See how buckeye candies are made at candy company

Bang. Hiss. Bang. Hiss.

Noise making doesn’t conjure images of creamy peanut butter and chocolate buckeye candies. But those sounds resonate at the Anthony-Thomas Candy Co. factory on the west side of Columbus, where the 57-year-old company makes batches of 160,000 of the delectable treats at a time. Gloved workers at the end of an assembly line release the shiny, chocolate gems from plastic molds with a bang on the countertop, creating a beat that interplays with a hiss of air from a compressor amid the machinery. The smell of warm chocolate wafts through the building.

Anthony-Thomas’ candy version of the buckeye nut is produced year-round, but it’s not until fall, when the Ohio State University football team takes the field that the candies are most appreciated. Chocolate buckeyes go hand-in-hand with a Buckeyes game like hot dogs go with baseball.

“The buckeye is our No. 1-selling piece of candy,” says Joe Zanetos, Anthony-Thomas Candy Co.’s president.

Zanetos, who’s led the company since 1993, says Anthony-Thomas has been making buckeyes for about eight years, at an estimated annual rate of more than 2 million.

“We calculated that if we put the buckeyes end to end we could stretch them all the way from Columbus to Zanesville,” Zanetos says.

At first, Anthony-Thomas made its buckeyes by hand for special orders. But the process was too labor-intensive for mass merchandising. As demand increased, the company invented a more efficient, automated method. Think conveyor belts and large steel funnels.

The buckeyes are made upside down. The system starts with an empty tray that has 40 molds – one per buckeye. Trays are transported by conveyor belt, stopping at different stations along the way.

At the first stop, a dab of peanut butter mix is automatically squirted into the bottom of each mold. The light brown blob eventually becomes the buckeye’s characteristic top.

The tray then goes through a cooling tunnel, followed by a pause at a filling station where each mold is filled with milk chocolate. The try is then flipped over to dump out the excess chocolate, leaving a chocolate lining in the mold.

Next comes more cooling followed by a stop at the depositor, where the shell is filled with the bulk of the peanut butter concoction. After more cooling, the candies are squired on the bottom by chocolate.

Zanetos’ grandfather Thomas founded the chocolatier in 1952 along with his father, Anthony. The two combined their first names to create the company’s moniker. In addition to buckeyes, Anthony-Thomas makes boxed chocolates, fudge, brittle, caramel corn and roasted nuts. Specialty items include peppermint bark at Christmas and chocolate eggs at Easter.

Guests can tour the Anthony-Thomas factory, 1777 Arlingate Lane, for free every Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. To schedule a tour appointment for large groups, call 877-226-3921.

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