3-Minute Interview: John Nelson

According to the National Confectioners Association, today is National Licorice Day. Nelson is the former chief manufacturing officer of American Licorice Co., which has a plant in Union City. The company makes Red Vines, a brand that turns 50 this year.

First off, how do you pronounce it: licor-iss or licor-ish? Licor-ish.

How are you celebrating National Licorice Day? The company is doing media and other promotions. We’ll be giving candy away; we’ve got some trivia questions. There’s also a drawing contest that runs through September. The winners will get their original artwork on a Red Vines candy tray.

Are Red Vines really licorice? Traditional licorice is made with licorice extract; it has an anise flavor and it is black. Red Vines are a confection made from simple ingredients: flour, corn syrup, sweetener, flavoring and color. The connection is that Red Vines are produced using licorice-making techniques and they have the same classic shape — a twist, with a hollow center — as licorice.

Is there a rivalry between Red Vines and Twizzlers? Historically, Red Vines have been more popular on the West Coast and Twizzlers on the East.

Why are Red Vines so popular at movies? I’m not sure, but that’s been the case for a long time. The company has another piece of movie history. When Charlie Chaplin appeared in “The Gold Rush” in 1935, he ate a shoe. We actually made the licorice shoe for him.

What happened with Red Vines on “Saturday Night Live“? A skit with the line “Mr. Pibb plus Red Vines equals crazy delicious” was posted on YouTube and got millions of hits. It definitely boosted our name recognition.

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