New Bochner Chocolates Owner May Shift Production to St. Louis

By Dave DeWitte, Reporter

Bochner Chocolates employees Adriana Neutze of Iowa City (from right), Jasmina Kliko of North Liberty, Robin Robinson of Iowa City and Director of Operations Justin Vigmostad package three packs of chocolate bars Thursday, June 4, 2009 in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

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By Liz Blood

IOWA CITY, Iowa - A major customer of Bochner Chocolates has acquired the nine-year-old Iowa City company, with plans to shift production to St. Louis at an undetermined date.

St. Louis-based Bissinger's Handcrafted Chocolatier acquired Bochner Chocolates, which was founded by Eric Bochner to produce ultra-premium chocolates. With counseling from the Entrpreneurial Development Center of Iowa, it has grown to include a retail store in Coralville and a 38,000-square-foot production facility in Iowa City employing about 40 at peak season.

The purchase price in the deal, completed Nov. 30, was not disclosed. Bochner has joined Bissinger's as senior vice president of operations and private label sales.

Bissinger's has contracted with Bochner Chocolates for four or five years to produce fine chocolates because it has more technologically advanced production equipment, said President Ken Kellerhals.

"It was perfect to join with them," Kellerhals said. "We can run a lot of our volume on their highly specialized equipment."

Bissinger's announced that the plan would bring about 40 jobs to St. Louis. Kellerhals declined to offer specifics about when production would be moved to St. Louis, saying that for now Bissinger's's is moving even more of its production to Bochner's facility in Iowa City.

"It will be down the road," he said. "If we consolidate here there will be a number of people we'd love to have continue with us."

Bochner said that while it's every entrepreneur's dream to grow their own company, it becomes obvious at some point that the growth opportunities by joining with other people are greater.

"When I've worked with Bissinger's previously, we have had a great relationship," he said.

Bissinger's has national distribution, including prestigious retail accounts like Neiman Marcus.

Kellerhals said Bissinger's introduced one of the first Rain Forest Alliance-certified chocolates to come from African ingredients. One of the company's strategies is to take a relatively common candy, such as gummy pandas, and give them a gourmet twist with healthy ingredients and unusual flavorings, he said.

Some of the hot growth areas for Bissinger's currently are dark chocolate caramels and sea salt caramels. The company even makes a maple bacon sea salt caramel.

In January, Kellerhals said, Bissinger's will use a major national candy show to introduce the Bissinger Point Reyes Blue Cheese Wine Grape, a chocolate with blue cheese based on a wine-infused grape.

Bissinger's Handcrafted Chocolatier, with European roots, was started in the United States in 1845 and has been in St. Louis since 1927.

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