See’s Candies/Facebook (facebook.com/Sees.Candies/photos/a.202742435644/10151651496240645/)
If there’s only one thing you know about Warren Buffett, it’s that he’s Scrooge McDuck level rich. The investment king has made plenty of smart plays over the years, including businesses like Apple, Coca-Cola, and Amazon. Though he now owns over 70 businesses, it’s a California-based chocolate business that’s scored a place as one of his favorite investments ever.
The little candy company that could
Buffett, who runs the famed investing holding company Berkshire Hathaway, has a special place in his heart for none other than See’s Candies. When the investing guru first tasted the chocolatey goodness that See’s was serving up in 1971, he immediately saw the candy company’s potential for greatness. Berkshire Hathway ended up purchasing See’s the next year, but only by a stroke of fortune. In 2007, Buffett admitted that he “almost blew the See’s purchase,” due to the fact that the seller was asking $30 million. Buffett remained firm that he wouldn’t give a penny over $25 million and fortunately, the seller agreed to the offer. Little did Buffett know that the purchase would go on to be one of the best investments he ever made.
Sometimes the best investments are also the tastiest
See’s has gone above and beyond when it comes to successful profits, netting an overall return of 8000%, which equals out to about 160% a year. This has resulted in billions of dollars in profit for Berkshire Hathway, which they’ve used to make other successful investments. “See’s has thus been able to distribute huge sums that have helped Berkshire buy other businesses that, in turn, have themselves produced large distributable profits. (Envision rabbits breeding.),” Buffet wrote in 2014. It’s no wonder that he’s since referred to See’s as a “dream business” and it’s not just because of the limitless supply of free Peanut Brittle and Chocolate Walnut Fudge. Among its most attractive qualities is that See’s has required very little additional capital in order to keep up sales and hence returns. So what is it that made Buffett and See’s Candies a match made in heaven?
Buffet revealed his formula for success in a 2011 letter to Berkshire shareholders. “Buy commodities, sell brands’ has long been a formula for business success. It has produced enormous and sustained profits for Coca-Cola (KO) since 1886 and Wrigley since 1891. On a smaller scale, we have enjoyed good fortune with this approach at See’s Candy since we purchased it 40 years ago,” he wrote. Among the qualities that Buffett feels lead to See’s massive success where their huge returns, the modest requirements for additional investment, their economic clout, the quality people who work for the company, and, of course, the fact that the chocolates are just delicious.
The secret ingredient to success
Buffett also pointed out that See’s has been able to accomplish something that stacks up to economic gold. The candy company has been able to successfully gain a treasured reputation with the public at large. “There was something special. Every person in California has something in mind about See’s Candies and overwhelmingly it was favorable. They had taken a box on Valentine’s Day to some girl and she had kissed him… See’s Candies means getting kissed. If we can get that in the minds of people, we can raise prices,” Buffett once revealed to business students at the University of Florida.
Though that may sound a bit cold, it actually makes a lot of business sense. Keep in mind that the ingredients needed to make the chocolates have increased since 1972 as well. But by winning a place in the hearts of consumers, See’s has been able to gradually increase their prices each year to cover not only overhead costs but to kee those healthy profit returns rolling in as well.