A few weeks ago, I had the honor of meeting the Willy Wonka of food allergies: Allergy Superheroes got an exclusive opportunity to tour the Sun Cups facility! And through the magic of pictures, I can share the experience with you!
The whole facility is amazing about food allergies. Employee lunches must be free of peanut and tree nut and are eaten in the break room, far from the factory floor. Employees scrub up before entering the factory, wash their hands at regular intervals, and don special hats, coats, and booties/crocs which always stay at the facility so there’s no cross contact from home. Since we were visitors, we donned booties and hair nets to keep the facility clean.
Let’s start with the chocolate (shouldn’t everything start with chocolate?) Sun Cups purchases chocolate that is free of soy lecithin, which is not easy to find. Soy lecithin helps hold chocolate together, so Sun Cups keeps their chocolate strictly climate-controlled.
The omission of soy lecithin means that the Sun Cups facility is free of 7 of the top 8 allergens: peanut, tree nut, soy, wheat, egg, fish, and shellfish. In addition, they’re also free of coconut, corn, sesame and mustard–which means they are free of 11 of the top 12 allergens! The only major allergen Sun Cups uses is dairy, because they use both milk chocolate and white chocolate.
None of us has dairy allergies, however, so we were good to go! They graciously allowed us to sample their virgin chocolate. The kids said this was their favorite part of the tour!
I asked whether it was difficult to find chocolate with no cross contact with other allergens, but they said ‘no.’ Chocolate manufacturers aren’t in the business of making candy and are pretty aware of allergen issues, so they take great care. In order to get chocolate without soy lecithin, however, they have to special order.
Of course, you can’t make Sun Cups without Sunbutter! Each of these buckets holds 44 pounds of the good stuff! I wish I could order Sunbutter in these quantities!
That’s genuine Sunbutter in those tubs, too. Sun Cups informed us that they’d tried other brands/manufacturers, and that nobody else makes sunflower seed spread with the correct texture and taste.
You may have noticed that the jar of Sunbutter you have at home bears the warning “roasted on equipment that also roasts soy.” Sun Cups takes great care to keep soy out of their chocolate, so I asked how that warning pertains to them. I learned that Sunbutter washes their equipment before producing Sun Cups’s supply, and Sun Cups performs their own testing before using the product. They’ve never found any trace of soy!
They mix the filling in here.
Here’s the next day’s batch of chocolate, already melted and ready to get made into delicious, allergy-friendly treats! Their next planned expansion is to purchase an additional vat that will be dedicated to the production of dark chocolate Sun Cups. They’re formulating a dairy-free filling for it too, which means that folks with dairy allergies will finally be able to enjoy Sun Cups!
This is one of the things that really impressed me about Sun Cups. When they told me that all their melted chocolate currently shares the same vat, they said that they will not make dark chocolate cups for people with dairy allergies until they have dedicated equipment. That applies to their chocolate bars, too. They see the danger to people with dairy allergies, and are up-front about that danger. That demonstrates that they take their stewardship of the food allergy community very seriously.
Sun Cups molds. Zax is not one to take any statement at face value, so he decided to count the molds to make sure there were really 48 (he doesn’t do multiplication yet.)
Do you see the brown stuff on the bottom of Kal’s bootie? That’s not dirt, it’s cocoa powder. Sun Cups assured us that their floors are clean enough to eat off of! (We had a job keeping the boys from licking the floor after that statement.)
With liners in the molds, they’re sent through a machine that injects the chocolate and the filling, and then they’re cooled. After that, it’s on to wrapping.
Sun Cups also makes regular chocolate bars (which I was not aware of) and this is the machine that wraps those bars. They can even do custom wrappers, so if you’re interested in getting Sun Cups chocolate bars with your company logo on it, consider sending them a line!
Behind these doors is the product where all the magic comes together!
They keep their Sun Cups refrigerated until they are ready to be shipped. What bounty!
Of course, not every Sun Cup comes off the line looking perfect. Despite their best efforts, air bubbles occasionally get stuck in the candy, causing overflows and deformations. Such defects worked to our advantage, though, because we were invited to sample these “imperfect” candies!
The boys said this was their other favorite part of the tour!
Sun Cups makes approximately 7500 Sun Cups each day, although they are capable of making more. A day typically involves the making of just one variety of Sun Cups, and then the lines are cleaned in preparation for another variety the next day.
Sun Cups sounds like a great place to work. The factory floor is filled with music and laughter, and the boss doesn’t want anybody coming in if they don’t feel good–because if you aren’t happy you aren’t going to make good candy!
If you look at the Sun Cups website, you can read the story of how they began: a father brought a jar of sunflower seed spread to the owners (they were in the truffle business at the time) and asked them to make a peanut-butter-style cup for his peanut allergic son. When I asked them how they decided to make this into a full-time business, they said that after the family’s emotional response, they took those first sun cups to a fine chocolate show and got an overwhelming response there as well. That was the moment they knew they had a product.
And boy, are we ever glad that they did!
I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour! I’d like to say a huge “thank you” to Sun Cups for inviting us into their facility, and for all of the chocolate! Please show them some love by enjoying their wonderful candy!