Did you know there’s a chocolate factory right down the street from our L.L.Bean campus here in Freeport, Maine? Wilbur’s of Maine has been making chocolate confections for the past 30 years. It all began when Tom Wilbur, a school teacher on summer break, went to candy school. After studying confections for a summer in Pennsylvania, he decided to pursue it as a full-time passion with his wife, Catherine. Like every family business, they started off small, making candies in their basement. Last year, their Freeport factory went through about 160,000 pounds of chocolate.
Wilbur’s produces all the chocolate goodies you’ll find in our stores, including our famous L.L.Bean Boot chocolates, which they paint by hand. “L.L.Bean was our first big client and we’ve been making treats for them for 28 years,” says Andy Wilbur, Tom’s son, who also works at Wilbur’s. You’ll also find delights like Chocolate-Covered Blueberries, Camo Peanuts, Sea Salt Caramels, Trail Turtles and many more. On a recent visit to the factory, salted caramels were being cut by hand and sent down a conveyor where they were covered in chocolate. Next, an employee sprinkles sea salt on each one and, finally, they’re individually wrapped and boxed up.
They also produce “panned goods,” which are bulk items like chocolate-covered blueberries (their bestseller) or specially flavored maltballs. “Most companies use a lower-quality chocolate in their panned items, but we use the same premium chocolate for everything we produce,” says Andy.
Wilbur’s is still a family-run business. Tom does all the ordering for the business and deals with customers directly. Catherine manages the stores, handles the accounting and even does graphic art for packages. Andy is in charge of new product development. One of his most recent creations is the Mud Puppy: a peanut butter meltaway with toffee bits over a layer of caramel. It’s a tough job – but somebody’s got to do it!
Even after being surrounded by chocolate day in and day out, everyone still gets excited when a new product is being developed. “You do get to a point where you’re used to being around it and you stop eating it all the time, but when we’re working on a new product, it’s like a flock of seagulls coming to give it a try,” says Andy. Wilbur’s is proud to be a family business and all that it entails. Even Andy’s four-year-old and seven-year-old daughters help out, though they’re not full time yet.
Wilbur’s of Maine has two stores in Freeport and one in Brunswick, Maine. You can visit them at one of their locations in Maine or shop online. Stop by our flagship store in Freeport where you’ll find a selection of Wilbur’s confections right by the registers.
You tell us: what chocolate treat will you eat today?