STACY PARKER Virginia Pilot (Norfolk)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Inside the Forbes Candies factory in Virginia Beach, clumsy machinery churned out more than a million pounds of creamy, chewy saltwater taffy last year.

The iconic, nearly century-old Virginia Beach candy store is getting bigger. It has outgrown the company building on Taylor Farm Road. An agreement is underway to build a new plant that will increase tire production and meet demand.

Forbes’ taffy — previously found only in East Coast souvenir shops — is now on grocery store shelves across the country. And it’s happening all over the world. The company will export to Canada this summer and to Europe and Australia by the end of the year.

“We pushed the wholesale business harder,” said Martin Cochran, owner and president. “We always thought it was a tourist type candy, but it has legs.”

Forbes Candies is in the process of purchasing land from the Virginia Beach Development Authority in the Corporate Landing Business Park near General Booth Boulevard. The construction of a new plant will begin at the end of the summer. It will be designed to accommodate public tours and will include an outlet that will replace the company’s Hilltop store, which will close after Easter.

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Cochran’s career at Forbes Candies began in the mid-1990s at the store’s miniature golf course in the Outer Banks. He worked his way up the company and bought it from the Forbes family 13 years ago.

Charles Forbes, the original owner, was first exposed to the wonders of candy making at the Old Dominion Peanut Co. in Norfolk, where his uncle was the head confectioner. As a child, he sold sweets in the city’s downtown bank buildings.

In 1930, Forbes and his wife, Marion, newlyweds at the time, converted a wine cellar in Marion’s parents’ home into a candy kitchen where they made peanut brittle and sold it to the doorstep. doorstep to make ends meet. The house on Colonial Norfolk Avenue is now the Williams School.

Forbes’ homemade peanut crunch was a hit. By 1932, local grocery stores and pharmacies were selling it for 10 cents a pound, or 25 cents for 3 pounds, according to a newspaper ad.

The following year, the couple opened their first candy store on 21st Street and Atlantic Avenue in Virginia Beach’s oceanfront. Two months later a hurricane wiped it out with “four feet of sea water in the store and most of our candy floating in the street,” Charles Forbes recalled in a 1972 Beacon article. They opened several other stores on Atlantic Avenue over the following years.

Most people know Forbes Candies as one of the resort’s oldest retailers.

“We are much more than that now,” Cochran told members of the Development Authority at a meeting in March.

While saltwater taffy is still available in the classic beach-themed boxes for souvenir shops, it is also mass-produced and packaged in bags, instead of boxes, for grocery stores. The company recently landed a contract with Wegmans.

“The big players in the market,” Cochran said during the meeting. “The national chains that can really give us that distribution instantly.”

Forbes has more than 100 employees during the summer, including seasonal staff at the Oceanfront and Outer Banks confectioneries.

The Easter season is one of the busiest times of the year. Hand-decorated ducklings, bunnies and candy eggs are neatly stacked on the factory shelves, from floor to ceiling.

“Here we cover everything in chocolate,” Cochran said on a recent tour.

In the taffy room, a mixture of sugar, corn syrup and other ingredients is cooked in a copper kettle.

And what about the saltwater moniker?

“There’s salt and there’s water,” Cochran joked. “We don’t have a direct pipeline to the Atlantic Ocean.”

The star of the show is the puller stretcher. Its mechanical metal “arms” pull 60 pounds of pull in different directions, giving it that plush texture. A thick roll of this is then fed into the cutting and wrapping machines. The factory can produce 1,200 pieces per minute. The new building will double production.

At one end of a long room, pieces of neatly wrapped green and pink watermelon flavored taffy slid down a long sprout and into a deep box. Cochran reached out and picked up a handful.

“You won’t get any cooler than this,” he said.