A candied history

Local confectioner and JBLM share history

By J.M. Simpson on January 20, 2017

Innovation can make history.

Take Brown & Haley's Almond Roca as one such example.

At the beginning of World War I in 1914, Harry Brown and J.C. Haley started a candy company in Tacoma, Washington.

In 1916, Brown & Haley began producing a confection called the Mount Tacoma Bar.  As the war wore on, the bar and other confections such as taffy chews and butterscotch balls became quite popular with soldiers stationed at then Camp Lewis.

After this country's entry into the Great War in 1917, the population at Camp Lewis grew larger.  Not surprisingly, the increasing demand for the new company's sweets kept pace.

This sugary-based surge in sales proved to be short-lived once the war ended and most of the soldiers stationed at Camp Lewis returned home to civilian life.

Brown & Haley decided to innovate, and so began a period of experimentation.

In 1923, the two confectioners' efforts resulted in the creations of a crunchy, log-shaped candy piece comprised of a buttery toffee mixture wrapped up in a coat of chocolate and diced almonds.

"They knew that toffee absorbed moisture," explained Chris Carson, the outlet manager, while he set up some historic tins of Almond Roca.

"So they wrapped it up in chocolate to make the toffee last longer."

Wrapping the new confection in golden foil only added to its mystique.

Pleased that the almond and chocolate coating made the candy less messy, Brown handed out samples to Tacoma's residents, including Tacoma Public Library librarian Jacqueline Noel.

She named it Almond Roca.

Company lore holds that Noel chose the name because of the candy's hard crunch that was somewhat rock-like.

At the time, many almonds were imported from Spain, and "roca" is the Spanish word for rock.

During the first few years, Almond Roca shipped in traditional cardboard boxes or in decorative wooden boxes.

In 1927, Brown & Haley started shipping the candy sealed in airtight pink tins to ensure and extend freshness.

The New Cajita Rosa tin caught the public's eye as it demonstrated the value of merchandising and product freshness.

For a time, Brown & Haley advertisements used the tag line, "Candy so good we lock it up tight."

As the world headed into its second war and America prepared for war, the confection company supplied troops at Fort Lewis and abroad with tins of the pink, airtight tins of Almond Roca.

"We've had a long and wonderful history with Joint Base Lewis-McChord," continued Carson.  

The war transformed the candy from a local favorite to a globally known brand.  After the war, returning soldiers' demand for the candy broadened Almond Roca's appeal.

The simple innovation of wrapping toffee in chocolate, almonds and gold foil is part of the area's storied history.

"We are very proud of our ongoing association with the United States military," concluded Carson.

"It's been a great century for Brown & Haley and the military."