By Josh Moniz
---- — LE CENTER — A Le Center native and wholesale candy producer CEO has returned to her hometown to provide it a sweet new opportunity: a brand new primary factory for the Minneapolis-based Maud Borup, Inc.
A grand opening ceremony for the factory was held Thursday in Le Center.
Christine Lantinen grew up in Le Center and earned her degrees in public relations and marketing at Minnesota State University. At the same time she earned her degree, she served for 10 years as a field medic in the Minnesota National Guard at Fort Snelling from 1991 to 2001. She then worked at Target Corp. as a product manager for four years. Then, she worked as sales and marketing director at Bay Island, Inc. in Minneapolis. In 2005, she took over as CEO and President of the 106-year old Maud Borup, Inc.
The open house event at the Le Center factory drew more than 140 local residents, far exceeding the projections. Lantinen said she has wanted to give back to her hometown community for years and finally found an opportunity when the company was able to take over a former counter-top manufacturing site. She said the town is so closely knit that she was ever surprised by learning after the purchase that her father owns farm land touching the property.
The site is now fully operational with 30 full-time employees. The factory will run all year around and will hire up to 40 part-time seasonal employees for its busy season around Halloween, Christmas, Easter and Valentine's Day.
The factory will focus more on finishing and assembling much of Maud Borup's product. Lantinen said Le Center was an ideal site because of its safe environment, access to Twin Cities and the local worker pool being ideal for the work that focuses on use of hands.
The site will be Maud Borup's primary factory location outside of the Twin Cities. Lantinen said she is hopeful for major expansion at this site, including a tentative goal of tripling employment at the site in around 5 years.
Lantinen has taken bold moves to steer the future of the company since taking over in 2005. She started by closing all the company's retail stores to completely refocus on the wholesale candy confections and food gift market. She said she saw a big opening in the market because most of the products are produced overseas with minimal focus on the quality of the food component.
“I wanted to focus the food gifts on, well, food,” said Lantinen.
The company's primary business is selling directly to major customers such as Wal-Mart. Food gifts are roughly the combination package of a food item and an inedible gift or product, such as fudge with a custom tin or corn bread mix with a custom skillet.
Maud Borup handles designing and manufacturing the products and packaging for its food gift items in its own facilities. Similar products are often modified for custom designs to meet the shelving needs of a customer.
Under her leadership, the company also shifted focus to buying up the rights to food gift licenses for major brands. These license give exclusive rights to the production of certain items in the brand.
The most notable example is that Maud Borup holds the exclusive candy rights to the Hell's Kitchen brand of products sold in big-box stores. Although the Hell's Kitchen name dominates the products, Maud Borup's name can be found on the back of the boxes for items like the crème brulee line.
Maud Borup also holds similar license for the Thomas Kinkade and John Wayne Enterprises lines.
Finally, the company has also been producing “eco eggs,” an environmentally-friendly version of Easter eggs. The product uses plastic formed from corn and other plants instead of the traditional petroleum-based plastics, which face issues when excessively heated or cooled. The company said The Clinton Foundation has been its major customer, utilizing the eggs for its Easter celebrations.