Valomilk production line - the candies pass through the cooling tunnel at the left and into the next room.
Russell Sifers Candy Company in Merriam, Kansas produces just one product, Valomilk chocolate cream cups.
The Sifer family began making candy in Iola, Kansas in 1903 and added a factory in Kansas City, Missouri about 13 years later. They were at three different locations during their years in Iola. None of those buildings are still in existence.
In 1931 some accidentally produced runny marshmallow was experientially dipped into chocolate cups and a delicious new candy, Valomilk Dips, was created. The name came from V for real vanilla, ALO from the marshmallow, MILK to describe it as creamy, and DIP because it was hand dipped (hand made). It was marketed as "The Original Flowing Center Candy Cup." Eventually the name shortened to Valomilk. The original Valomilk Dips were two ounces in a single large chocolate cup for five cents. They can be messy to eat and today's Valomilks are sold as two one ounce cups, which are a little easier to eat and gives you the option of sharing or saving one for later.
In 1970 Sifers Valomilk Candy Company merged with a larger candy company, but in 1981 the Kansas City factory was shut down and Valomilk was discontinued.
In 1985, Russ Sifer acquired his great grandfather's original copper kettles and the other production equipment and the family put the factory back together in Merriam, Kansas. They now produce only the one candy and do not offer direct retail sales. Due to strict quality assurance, the factory is not open to the public, but I was permitted to photograph and record the fascinating process of producing the candy for KansasTravel.org. I was shown around by Russ' step son, Dave Swiercinsky, fifth generation of the candy making family.
Candy is produced twice a week. Marshmallow is cooked on Monday, candy is made on Tuesday morning and packaged on Tuesday afternoon. This happens again on Wednesday and Thursday.
The production line machine was originally purchased in 1951 and operated as three separate machines until they were mated together as one continuous line and the cooling tunnel added. The fascinating old machinery makes an interesting percussion sound as 10 candies advance to the next position about 25 times a minute. It is almost hypnotizing.
Chocolate is poured into the paper cups. Then a puff of air pushes the chocolate up to make the sides of the cup. the runny mallow is added and then the candy passes through the cooling tunnel. In the next room the chocolate top is added and a team of people pick up the trays of candy to gently swirl them and make sure that the top is uniformly covered with chocolate. The racks are set aside so the candy will set up before packaging later in the day.
In a day, Sifers produce 640 trays, each holding 30 candy cups which is 19,200 candy cups. The candies are packaged in two's making 9,600 packages per production run. The candy is usually shipped the same day.
The company offices double as a virtual museum, with many photos of the company history, examples of old packaging and advertising from over the years..
It takes a little effort to purchase Valomilk, but it can be found at Cracker Barrel restaurants, Price Chopper & Hen House grocery stores, the nearby Merriam Hardware and several online sources such as candyfavorites.com.
L copyright 2021 by Keith Stokes