If you’re like us, and scientists say many of you are, then during the last few months you’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the good old days… and you’ve been doing it a lot! And whether your doing it because you have more time on your hands or you’re just trying to stay grounded by thinking back to the times when things were actually really normal instead of this “new normal”, it’s okay. You’re not alone.
Take for example the other day when we were thinking about Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls (because, well, we’re pretty much always thinking about Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls), which led us to also start waxing nostalgic about another southern treat made of caramel, marshmallow nougat, fresh roasted peanuts and real milk chocolate – the Goo Goo Cluster!
So, why not join us today as we reminisce about this delicious treat that’s almost as famous as our pecan log rolls? (We told you we’re always thinking about them.)
In the Beginning…
Back in 1901, 19-year-old Howell H. Campbell opened up the Anchor Candy Company at Clark Street and First Avenue North in Nashville, Tennessee with around 12 employees and two copper kettles. After a couple of years of trial and error, he restructured his company and renamed it the Standard Candy Company in 1903. For the next nine years, the company made a variety of sweets – everything from suckers and fine chocolates to Nujoy hard and bag candies, their patented brand of sweets. However, it was in 1912 that the Standard Candy Company would change the world of candy as everyone knew it back then.
You see, up until 1912, there were basically only three kinds of candy bars you could buy: chocolate, caramel or taffy. There were no almonds or peanut butter or any other extra ingredients added in.
However, one day in 1912, Campbell and Porter Moore, Campbell’s plant superintendent, took a pile of caramel, topped it with some marshmallow and some roasted peanuts, hand-dipped it into chocolate and America’s first multi-ingredient candy bar was born.
The candy bar was not without its problems in the beginning, however. First, it wasn’t exactly the square or rectangular shape of a bar. This newest concoction was in fact, circular at best, irregular at the least, making them difficult to wrap. As a result, they were first sold under glass at candy counters in drug stores without wrappers. This problem would soon be solved, however, thanks to the dawn of hand wrapping chocolates and other sweets as women were hired to gently cradle these clusters of candies in tinfoil.
Even in the pretty tinfoil though, sales didn’t go as expected because nobody knew what to call this new chocolate confection. That would all soon change, however, thanks mostly to Campbell’s newborn son, Howell H. Campbell, Jr.
Like Taking Candy’s Name from a Baby
There are a variety of stories telling the tale of how this famous candy got its name, but perhaps the most popular and seemingly accurate one was told by Howell H. Campbell, Jr. According to Junior, his father would ride the streetcar to work every day and discuss, among other things, the matter of naming the candy with fellow passengers.
One day Howell, Sr., was proudly announcing to his fellow streetcar passengers that Junior had said his first words: “Goo! Goo!” Without missing a beat, a teacher who regularly rode the same streetcar with Campbell spoke up and said if “Goo Goo” was the first thing his son had said, then that’s what he should name his new-fangled chocolate confection. “Besides”, the teacher continued, “people will ask for it from birth.” (This would also later become one of the slogans of the Goo Goo Cluster.)
Whether the story above is the stuff that legends are made of or not, the Goo Goo Cluster was a name anyone could remember. Even everything that goes into the candy – the luscious caramel, the smooth, creamy marshmallow nougat and fresh, crunchy roasted peanuts, all covered with a thick coating of real milk chocolate – evoke memories of the first time you bit into one. It was also bulky enough to do what other candy bars still claim to do today – stave off hunger. Feeling more like a meal than a candy bar, the company would, in fact, also adopt “A Nourishing Lunch for a Nickel!” as their slogan at one point.
The Goo Goo Cluster Company Grows and Grows
In 1914, a fire damaged the Standard Candy Company’s building at Clark Street and First Avenue North, so the company moved to a three-story brick building on Second Avenue North.
By the end of World War II, Howell Campbell, Jr., had grown into a man and followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming president and owner of his own candy company. The Huggins Candy Company made stick candy under the brand name King Leo which came in three flavors: peppermint, lemon, and clove. Eventually, however, Junior merged his company with his father’s, making the Standard Candy Company the biggest candy manufacturer in Nashville.
The Grand Ole Opry Goes Goo Goo
Starting in the 1960s, the Standard Candy Company became a sponsor of Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry radio show for many years. It was a move that would make the Goo Goo Cluster so famous in the South that the Standard Candy Company would go on to tout it as the “The South’s Favorite Candy” on its product packaging. The two were so closely linked together, in fact, that rumors arose claiming that the “GOO” in the product’s name actually stood for “Grand Ole Opry” – a rumor that persists even today!
By 1974, Campbell, Jr., who had been president and owner of the Standard Candy Company since his father’s death, decided it was time to retire. Because his son Howell H. Campbell III, wanted nothing at all to do with the candy business, Junior sold the business his father started to Nashville businessmen, James Fischer and James Miller, for $1 million.
