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April 9, 2013 > Red Vines rule on National Licorice Day

Red Vines rule on National Licorice Day

By Julie Grabowski

What can brighten up your mood like your favorite candy? How about a whole day dedicated to it? Established in 2004 by Licorice International in Lincoln, Nebraska, National Licorice Day honors the long and delicious history of licorice every April 12. And residents of the Tri-Cities have a close connection to licorice, as those who have ever examined the back of a Red Vines wrapper know.

American Licorice Company was founded in Chicago in 1914 as a family-owned producer of premium-quality licorice. They expanded to the West Coast in 1925 when they purchased a bankrupt licorice company in San Francisco. Operations in the city ran until 1969 when plans were set in motion to relocate to Union City. Production in the Union City factory began in 1970 and has been running strong ever since for over 40 years.

Around 200 to 250 people are employed in Union City, working in three shifts around the clock, to produce the popular Red Vines in Original Red and Black Licorice, as well as Grape Vines and Cherry Vines. Candy is still made by hand here, the factory utilizing both manual and automated systems, and at peak production, producing 400,000 pounds of licorice a day, five million pounds a month, and over 60 million pounds a year.

Red Vines are made of Corn Syrup, Wheat Flour, Citric Acid, Artificial Flavor, and Red 40. Ingredients are mixed and cooked in large stainless steel vats for about 24 hours, then emptied into smaller steel vats that are covered with plastic wrap and left to cool and cure overnight. The mixture is poured into the extruder which forms it into the twist shape and cuts it into pieces. Trays of the newly formed licorice are then baked in large ovens, checked for quality and moisture levels, packaged, and shipped to stores across the country. Scraps and licorice that don't meet standards are sent to farms and fed to cows. "Now you know the real reason Happy Cows come from California!" Red Vines jokes on Facebook.

With another factory located in La Porte, Indiana, American Licorice Company distributes to all 50 states, with some international shipments, through Costco, to a few stores in the United Kingdom and Mexico. So if you plan to adventure abroad, remember to pack those Red Vines!

Whether favoritism runs to red or black, numerous people have fond memories and associations with Red Vines. "It tends to foster a deep emotional connection with people," says Consumer Communications Manager Michael Kelly. The candy has always had a close association with Hollywood as a choice snack for movie viewing, and Kelly believes that that classic California and film identity "has cast a halo around our brand that is still there today."

A range of vine products are available, from the five ounce tray, Super Ropes, mixed bites, and Sugar Free Vines, to bars, jumbo twists and the iconic four pound jar. While consumers recognize red and black licorice as standard, various other flavors have been made by Red Vines over the years including chocolate, cinnamon, mint, orange, green apple, raspberry, and watermelon. Grape Vines was brought back in 2011 and Cherry Vines have also been on offer for the last few years. Natural Vines was launched in 2010, using premium ingredients including wheat flour, cane syrup, brown rice syrup, palm oil, natural strawberry flavor, beet juice, and licorice extract for a more natural foods variety of licorice.

For a company with no consumer advertising before 2008, Red Vines is all over the social media scene with a presence on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Red Vines is the third most followed Twitter handle in the candy industry behind M&M'S and Skittles with 50,000 followers, and has over one million fans on Facebook. "We look for opportunities to celebrate our heritage, but also update it," says Kelly, acknowledging the social media followers as "a huge, passionate fan base."

The desire to push the brand in new directions and come up with unique ideas to foster fun and sharing among their fans has resulted in the Red Vines Drawing Contest with winning artwork appearing on product trays and jars, last year's Summer of Sharing when fans wrote in with their Red Vines memories, and the candy's prime-time appearances on the TV show "Fringe" as a favorite snack of character Walter Bishop. In 2011, artist Jason Mecier was commissioned to create a series of Red Vine portraits around iconic films. Promoted through social media, the "Licorice Flix" exhibition was held at LA's iam8bit gallery and featured edible artwork of Charlie Chaplin, Willy Wonka, and Harry Potter, among others.

In addition to producing a beloved product, American Licorice also invests in the community. The Union City factory partners with Kids In Need Foundation, Soles4Souls, Centro de Servicios, Fremont Animal Shelter, Hispanic Community Affairs Council, Latinos Unidos de Newark Association (LUNA), and League of Volunteers to make a difference in their communities. The company has continued to be a privately held, family run, family-owned business, a rare thing in this age of consolidation and corporate ownership.

So whether you're in the red camp or the black camp, or will happily eat any flavor, National Licorice Day is the perfect time to embrace some local heritage and treat yourself and those you love to some tasty Red Vines! Visit Facebook.com/RedVines and Twitter.com/RedVines on National Licorice Day for special content and to join in the fun.

To learn more about American Licorice Company and your favorite candy, visit www.americanlicorice.com or www.redvines.com.

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