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How Purdys’ head chocolatier revived a 100-year-old recipe to make a new bestseller

“We come up with about 150 recipes a year. Only about six of them get to market”

A stack of Purdys Himalayan Pink Salt Caramel Chocolates.

Purdys’ head chocolatier dug out a 1907 caramel recipe and refreshed it to come up with a new hit. (Roberto Caruso)

Kriston Dean, vice-president of merchandising and marketing at Vancouver-based Purdys Chocolatier, explains the evolution of its best-selling Himalayan Pink Salt Caramels. Introduced in 2009, Purdys now sells more than 10,000 boxes of the salty-sweet chews each year.

1. The Origins

“Our head chocolatier, Gary Mitchell, noticed a trend in the sweet and savoury category, and so he took a vanilla caramel recipe from 1907 and started to play with different salts and textures. He tried grey smoked salt and Cabernet salt, but landed on pink Himalayan salt, partly because of its story: It’s from the oldest salt mine in the world, it has 84 trace minerals, and it’s pink!”

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2. Early trials

“He applied the salt in different ways: baked in, infused, topped. Then he presented the caramels to our product development committee, which includes me and our chocolate scientist and president, Peter Higgins. If it passes the taste panel, we do a full batch in our test kitchen.”

3. Moment of truth

“We put it into local shops to get customer feedback. We normally do a full costing and market evaluation to see whether the customer is willing to pay a price that will give us an acceptable margin, but ultimately, it’s the customer who decides.”

4. We have a winner!

“Gary comes up with more than 150 recipes a year. Only about six of them get to market. The Himalayan Pink Salt Caramel was unusual in that we had a product right away. It was an instant hit. We were ready to launch it in the fall of 2009.”

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5. Roll it out

“Manufacturing in Vancouver is key to what we do. Because we use no preservatives, our product has a short shelf life. We can make everything here and have it shipped it to our 70 stores across the country the same week. If we manufactured anywhere else, we’d have to change the model completely.”