Frango is a brand of chocolate truffles now produced and distributed by Macy's department stores. It is also the brand of various other related food products.
Historically associated with the Midwestern and Pacific Northwest regions of the United States, the candy is sold in outlets throughout the country. Created originally by Seattle, Washington department stores Frederick & Nelson in 1918, the company and Frango trademarks were both acquired by Chicago, Illinois company Marshall Field's which introduced its recipe in 1929. It was produced on the thirteenth floor of the flagship Marshall Field's on State Street in large melting pots.
Frango's origins go back to 1918, according to a trademark
document from the U.S. Patent Office
. Originally, the Frango was the name for a frozen dessert sold at the sophisticated Tea Room at Frederick & Nelson's department store at Sixth Avenue and Pine Street in Downtown Seattle. The first Frango frozen dessert was available in maple and orange flavors.
There are a few different theories as to the origins of the Frango name. One theory is originated by the combination of "Fr" from Frederick’s and the "ango" from the word tango. Some have also said that Frango is an acronym for FRederick And Nelson GOodness.
A much-repeated theory—repeated, at times even by people very close to the stores concerned—states that Frederick & Nelson originally called the chocolates Franco Mints. In the 1930s, after Frederick & Nelson's was acquired by Marshall Field's, the name was changed to Frango after the Spanish Civil War, when Generalísimo Franco met with Hitler, to avoid similarities to the Spanish dictator's name. However, the brand name Frango was trademarked June 1, 1918.
In 1926, the consistency of the Frango Dessert was described as flaky, requiring the use of a fork, not a spoon, as you would use with ice cream. The Frango name eventually was extended to ice-cream sodas, pies and milkshakes sold at the store. It wasn't until 1927 that Ray Alden, who ran Frederick's in-store candy kitchen, developed the Frango mint meltaway chocolate. Alden's secret recipe used chocolate made from both African and South American cocoa beans as well as triple-distilled oil of Oregon peppermint and 40% local butter.
A few months after Marshall Field's agreed to buy-out Frederick & Nelson's owner and take control of the Seattle company in 1929, the Frederick & Nelson candy makers in Seattle were summoned to Chicago to introduce Frangos to Marshall Field's to help build slumping sales during the great depression
. Soon the candy kitchen at Marshall Field's had produced their own Midwestern
interpretation of the Frango Chocolate recipe. Although the Northwest version still uses the original Frederick & Nelson recipe, the Marshall Field's recipe has been modified a few times. This as well as the use of different ingredients and equipment would account for any difference in taste between the two versions.
One crucial distinction between the two types of Frango chocolates is the packaging. Midwestern Frango chocolates are sold in traditional flat candy boxes, with the chocolates set in candy papers. By contrast, Northwest Frango chocolates are individually wrapped, and sold in distinctive hexagon shaped boxes.
Frederick & Nelson Shuts Down
During Marshall Field's many decades of stewardship over the Frederick & Nelson chain of stores, Field's preserved the Frederick & Nelson name and regional character. However, the 1982 the purchase of Marshall Field's by BATUS Retail Group
(a unit of BATUS Inc.
) proved ill-fated for the Frederick & Nelson subsidiary. By 1986, an overstretched BATUS decided to dispose of Frederick & Nelson, selling it and Spokane, Washington
based retailer The Crescent
to a Washington state
-based investor group. Despite this ownership turmoil, Frederick's continued to distribute Frangos, albeit under license from Field's. In 1992, continued financial difficulties led to the final closure of all Frederick's locations. By that time, Field's itself had changed hands, becoming a unit of Minneapolis
-based Dayton Hudson Corporation
. Seattle civic leaders quickly engineered a deal under which Dayton Hudson agreed to let Seattle's remaining full-line department store, The Bon Marché
, continue to sell Frangos in the northwest.
Seattle Gourmet Foods
This solution proved highly problematic. While Frederick & Nelson was still in business, the candies were made on the 10th floor of the chain's flagship Pine Street store. After Frederick & Nelson's demise, a former Frango candymaker founded Seattle Gourmet Foods, which won a production contract with The Bon and moved candymaking to a new site. Seattle Gourmet manufactured the meltaways using much of the same equipment Frederick & Nelson used to manufacture the mints.
The Bon Marché files suit
After ten years of using Seattle Gourmet Foods to manufacture the chocolates, The Bon terminated the contract in early 2003. The candymaker retaliated by producing its own line of "Frederick & Nelson Fine Chocolates," using hexagonal packaging similar to that of the traditional Frangos box. The Bon promptly sued, but Seattle Gourmet Foods countersued, claiming that the contract termination was unlawful. Late in 2004, the parties reached a settlement in which The Bon made an undisclosed payment to Seattle Gourmet Foods, in exchange for exclusive rights to the recipe, the use of hexagonal boxes, and the Frederick & Nelson and F&N names.
