PLANT

Karma makes a sweet $5.5M investment


September 16, 2009
by Joe Terrett

There’s good karma at the old candy plant on Emerald St. North in Hamilton, which has been producing treats for Canadian families since 1931. It’s an ancient three-floor 272,000-square-foot building in an old neighbourhood amidst working class homes and its currently making candy canes for the family Christmas tree, your kids’ stockings or as a festive garnish on wrapped gifts.

Candy makers applying stripes to the candy cane mass.
PHOTOS: RODNEY DAW

Someone has been making candy there since 1961, but today there’s a new proprietor and Karma Candy Inc.—as its name suggests—is taking action and doing so, with a $5.5-million investment in automated packaging technology and control systems to reduce labour costs and increase energy efficiency. The projects will result in 30 new jobs at the plant where 116 people are now employed.

The company, a contract manufacturer of chocolate and hard candy for retail customers and brand confectioners, is also getting (as part of the investment) a $1.65-million, five-year, interest-free loan from the Ontario government.

“We’ve got really good front-end technology but it’s quite labour intensive in the packaging area,” says Greg Merlihan, Karma’s general manager. “Candy canes are certainly a big focus. We’re currently packing them manually. They’re difficult to do because of their shape and they’re fragile.” He says the automated packaging machinery will help with that.

Putting candy mass into a batch roller that holds the piece as it’s processed.
PHOTOS: RODNEY DAW

Noting parts of the building are 80 years old, Merlihan says retrofitting the lighting to reduce energy use and a heat recovery project involving the boilers are being considered. The plant uses warmed water to keep very long lines of liquid chocolate at the right temperature, so thermal heating could reduce hot water use.

The building’s u-shape and three floors of production space also pose challenges to work flow, but Karma has switched foiling to one-piece flow, taking machines from small configurations and grouping 12 together to balance production with the mainline work in process.