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Bryana Ganong. Image: Submitted

Ganong CEO Talks Cooke Partnership, Scrapping Products, And Future Growth

By Scott Pettigrew Oct 17, 2022 | 7:21 AM

On October 14, two big-name New Brunswick companies announced a “major partnership investment.”

Global seafood giant Cooke Inc. bought a stake in the 150-year-old chocolate maker Ganong Bros. The companies say Ganong will use Cooke’s money to buy new equipment and its global reach to snag shelf space in more grocery stores.

RELATED: Glenn Cooke Makes ‘Major’ Investment In Ganong

The deal is significant but the specific details remain murky.

Cooke and Ganong are both private companies that don’t need to publicly report to shareholders. That means getting specific information about the size and scope of the deal is difficult.

Bryana Ganong is the president and CEO of Ganong and a fifth-generation member of the family. She spoke to Huddle on October 14 about the Cooke deal.

As is common with these types of private deals, Ganong would not say how much money Cooke invested in her company or how big Cooke’s stake is. All we know is that she and the rest of the Ganong management team will stay in place.

Aside from a brief period, about a decade ago, when the company hired former dairy executive Doug Ettinger as CEO, a member of the Ganong family has always owned and run the business.

Bryana still runs Ganong but wouldn’t clarify if the family still owns the business outright. She did say, however, that the partnership represents a “big change” for Ganong.

Ganong Must Grow To Survive

Ganong said her company has been working over the past few years to prepare itself for growth.

“We know that growth is necessary in our environment simply because of the global competitiveness of the confectionery industry,” she said.

There has been a lot of consolidation in the market and Bryana said Ganong “know that we need scope and scale to continue to be relevant and compete in that environment.”

After the last few years, Ganong said the company was finally in a place “where we were ready for the next jump.”

They needed more money to be able to do that, and Cooke was a good fit. The global seafood company is based in the same region of New Brunswick as Ganong and Bryana said both families share a commitment to the region.

“For us, it’s really important that we look for a partner that was going to understand that importance and be able to understand how to grow here in New Brunswick,” she said. “Obviously the Cooke family knows how to do that.”

Outside Brands Key To Success

While many know Ganong for its candy and chocolate steeped in East Coast nostalgia, the company does more work producing other brands’ products than its own.

In 2014, David Ganong (Bryana’s father) told the Financial Post his business made about 60 percent of its money from “white label manufacturing” – producing products for other companies – and about 40 percent from Ganong brands.

Because Ganong is a private company it’s impossible to know how that ratio has changed since. However, it seems likely the company has leaned even harder into contract manufacturing. Bryana Ganong appeared to confirm that in some of her remarks to Huddle.

She said Ganong needs to grow to survive in the modern candy market and that “contract manufacturing” is where she’s looking for that growth.

“The contract manufacturing side is definitely where the growth engine is simply because of the scope and scale associated with it,” she said.

Over the last couple of years, Ganong has also discontinued some of its brands. On the chopping block were things like its classic pink-and-white peppermints, some larger-sized bags of gum drops and lozenges, and many of the company’s lesser-known marshmallow bars and bulk confectionery.

But fans of Ganong’s better-known products need not worry; Bryana said “pillar brands” like Pal-O-Mine and Chicken Bones aren’t going anywhere (Although Ganong did say the company has changed the way it makes some of its products).

“What we did is we had to eliminate some of the non-strategic items from our branded portfolio. Going forward, we’re really going to be focused on that value-added segment of our business,” she said.

Partner Or Saviour?

When Ganong first announced the partnership with Cooke, the company said it could use Cooke’s retail grocery presence to help drive growth into new markets.

Bryana said it’s still too early to know what the exact strategy will look like or what other changes the Cooke investment might bring to Ganong.

Over the last few years, Cooke has been on a kind of shopping spree that’s seen it drop billions of dollars on acquisitions and upgrades around the world.

RELATED: Cooke Aquaculture Announces $1.1-Billion Bid To Take Over Australian Seafood Company

The cynical take on its latest partnership is that the Cooke family is swooping in to save Ganong, another historic New Brunswick family business, as the chocolate company struggles to thrive in the modern market.

Without public financial records from either company, it’s impossible to say if this is the case. But Bryana Ganong said that’s not the case.

“It’s extremely positive from my perspective to have two companies that have their origins in very different ways here in Charlotte County work together with the goal of growing here,” she said.

“The confectionery industry has changed so much over the decades [and] there’s very little manufacturing in Canada,” she added. “A lot of companies would… be looking to make an investment and potentially move somewhere else.”

“There’s always naysayers, there’s always criticism, but I certainly would always focus on the positive — and this is an extremely positive move for everyone.”

Trevor Nichols is the editor of Huddle, an Acadia Broadcasting content partner.

With files from Alex Graham and Mark Leger.


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