Doing Business for Generations: Sweetland Candies

Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest for Sweetland Candies, in business since 1919
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An assortment of candy is displayed at Sweetland Candies. Photo by Alfield Reeves.

For John Naum, going to work with his dad as a child meant testing the candy made in the Sweetland Candies shop. He’s now got grandchildren doing the same thing.

Chris Naum started Sweetland in 1919, the original shop in the thumb area of the state. The shop then moved to Lowell, then downtown Grand Rapids, Burton Heights and, finally, Plainfield Avenue in the Cheshire neighborhood in the 1930s. The family closed that location decades later.

John Naum in the storefront at Sweetland Candies Plainfield location the morning of Friday December 1, 2023 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Photo by Alfield Reeves.

The Plainfield store located at 5170 Plainfield Ave NE, opened in 1985, the Rockford location in 2015. While the Plainfield shop focuses on candy and does coffee as well, the Rockford shop focuses on coffee with candy on the side.

The biggest sellers? Sea foam at the top, turtles a close second, and truffles coming in third.

Milk or dark? Seventy percent of chocolate sales are milk, 30 percent dark chocolate.

Made in the store? Seventy percent of the candy is made in the store, 30 percent bought elsewhere (think Jelly Belly).

Busiest season? The four weeks preceding Christmas and the two days around Valentine’s Day; Easter comes in third for sales.

Naum sees a huge plus in being a place people can order one turtle, half a pound of bridge mix, or four dark chocolate caramels and have it boxed and gift wrapped for free. He sees people ordering to ship to family and friends who’ve moved away, and orders coming in online from afar from others who need their Sweetland.

“The biggest asset to being here for so long is familiarity. We get generational customers,” said Naum. “We are seeing three generations of a family, so there is lots of nostalgia and lots of memory.”

The biggest complaint? “We give customers too many choices! We have about 120 varieties of candy out there. We are wowing them,” said Naum.

He sees slow and steady growth for Sweetland Candies, pointing to the goal of quality, quality, quality. Technology will improve services, but he likes that slow road. “It’s like being on a giant chocolate chip with a pickaxe,” said the chocolatier.

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