Tacoma’s Almond Roca goes over big in China

c.r.roberts@thenewstribune.comDecember 7, 2013 

Accompanied by a pair of violinists and the two “Roca Angels,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recently led those appearing at the Sogo Department Store on Nanjing Road in Shanghai, China, to promote Tacoma’s hometown confection.

The word had gone out on Weibo, the People’s Republic equivalent of Twitter. There would be free samples of Almond Roca and a chance at coupons and a tote bag.

“He was wonderful,” said John Melin, COO at candymaker Brown & Haley, who was part of the Inslee’s trade delegation. “He had everyone in the crowd gasping, laughing.”

At one point the governor, Melin said, “recalled being 1,000 feet from the top of Mount Rainier and ‘I popped an Almond Roca and made it to the top.’”

“Almond Roca is growing in China,” Melin said. The country now represents 15 percent of Brown & Haley’s gross sales and marks a 22 percent annual growth rate.

“We’re a significant force in the Chinese confectionery market,” said company President and CEO Pierson Clair.

“It’s our most significant growth market,” he said. “We define China as the People’s Republic, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Chinese travelers whether at Kuala Lumpur, Dulles or JFK (airports), as well as Singapore and the West Coast.”

To advertise the brand, the company is installing 50 billboards showing a Western model holding a newly designed Almond Roca gift box — along with a few examples of the candy itself. It’s all part of a social media, newspaper, television and magazine campaign aimed at promoting Roca.

The trade delegation event in Shanghai “was a great success,” Melin said.

Clair agreed.

“What Jay Inslee did for us was spectacular,” he said. “China is embracing Roca, and by extension China is embracing Washington. There’s something about 1.3 billion people knowing about the good things that come from our state.”

C.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535 c.r.roberts@thenewstribune.com

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