The History of Ferrara Candy Company

in Candy Blog

Do you like Lemonheads?

What about Atomic Fireballs?

If you like those, chances are you also like Trolli Gummi Worms—maybe you also like Nerds or Nerds Gummy Clusters.

If any of those candies caught the attention of your sweet tooth, that means you’re a fan of Ferrara Candy Company. Credited with being one of the most innovative and popular candy brands on the planet, Ferrara Candy Company has been operating for over 100 years and in that time, crafted some of the sweetest confections consumers have ever tasted.

As a retro candy store, we love to dive into the sweet history of these iconic brands and discover their origin stories. So that’s what we did with Ferrara Candy Company.

Let’s dive in!

The Early Years Of Ferrara…

Ferrara Candy Company was started by Italian immigrant Salvatore Ferrara in 1908 in Little Italy, Chicago. Salvatore, a seasoned pastry chef, wanted to open a small shop where he could share his delicious sweets with the rest of Little Italy. This began with a traditional Italian wedding treat known as confetti—candy-coated almonds.

As Salvatore's small shop continued to grow in popularity, he ventured further into the candy side of the business exploring different confectionery concepts like panning. Panning is a method for adding a sugar-based "shell" to confectionery or nuts. Think of some of your favorite sweets like M&Ms, Gobstoppers, Lemonheads, and Atomic Fireballs (we’ll be coming back to those last two soon).

Salvatore noticed that candy was selling more than pastries so he partnered with brother-in-laws Salvatore Buffardi and Anello Pagano to open a new space that focused on producing and selling panned candy at scale. In these early years, Salvatore brought a handful of new candies to the American market including Boston Baked Beans (candy-coated peanuts), Jujyfruits (fruit-flavored chewy candy), Chuckles (jelly candy with a sugar coating), and Atomic Fireballs (a spicy cinnamon hard candy).

Ferrara Candy Captivates American Culture…

Around 1962, the company conceptualized one of its most popular products to date: Lemonheads. Most of us remember these from childhood—a sweet and tart hard candy that tingles your taste buds with the flavors of citrus and lemon. They were an immediate hit amongst kids and adults would go on to become one of the most popular candies in Ferrara’s confectionery catalog.

Over the next two decades Ferrara would continue to produce a variety of bulk candy that was sold to other brick-and-mortar candy stores across the U.S. While it was successful, it began to notice a strong trend with branded products with over 80% of sales attributed to these products. According to Salvatore Ferrara II, "there's always a war on commodity items, and brand loyalty for these items is not very strong. Generally, commodity items are bought on the basis of who has the cheapest price today, and not necessarily who has the best product."

This spawned a new focus on branded candy and shifted attention away from bulk candy. Instead of producing mass quantities of bulk candy, Ferrara would pivot toward branded products that only they could produce, helping the brand build upon the success of products like Lemonheads and Atomic Fireballs.

In the early 1990s, Ferrara started acquiring a variety of existing candy brands including Black Forest and Mellos gummies. The company also acquired the right to manufacture fruit snacks and used the Flintstones movie license to promote the product. Similarly, Ferrara struck a deal with Sun-Maid and Planters to produce both chocolate-covered raisins and peanuts, further endorsing the brand’s reputation as a major player in the candy industry.

By the 2000’s, Ferrara products could be found on store shelves across the country and popularity grew substantially thanks to the acquisitions made during the 1990s. In 2000, Ferrara made an agreement with Spangler to make Atomic Fireball and Lemonhead lollipops which were sold by Spangler. At the same time, the brand started to aggressively market its Black Forest line which would go on to be one of the fastest growing products in its category and propel to one of the 15 top-selling chewy candies in the United States.

Following the rapid growth, Ferrara continued to acquire new brands and licensing that would push the brand forward with young consumers. This included a merger with American Licorice, Necco, Palmer, and Spangler, Ferrara Pan to establish Imagination Confections LLC. Working as one cohesive candy unit, this armed Ferrara with the sales and marketing to leverage its licensing with Disney and get more candy into the hands of consumers.

By 2006, Ferrara was a force in the candy industry. With high-end chocolate being one of the fastest-growing segments of the candy industry, Ferrara Pan took on exclusive distribution of four European premium Kraft Foods' chocolate brands—Toblerone, Terry's, Milka, and Cote D'Or—with plans to introduce them to the mass, grocery, and drug channels.

Ferrara Candy Sells After 100 Years Of Family-Owned Operations…

In 2012, after 104 years of family-driven operations, Ferrara Pan was sold on June 28th and merged with Farley and Sathers, which was owned by Catterton Partners. This new company was named the Ferrara Candy Company and led by Salvatore Ferrara II.

Over the next 5 years, Ferrara Candy Company would go on to develop new products and put a modern spin on many of its sweet treats. Then in 2017, Ferrero Rocher acquired Ferrara Candy Company and merged all of its products into its ecosystem. Ferrero is the third-largest company in the global chocolate confectionery market and best known in the U.S. for Tic Tac breath mints, Ferrero Rocher pralines, Nutella hazelnut spreads, and the Fannie May and Harry London chocolate brands.

We know, Ferrara, Ferrero—the names can be a bit confusing. All you need to know is that this merger was massive for the candy industry and cemented Ferrara as one of the top companies in the space.

Today, Ferrara Candy Company still operates as a separate unit of the Ferrero selling all of its popular products like Trolli, Laffy Taffy, Nerds, Gobstoppers, Fun Dip, Runts, Lemonheads, Red Hots, Spree, Brach’s Conversation Hearts, Chuckles, and Fruit Stripes.

Speaking of popular Ferrara Candy products…

Did you know that you can get all of them right here in our digital aisles? That’s right! Go ahead and browse through the Ferrara category and grab some of your favorites and we’ll send them straight to your front door!

I enjoyed the background information on the Ferrera Candy Company we have bought Red Hots for years.

Kathi Holtkamp

Love the history of candy. Companies. But I wonder what brands. Black. Forest produced?


I love atomic fireballs…The outrageous price that everyone is charging is a travesty…Most are out of stock Are they not being made anymore. I have eaten them for 30 years probably more… Could you please let me know what is the future of fireballs Lezlie


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