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Published December 14, 2010, 03:09 PM

Aloha, Fargo: Subpar Sales Land Candy Maker in Frigid ND

A Pennsylvania-based company - producer of favorites such as Mike and Ike, Hot Tomales and Peeps - gave its employees an ultimatum last year: Meet annual sales goals, and the company’s 2010 convention would be in tropical Hawaii, where temperatures reached 80 degrees Monday.

By: Kristen Daum, INFORUM

Some employees of the Just Born candy company may consider a trip to Fargo in mid-December as punishment, but company representatives hope their visit to the frigid Northern Plains this week turns into a sweet surprise.

The Pennsylvania-based company - which produces favorites such as Mike and Ike, Hot Tomales and Peeps - gave its employees an ultimatum last year: Meet annual sales goals, and the company’s 2010 convention would be in tropical Hawaii, where temperatures reached 80 degrees Monday.

But if they failed to meet the goals, they’d be shipped off to Fargo – home Monday to biting subzero wind chills that felt much colder than the single-digit air temperature.

Just Born’s sales staff didn’t meet the corporate goals, which is why 24 of them are in Fargo-Moorhead this week.

Josh Halpern, the company’s director of U.S. sales, stressed that coming to Fargo is “not a punishment” for the staff.

“Don’t get me wrong – I think everyone would rather be in Hawaii in the month of December, but we’re taking it in tremendously good stride,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to immersing ourselves in all things Fargo the next few days.”

The employees’ proposed itinerary includes a spread of local flavor: a showing of the infamous movie “Fargo,” visits to the West Fargo VFW and Moorhead Hjemkomst Center and a sleigh ride at Edgewood Golf Course in Fargo.

Just Born makes such well-known staples as Peeps, Mike and Ike’s and Hot Tamales, and sells them in all 50 states and in more than 35 countries.

Fargo father-and-son duo, Bob Ward Jr. and Sr., said they love selling Just Born’s candies as the company’s local representatives and brokers in the Fargo area.

The pair said they were “in total shock” when company executives revealed in August that the annual sales meeting would be held in their hometown.

“We were in disbelief,” Bob Ward Sr. said. “I hope they find Fargo like I have for the 64 years that I’ve lived here – which is that it’s probably the finest city in the country.”

Bob Ward Jr. called it a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to host the company’s annual event.

“I just want them to experience it one time,” Bob Ward Jr. said. “Even if it’s just the one time: Come here and see everything, leave and have a lot of memories.”

Halpern said he hopes the visit to North Dakota will show Just Born employees that each city matters to the company.

“We don’t get into North Dakota frankly enough,” he said. “We want to see what our business looks like here. … It’s a good reminder to all of us that every penny goes into that annual (sales) number, whether you’re in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, or Fargo, North Dakota.”

Daum is a reporter at the Forum in Fargo

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