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Fifth-generation Ganong to lead iconic New Brunswick chocolate maker

David Ganong and Bryana Ganong in the retail shop of Ganong Brothers Ltd., St. Stephen, N.B.

Brian Atkinson/brian atkinson The Globe and Mail

True to its storied history as one of Canada's oldest family businesses, chocolate maker Ganong Bros. Ltd. of New Brunswick has promoted a member of the fifth-generation of Ganongs to the corner suite.

Bryana Ganong, the daughter of outgoing president and chief executive officer David Ganong, will take over the top job at the St. Stephen, N.B.-based company on Aug. 12.

The passing of the torch marks an increasingly rare occurence in North America of truly keeping a family business in the family.

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The privately held chocolate– and candy-maker – head offfice address: 1 Chocolate Dr. – traces its roots directly back to 1873 and its founding by brothers Gilbert and James Ganong.

Bryana Ganong, 41, joined the company in 1997 and has worked in everything from R&D and product development to contract manufacturing and marketing.

She and her younger brother, Nicholas, were considered the top candidates to take over from David Ganong, who is now 70. A third sibling, Aaron, does not work at the company.

"I learned the ins and outs in different ways at the company. I care very deeply about Ganong and the people that work here," Ms. Ganong said in an interview Monday.

How has the iconic company been able to maintain such continuity across so many generations, avoiding the destructive feuds or generational dilution of other family businesses?

"There have been ups and downs obviously," Ms. Ganong said. "There have been lost of challenges. Every generation had its own set of challenges and opportunities as well.

"It continues to be a challenging environment for us," she added.

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Among the more difficult issues are rising energy costs and tough competition from the big multinational chocolate manufacturers, she said.

One element of the corporate strategy is to promote the branded product line more intensely beyond the big seasonal sales periods, Ms. Ganong said.

Appropriately enough, her birthday falls on Valentine's Day. Ganong is credited with being the first company in North America to sell chocolates in a heart-shaped box.

Boxed chocolates are only part of the Ganong line; it also sells fruit snacks under the Sunkist brand, bagged candies and bulk candy products and chocolate bars. It signature product is Chicken Bones, a hard candy with a dark chocolate centre.

All of the company's products – many of them made for other companies under different brand names – are still confected at its one facility in St. Stephen, a town of about 5,000.

Exporting beyond Canada and the United States is "something we are looking at," Ms. Ganong said. India and South Korea are two potential markets.

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Ms. Ganong says she is not too concerned over the push to get people to eat healthier and consume less sweets.

"I have a bit of bias, growing up in the chocolate business," she said, mentioning that her great-grandfather ate two pounds of chocolate a day and lived a healthy life into his 80s, while her great uncle put away one pound a day and lived to his 90s.

"I would say our generation would be more moderate in terms of intake of confectionary." Her three children's consumption of sweets is a disciplined one, she added.

"Growing up in this business has given me a foundation of experience and values that I know will be extremely helpful as we continue to expand our markets, our reach and our product development," Ms. Ganong said in a news release Monday.

David Ganong, who accumulated a total of 33 years in the roles of president and CEO, will take on the newly created position of executive vice-chair.

There was only a short period – from 2008 to 2012 – when Ganong was headed up by an outsider: dairy executive Doug Ettinger.

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About the Author
Quebec Business Correspondent

Bertrand has been covering Quebec business and finance since 2000. Before joining The Globe and Mail in 2000, he was the Toronto-based national business correspondent for Southam News. He has a B.A. from McGill University and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Ryerson. More


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