our business,” says Ganong. “My vision is to bring that share up to 50%, and with our increased production capacity now in place we’re well-positioned to do that.”

In fact, the Ganong plant is about a bonbon’s toss from the U.S. border. “I can see it from my office window,” smiles Ganong. “And when I look there, I see a world of opportunities.”

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© 2003 Jack Kohane

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