The Bon, the Bon-Macy's, Macy's
Today the Pacific Northwest version of Frango Chocolates is sold at Macy's Northwest
locations in Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon. This is as a result of Federated Department Stores unifying all its regional department stores under the single Macy's banner. Another local Seattle company, Seattle Chocolates, now makes the Frango chocolates for Macy's Northwest.
Marshall Field's candy kitchen shuts down
The Midwest version had been produced on the 13th floor of the Marshall Field's flagship State Street
store from 1929 until March 1999. However demand for the chocolates overwhelmed the in house facility, so production responsibilities contracted out to Gertrude Hawk Chocolates
in Dunmore, Pennsylvania
. This enraged Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley
, who sought to have the chocolates made by a local Chicago company.
Gertrude Hawk production process
The process begins using giant blocks of Chicago's own Blommer chocolate melted at nearly 200°F. Then tiny rectangular molds receive the combination of milk and dark chocolate, plus a special mint oil, after it is tempered
to 83°F. Air bubbles are eliminated by shaking the molds. The product is cooled via a trip through a long refrigerated tunnel. The chocolates are then sent through an enrobing machine, where more chocolate is poured over them. The Frangos are cooled once again, then boxed by hand, sealed, wrapped and packaged for shipment.
From Marshall Field's to Macy's
In 2004, Marshall Field's and the Frango trademark were acquired by St. Louis-based May Department Store Company
. In January 2005, Field's new owner May refused to renew Macy's license to the Frango trademark. As a result, Macy's Northwest re-branded the Northwest version of Frango as "Frederick & Nelson, the Original" in February 2005. On August 30
, Macy's corporate owner, Federated Department Stores
, completed its acquisition of May. As a result, a license was no longer needed for Macy's to use the Frango name. The acquisition reunited the two branches of the Frango family for the first time in two decades. Macy's Northwest promptly renamed the Northwest version of the meltways as "Frango."
Unfortunately, the demand for Marshall Field's Frango's was far greater than demand for Macy's Frango's. No longer a unique product of Chicago's famed Marshall Field's, as a Macy's branded product, Frango's are viewed as just another mint. Even when sold by Macy's at 75% off retail, Frango's sales remain significantly below previous years' sales at Marshall Field's.
Return to Chicago?
In an attempt to appease the Chicago Marshall Field's customers and Chicago Mayor Daley, Federated chairman Terry J. Lundgren
announced in September 2005 that Macy's would look into moving production back to Chicago. In making the announcement, Lundgren noted that Macy's would look into "our contractual obligations" to determine if the chocolate production could be moved back to the Windy City, but stressed he was not making any promises in regards to moving production to Chicago.
State Street viewing kitchen
In the meantime, the Frango Viewing Kitchen on the seventh floor of Macy's On State Street that was closed in 1999 was reopened. The kitchen allows store guests to see the enrobing process where Frango chocolate centers are covered in chocolate to create the outside layer. These enrobed chocolates are later used for sampling.
Frango: only at Macy's
By 2006, The Midwest version of Frango chocolates and related items became available for sale online on the Macy's website. In the former Bon Marché stores, Macy's sells the Northwest version of the chocolates, while the Midwest version is sold elsewhere nationwide.
In the Northwest, Frango is sold in various flavors, with seasonal flavors added year round. During Christmastime Macy's Northwest sells a stuffed Frango teddy bear and various other gift packages. In 2006, gift packages with a Frango mug, drinking chocolate, biscotti and a box of Frango chocolates were sold.
In continuing the Marshall Field's tradition, what used to be Macy's North, (joined Macy's East in 2008, and inculed Minneapolis, Chicago, and Detroit metropolotins) , sells the entire line of Frango products. Along with the mint chocolates, coffee, hot chocolate, truffles, cookies, and liqueurs are among the products sold under the Frango brand. In 2006, Macy's announced that famed Chicago cheesecake baker Eli's Cheesecake would be producing a Frango cheesecake for sale in their stores.
Also as part of the seventh floor food offerings at Macy's on State Street is the Frango Café, which features sandwiches and salads along with other sweet treats.
Marshall Field's packaging
The Marshall Field's packaging is featured on boxes sold today by Macy's in the Midwestern region of the United States. Candies featuring the Marshall Field's signature logo uses a variation of the 1929 recipe created by the department store.
Designed when Macy's was just a licensee to sell the Frango brand, its distinct logo graced the packaging of candies sold in the Pacific Northwest. After Macy's acquired the Frango brand from the owners of Marshall Field's, Macy's continued use of the logo. Candies packaged in this style use the original Frederick & Nelson recipe.