No two days are quite alike inside the Purdys chocolate factory, which has been turning out sweets at the corner of Kingsway and Earles since 1982. That's because each day's production schedule varies, thanks to seasonal products, ingredient changes, and the introduction of new treats to the lineup. What you can always count on in the sweet aroma of sugar and chocolate emanating from the factory; that scent intensifies on the inside - a place most folks don't get to ever see.
Of course, Purdys goes back well beyond the early 1980s; that's just when the Vancouver chocolate business had outgrown its facilities on West 7th (yes, Choklit Park at the site is so named because of the legendary company) and took over the former Canada Dry plant in Renfrew-Collingwood. Another interlude regarding names: No, it's not a typo; Purdys got rid of the possessive apostrophe a few years back, so they have not been "Purdy's" for some time.
Purdys started in 1907, and has grown since to be one of the top chocolatiers in the world, offering not only retail locations but online ordering with global shipping. Most anyone who loves sweets and/or grew up in Vancouver knows what a Hedgehog, Mint Meltie, or Sweet Georgia Brown is; those are just a few of Purdys' signature products that come off the busy factory lines.
Changes in chocolate-making over the years
Working those lines are about 200 employees, including many of whom have been with Purdys for a long time; this August, an employee named Ross will hang up his hairnet and lab coat after 41 years. Ross started out doing shipping and receiving before jumping at the chance to work in the factory. He recalls some days he'd get to make deliveries by truck, work on the enrobing line (coating things with chocolate), and then be in the candy kitchen, all in one shift.
Ross also remembers being a kid in Southern Ontario and pressing his nose against the glass to watch a local chocolate-maker at work, thinking that would be the dream gig. With a head full of exacting recipes and memories of plenty of products both gone from the catalogue and still being made, Ross has seen a lot of changes over the years inside the company. His favourite discontinued items, by the way, are one made with "Nougatine" and a Spanish Peanut bar.
Other things have changed, from processes within the business to consumer needs, which is why Purdys has adapted to concerns like food allergies (nuts in particular) and introduced its first vegan products in the last couple of years, with tremendous success. Even the company's nearly 93-year-old owner, Charles Flavelle, is still leading the way with change; he engineered an adaptation for cooling tables just this summer.
Ross' story of sticking to candy isn't unusual on the factory floor. Many Purdys employees are immigrants to Canada, and like 34-year veteran Linda, who oversees productions Purdys' marquee treat, the Sweet Georgia Brown, and the whole vegan line, they'll say it's their first - and last - job in Canada. (For those wondering, how Purdys makes the Sweet Georgia Browns is so top-secret we couldn't photograph the equipment they use. Less shockingly, Linda's favourite Purdys item is...you guessed it...the Sweet Georgia Brown.)
'I have the best job in the world' says Purdys' head chocolatier
Though there are enduring treats and recipes there that have seen little to no change - Purdys is one of the last companies in the world to make their cream fillings a more old-fashioned way - it's the consumers who often inspire new items.
"Our customers tell us what they want," says Purdys' top chocolatier Rachel McKinley, who has been making chocolate for over 20 years herself and has been with Purdys for a long time.
McKinley says she also loves to eat and drink at great restaurants and bars for inspiration for new creations, as well as keep an eye on trends and what the world's top pastry chefs are up to.
"For me, there is no shortage of ideas," attests McKinley.
"It's like putting together a puzzle," she says of getting a new Purdys product from her imagination into production - like a top-secret treat that went through an agonizing testing phase that debuts this fall.
McKinley adds with a smile: "I have the best job in the world."
@vancouverisawesome #UnlimitedHPInk 🍫Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure inagination. #forkingawesome #vancouverbc #factorytour #chocolate ♬ dance(256762) - TimTaj