Gertrude Hawk employee Susan Thompson, of Dunmore, places solid dark chocolate bunnies on a conveyor belt inside the company’s production facility Friday morning.Christopher J. Hughes photo / For Go Lackawanna
The season of Santa boosts candy sales, but when it comes to selling chocolate, the bunny brings it home.
Area chocolate makers say retail and Internet sales for Easter make it the biggest candy holiday of the year.
Gertrude Hawk marketing manager Lisa Phillips said Easter is number one for sales in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton market, but Christmas is tops for its New York and New Jersey market.
“Locally, it’s a huge season,” she said. “You just put your all into Easter.”
Michael Mootz, co-owner of Michael Mootz Candies in Hanover Township, said, “Everybody likes a rabbit and likes to bite its ears off.” For other Easter chocolates, like eggs, one flavor rules locally.
“This area loves peanut butter,” said Mootz.
Gertrude Hawk is a relatively large company, selling about 440,000 pounds of Easter candy in 71 retail stores, according to Phillips. On a much smaller scale, there’s Ah Some Chocolates, a high-end, artisan chocolate shop and cafe in Shavertown.
“Easter is a big one,” said chocolatier Mary Hepner. “We’re making things as fast as we can.” She and partner and fellow chocolatier Theresa Novak make their artful creations a few hours or days before they’re sold at their shop.
“Easter sales are comparable to Christmas, they run neck and neck,” Hepner said.
As to how many pounds of chocolates the shop sells at Easter?
“I don’t even know,” she said. “It’s a lot.”
But she said the shop’s focus isn’t on quantity.
“We’re not trying to do a lot of something,” Hepner said, though they’ve been tempted.
She said they focus on helping consumers develop a pallet for the “magic of chocolate.” “It’s not unlike learning about the nuances of wine,” she said.
Mootz said the factory behind his Hanover Township store made about 500 pounds of molded candies daily in the past month.
Easter candy production starts right after Valentine’s Day.
New this year is a peanut butter crunch egg that he said is selling well. He said Easter candy sales remained steady even during the recession.
“It’s not that expensive that you have to give it up,” he said.
Mary Ellen Ginocchetti, an associate at Jon L. Stopay’s in Plains Township, said Easter candy shoppers “get serious” the last two weeks before the holiday.
But those who can hold out can also get the cheaper chocolate. The day after Easter means chocolate bargains.
There is one day of rest and it comes on Sunday.
“That’s the day you want to kick back and put your feet up,” Ginocchetti said.
Phillips said Gertrude Hawk’s Dunmore factory operates three shifts around the clock from September through Easter.
“After Easter, there is a small sigh of relief.”
Until then, customers at Stopay’s store can browse and take a number for each item they want. Associates retrieve the chocolates from the back.
“We’ve all been working together so long. We’ve got it down to a science,” Ginocchetti said.
She said Stopay’s peanut butter chiffons are their signature candy and are very popular at Easter, along with molded candies and 30 varieties of individual eggs.
Phillips said children prefer Gertrude Hawk’s chocolate bunnies while adults want the bunny Smidgens. New this season is a chocolate chick and some new Smidgen flavors: dark chocolate Irish cream, dark vanilla butter cream, white chocolate truffle and milk chocolate mousse.
She recalled her own childhood when her mother hid Gertrude Hawk bunnies in the basket of Easter food she took to church to be blessed the day before the holiday. Her mother insisted that the chocolate had to be eaten because it was a “blessed bunny.”
Phillips said she accompanies her mother to the blessing and includes chocolate for her own 2-year-old daughter, niece and nephew.