Southerner Meets Michigan: Why Detroiters Love Sanders Chocolate

Southerner Meets Michigan: Why Detroiters Love Sanders Chocolate
The Awesome Mitten-Why Detroiters Love Sanders Chocolate
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Bowman

Ask any Detroiter where to find the best chocolate around and the answer will always be the same: Sanders. A Michigan staple since 1875, Sanders Chocolate debuted on Woodward Avenue after founder, Fred Sanders, brought his Chicago business and chocolate-making skills to Detroit. Over the years, products such as premium ice cream toppings and the original “bumpy cake” became synonymous with Michigan tradition, claiming the hearts of sugar lovers all across the state. Acquired by Morley Candy Company in 2002, Sanders now operates out of Clinton Township and ships confectionery goods to customers all over the world.

Now, I’ve heard murmurings about Sanders since I moved to Michigan and even passed by a store or two on several occasions–but only in the past few months have I realized how much of a hometown hero this brand actually is. After all, when you’re continually told that hot fudge (of all things) can change your life, you start to feel like you may be missing out on something. Not wanting to prolong my separation from the chocolatier any longer, I visited the Morley Candy factory to sample Sanders chocolate for the first time and to learn what makes Sanders so irresistible to Michiganders.

The Awesome Mitten-Why Detroiters Love Sanders Chocolate
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Bowman

The Morley Candy Shop

After finally visiting a Sanders location, I feel like I fully understand what the saying “kid in a candy shop” really means. Only, in this instance, the candy shop has a coffee counter and the kid everyone’s talking about is actually me. Shelves and bins at the Morley Candy shop are filled with countless chocolates, snack dips, and dessert toppings, while the back wall is lined with an assortment of ice cream (a collaboration with Guernsey), bumpy cakes, and freshly-baked cookies. At Christmas time, the store is sprinkled with chocolate trees and looks like Santa’s secret candy warehouse. It’s magical . . . and really difficult to leave empty-handed.

The Awesome Mitten-Why Detroiters Love Sanders Chocolate
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Bowman

The Morley/Sanders Factory Tour

Once you’ve fully absorbed the scent of chocolate and baked goods, try pulling yourself away from the candy shop for a free tour of the Morley factory. A popular field trip destination for local schools, the Morley factory tour provides information about the Sanders and Morley families, where chocolate comes from, and what goes into making so many delicious treats. An observation hallway allows visitors a first-hand look at candy production, a job that’s simplified by high-tech equipment, but not entirely automated (and never will be, according to Sanders staff). In fact, dedicated employees are essential to the quality control of Morley and Sanders products, carrying out tasks that range from packaging popcorn to hand-swirling the finish on top of chocolates. Hours are flexible (working on weekends is optional), giving employees the chance to work seasonally or put in overtime for extra holiday cash. It’s a system that builds loyalty with employees, keeping many around for years.

The Awesome Mitten-Why Detroiters Love Sanders Chocolate
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Bowman

The Sanders Brand

So, how did the Sanders brand survive after being acquired by Morley? The truth is, Morley and Sanders have been collaborating for years–even before the two companies merged! After struggling a bit throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Sanders joined a co-packing agreement with Morley in 1994. Keeping the original recipes, Morley began producing a couple of Sanders products in an effort to help increase the beloved brand’s success. Fully understanding the legacy behind Sanders, Morley decided to turn a temporary weakness into an opportunity for brand revival. When Morley purchased Sanders in 2002, the original recipes were kept in place to create a seamless transition for taste and brand recognition. Today, the company continues to manufacture products under the Morley name, but the traditional Sanders favorites remain intact for long-time (and brand-new!) fans who can’t get enough of that original chocolate flavor.

The Awesome Mitten-Why Detroiters Love Sanders Chocolate
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Bowman

It’s Just That Good!

As I sat down to write this post, I realized that among the excitement of sampling sea salt caramels and chocolate truffles, I hadn’t yet sampled any of Sanders’ trademark dessert toppings. Of course I brought some home,  and after heating a dollop each of the milk chocolate and caramel flavors, sat down with a spoon and let the taste testing begin. As my taste buds processed the sweet, buttery flavor, the following thought ran through my mind:

Ah, I GET IT.

The number-one reason Detroiters love Sanders chocolate? It’s just that good, folks.

Do you have a sweet tooth for Sanders? Comment below with your favorite treat!

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I’m Jennifer, a native Virginian trying her hand at living the Michigan life. I moved to the mitten with my husband in 2011, and since then, have been busy exploring the state and looking for the best of what it has to offer. So far, I have no complaints—except maybe that whole “longer winter” thing. But, hey—even that just gives me an excuse to buy more sweaters. When I’m not searching for new places or immersing myself in media news (I’m an advertising junkie), I’m usually writing stories for my blog, Wading in Big Shoes. I love connecting with new people, so feel free to find me there or at my Twitter handle, @JHBowman. In the meantime, I’ll see you around the mitten!