Bittersweet: The Story of the Heath Candy Co.

Book Summary

by Richard J. Heath with Ray Elliott

Bittersweet: The Story of the Heath Candy Co."Bittersweet: The Story of the Heath Candy Company" details one of the sweetest success stories in American business, the Heath family and the complex relationships among family members. The book show how the Heath family business grew from a small-town ice cream parlor and confectionery to a successful national company, then came unraveled when the sweet success ultimately turned bitter from jealousy, greed and selfishness by the time the company was taken over by Leaf, Inc., a Finnish conglomerate, in 1989.

What happened dramatically illustrates how once-close family members can fall victim to the pitfalls that come with fame, wealth and success.

"'Bittersweet' describes how L.S. Heath, a schoolteacher, founded the company with his sons in 1914, buying a confectionery on the Robinson town square..."

- Tom Raithel. Evansville (Indiana) Courier

The Authors

Richard J. "Dick" Heath, grandson of the Heath Candy Company patriarch, L.S. Heath, was born in 1931 in Robinson, Illinois, where his father and uncle developed the Heath English Toffee Bar. Dick was elected to the company Board of Directors at the age of 20, after his father's sudden death. Dick finished college at the University of Illinois and served in the U.S. Army before returning to the company where he served in a number of capacities and sold the initial licenses that franchised the Heath Ice Cream Bar. After leaving the company in 1969 during a family struggle for control of the company, Dick promoted Professional Golf Association (PGA) tournaments and has been involved in numerous business ventures.

Ray Elliott is a writer, editor, Tales Press publisher and former English and journalism teacher who grew up near Robinson, Illinois.

Read an Excerpt

Just after the company expansion was completed and the new plant was in full operation, World War II broke out in the Pacific. Washington, D.C., lay nearly eight hundred miles east of Robinson. None of the family had ever been there; however, one day in the late spring of 1942, a man from Washington walked into the Heath company office and asked to see a Mr. Heath.

"Which Mr. Heath are you looking for, sir?" the receptionist asked. "There are several."

"The one who can sell me candy," the man said.

"Well, that would be Bayard or Skiv Heath. You can find them in the little office down the street. I'll call and see which one is available. May I tell them who's calling and who you represent?"

"Tell Mr. Heath I'm with the Department of the Army."

The Army had done some tests on candy to determine what would be best suited for supplying the troops. These tests had found that, besides being good candy because of the pure ingredients, the Heath bar had a relatively long shelf life. Based on the tests and needs, the Army placed its first order of $175,000 worth of Heath bars. That was a lot of nickel candy bars.
Coupled with the oil well, the huge order from the Army allowed the Heath company to catapult from a small regional company to a national company virtually overnight.

Skiv believed the war would be over in a few months, once the United States started flexing its muscle. But in eighteen months between the oil well and the Army contract, an increasing number of young men were going off to military service and creating a labor shortage. More women and younger males took the jobs left behind.
Just after his eleventh birthday in the late spring of 1942, Dick Heath took his first job with the company other than his batboy days. The Army required that the government order be shipped in wooden cases with a waterproof liner in each case. Each corner of the cases had to painted black with a green stripe around it. Dick's job was to paint the green stripe on the cases.