James Miller became CEO and started to modernize the company, foregoing many of the old-fashioned ways of doing business like letting go of the company’s 21 salesmen in favor of partnering with food brokers who would push the Standard Candy Company’s lines of candy, including the Goo Goo Cluster. In 1979, Miller even moved the company from it’s now outdated plant on Second Street north to a new 6,000-square-foot facility on Massman Drive.
Regrettably, the move took longer and proved to be costlier than expected. That, doubled with the increase in the price of peanuts due to a 1980 drought causing peanut prices to soar, resulted in a $400,000 loss for Standard Candy Company in 1980. The losses continued over the next two years, causing the banks to step in and advise the company to make changes or find new management.
Enter James “Jimmy” W. Spradley, Jr., a recent MBA graduate of the University of Chicago who was looking for a small company to start out with, so he inquired at the Standard Candy Company. On the verge of bankruptcy at the time, the Standard Candy Company told Spradley that they simply couldn’t afford to hire him.
Nevertheless, Spradley wasn’t about to give up. After all, he did have some experience in the candy business since his now-retired father was the former President of Stuckey’s – the Eastman, Georgia-based chain of roadside stops and manufacturer of fine pecan candies including its famous pecan log rolls. So, Jimmy talked his father out of retirement and after months of negotiations, they bought out Miller’s share of the Standard Candy Company. Fisher stayed on as a silent partner while the elder Spradley ran the company. Less than a year later, however, the younger Spradley purchased 10% of the business, convinced his father to once again enjoy his retirement, and became president of the company.
Admittedly knowing very little about the candy business himself, Spradley, Jr., really didn’t change anything about how the candies were manufactured; rather he focused on the marketing side of the business, planning at first to take the company national.
Unfortunately for Spradley, the candy bar business in America was already full of well-established candy making companies like M&M/Mars and the Hershey Chocolate Company, two giants in the industry who, between them, produced the top 10 selling candy bars in the U.S. Consequently, the younger Spradley would eventually surrender his plans to take the company national and became satisfied with the company’s local cult-like following.
The Goo Goo Cluster recipe has pretty much stayed the same since its creation; however, different variations of the product have been introduced. For example, the Supreme Goo Goo Cluster, created in the 1980s, has the same ingredients as the original except it’s made with pecans instead of peanuts. Introduced in 1991, the Peanut Butter Goo Goo Cluster contains peanut butter and peanuts dipped in milk chocolate. The latest incarnation is the Howie Premium Goo Goo Cluster. A fitting homage to the Goo Goo Cluster’s creator, Howell Campbell, Sr., the candy consist of consisting of peanuts, caramel, and marshmallow nougat covered a rich, dark chocolate covered shell – all made by hand in small batches, but well worth the wait. There’s even the Goo Goo Cluster ice cream made by Hattie Jane’s Creamery which features the flavors of the original Goo Goo Cluster.
Standard Candy and Stuckey’s
In 1985, the Standard Candy Company also picked up another product – the pecan log roll – when James Spradley, Sr., acquired the Stuckey’s Candy Company and put his son Neil in charge of running the Eastman, Georgia factory.
W.S. Stuckey, Sr., started his namesake company as a roadside lean-to in Eastman that sold pecans and pecan candies to passing motorists who were making their way back and forth to Florida on US Route 23. As Automobile tourism became more popular, so did Stuckey’s, which eventually grew to around 350 teal-blue roofed franchises during its heyday. Known for their souvenirs and candies, Stuckey’s are most especially remembered for their pecan log rolls using the same recipe today that Ethel Stuckey first used back in 1937 that made the company so famous.
In January 2009, the Standard Candy Company, citing the need for major upgrades, closed the former Stuckey’s Candy Company and moved their operations to Nashville, Tennessee.
The Stuckey’s Corporation still has over 60 locations operating in 17 states and is making a comeback. In November 2019, W.S. Stuckey’s granddaughter, Ethel “Stephanie” Stuckey, took over the helm of Stuckey’s and vows to bring the company back to its glory days.
Today, if you’re waxing nostalgic and start craving a Goo Goo Cluster (or a Stuckey’s Pecan Roll), stop by any of our Stuckey’s locations near you and find the highway happiness you’ve been reminiscing about. Don’t forget to pick up a few for the folks back home, too.
No Stuckey’s near you yet? No worries! Stuckey’s can deliver delicious Goo Goo Clusters, Stuckey’s pecan rolls or other fine
Whether your next road trip is by car or by rail, it’s not really a road trip without taking Stuckey’s along. From our world famous Stuckey’s Pecan Log Rolls to our mouthwatering Hunkey Dorey, Stuckey’s has all the road trips snacks you’ll need to get you where you’re going.
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