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It’s like Wonka’s, minus the disappearing children.
Spoiler alert: I was not offered the key to the factory after my tour of Purdys, even though I was the kindest, most unselfish, blondest little boy in the group! (Ok, I am not blond or a boy, but we can all agree that narrative is tired, anyway). That said, after seeing the Vancouver facility I’m not sure I’m qualified to run a chocolate factory. There’s a lot of science and heavy-duty machinery involved. I don’t know how Charlie did it.
And while Purdys isn’t quite as secretive as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, it’s still pretty rare to get a look inside. I got a tour from master chocolatier Rachel McKinley (who, notably, was also not as creepy nor grumpy as the famous Wonka). Here’s what’s inside.
(Pssst… if you want to see video from inside the factory, it’s on our Instagram.)
These giant tables are outfitted with pipes below them, where cold water runs through—it helps to cool concoctions in about 30 minutes, a process that would usually take several hours. You can see pecan caramel and marshmallow cooling in these photos.
The table with the pecan caramel on it is over a century old.
Very, very hot pots (this one is 247 degrees) cook confections to the perfect temperature.
Surprise! The chocolate factory uses a lot of sugar. All full, this bag holds 1 ton of the sweet stuff.
This hot caramel is being poured into a machine that automatically distributes it into trays that look a bit like ice cube trays. Post-pour, the trays go on a rack for cooling.
This escalator-like machine sorts nuts—it uses a laser to detect imperfections or unwanted parts, like shells.
The nuts are roasted in oil (and in fact, nearly all nuts are roasted this way, except for “dry-roasted” nuts, which are baked). In this image, you can see the nuts being raised out of the oil in a cage.
The chocolate itself isn’t made in-house at Purdys, meaning it has to be unpackaged and melted down. Here, a factory employee tosses one of many chocolate bricks into a tank. The tank holds a lot of chocolate (and potentially, many Augustus Gloops).
Here, the chocolate is getting enrobed in a chocolate waterfall.
When it comes out the other side, it’s hand-stamped with a signature design.
Some chocolates are printed using transfer paper and edible ink—the design is pressed on via the paper and then left when the paper peels off, kind of like a sticker.
Here’s Linda, who has worked at the factory for over 30 years. She’s the queen of the Sweet Georgia Browns, and says they’re her favourite of Purdy’s treats. (You could say it’s a little unbelievable that someone who lives and breathes SGBs would still like eating them—what, are you calling her a liar?)
Purdys’ vegan section has been growing. According to master chocolatier Rachel, they invested in machines to make vegan chocolate and expected to make back that investment in a year or so. But the machines paid for themselves within six weeks of Purdys launching vegan chocolate bars.
This machine has a two-in-one spout on a timer. It can deposit the first layer of chocolate, dispense the filling, and cover the filling all in one shot. This is how hedgehogs are made. Ross, an employee of the factory for over 40 years, remembers when the team made 1,200 hedgehogs a day by hand. Now, they can make 80,000 in one day’s shift.
Not every chocolate is perfect, but the confectionary industry is known for recycling. In fact, lots of our favourite treats are made from scraps—Ross and Rachel (!) noted that Tootsie rolls are made from offcuts or failed chocolate, as is chocolate ice cream.
Along the way, we heard from the factory’s employees (many who have worked their for two decades or more) about which confection was their favourite—and maybe it’s just because I associate chocolate factories with disaster, but I was much more interested in the failures. I asked Rachel if she’s ever made a chocolate that didn’t go as planned, and surprisingly, she said that she tried floral chocolates some time ago and “the world wasn’t ready.”
Despite being obsessed with lavender-infused everything now, Rachel shared that Purdys’ step in that direction was too early. Timing really matters in the world of chocolate. Every product has to be meticulously tested, and the stars truly have to align for a new product to make it big.
That said—there is a new product coming this September that I got to try, and I’m pretty certain it’ll be popular from the jump. I have been sworn to secrecy and threatened with certain death (I’m kidding! This isn’t a Roald Dahl book) so I can’t reveal… but it’s cause for celebration.
MORE FACTORY TOURS: Inside Vancouver’s Lush Factory