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Montana Made: Bequet Confections

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Most people would agree that a career in a high-tech business would be a sure way to sweet success.

In this Montana Made report, we introduce you to a Bozeman business woman who found her sweet success after a failed high-tech career.

Bequet Confections west of Bozeman produces a full ton of caramels each week all year long. However, this wasn't the original plan for founder Robin Bequet.

She came to Montana for a job at a high-tech firm, bought a nice home in the Gallatin Valley and thought she'd made her mark -- then came 2001, "I'm in one of five rounds of layoffs. Now instead of retiring early, I'm unemployed," Bequet recalled.

It turns out that Robin makes pretty good candy -- her co-workers at that high-tech firm told her so.

"I'm used to working for a large company with technical advantages in an international market basis, and now making caramel in Bozeman," Bequet said.

"So we started small, very much a bootstrap business -- very small. My dad moved out here to help me and I taught him how to make caramel and we did everything on a small scale until we could see what was repeatable -- what patterns there were, what market niches were most successful for us," said Bequet.

Making caramel is one thing, but selling it is another. Bequet literally went door-to-door. Montana is not the hotbed of fine confections, but that doesn't mean Montanans don't appreciate them.

"What stands out to me, remarkably was the reception I got from Montana businesses and Montanans," Bequet said. "I couldn't believe open-minded everybody was to let's give it a try -- what's your minimum order? I tell them it's very low, and they go 'let's try it.' And to all of our delights it worked and it worked really well thanks to Montanans.

Now 15 years later, 68 seasonal employees will turn out 100,000 each day from a building west of Bozeman.

"So our goal is to keep raising the bar on great caramel. When we started in the specialty food industry there...were very few companies making high-end gourmet caramels," Bequet said. "[Now a] countless number of them [are] at the same trade shows that we go to, making some pretty good caramel. But if we keep improving our recipe..that's our strategy for staying on top.

Bequet employees have a full benefits plan and some have been with the company for more than 10 years. So the employees love it, and after 15 years so do the consumers. But what about the founder?

"I eat our caramel almost every single day. Matter of fact, not eating too much caramel every day is my challenge. I love what we make I love fine confections, it's my passion," Bequet concluded.

That passion finds 13 varieties in more than 1,000 locations across the country -- all thanks to a sweet turn of events, and a few Montanans willing to help another.

Research and development continues at Bequet's and the company is looking to roll out a new product sometime next year. Work will also begin on a new addition to the facility this spring, to help with productivity and allow for a larger workforce.

To visit the Bequet Confections website click here

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